My sister drives home drunk.
April 18, 2014 7:05 AM   Subscribe

I moved in with my sister a couple of weeks ago. She just drove home drunk, and this isn't the first time it's happened. Please, please help me get her to stop.

Let's call her Kelly. We are both in our twenties, we live four hours from our parents. My mom is a functioning alcoholic, I am two years sober. Kelly drinks maybe four times a week with friends. We are very very close.

Tonight: At 1 am Kelly drove herself home after she got in a fight with the guy she's seeing. She's sloppy drunk but not completely incoherent.

When I realized she was drunk I asked her why she drove home instead of calling me and she said, "I just couldn't stand being there any longer, I had to get out." Of course I told her that was dangerous and irresponsible and she said "I know, I know, I'm sorry, I won't do it again." But I know this happened at least one other time before I moved up (got in a fight with a guy, drove away dramatically and drunkenly ) and I'm sure there have been other times.

Things I told her-
I told her that she could call me or text me any time, at work ( I work evenings ) or at home and I would either pick her up myself or pay for a cab. She knows that this is for real as I've done it for her before.
I told her that it seems to follow a pattern where she is drunk, gets in a dramatic fight with someone and wants to leave ASAP. I tried to insert myself into her drunken future; I asked her to picture how she feels at that time and she said "I just need to get out because I can't stand to be around them." I said maybe she could go outside and text me instead and she said maybe, but I'm worried that she will forget. We literally stood in the kitchen for three minutes while I forced her to picture that future situation, trying to get it to stick.
I also told her that if it happened again I would tell our parents who we are pretty close with (she said herself, "that's worse than the cops!").

She is a teacher and has a lot to lose if she got a DUI.

I asked her if she thought about what would happen if she accidentally killed someone and she just repeated, "I won't do it again."

What else can I do?? I realize I sound like the psycho older sister but my world would end if something happened to her. And- I get where she's coming from. I drove home countless times when I was drunk. Nothing happened to me, and I'm sure she feels invincible and I worry that she is just paying me lip service to get me to stop worrying. Should I call the police if it happens again? I realize how drastic the consequences may be .
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If she's heading out from somewhere drunk and you know her route, call the police. It's too bad that she might lose her license to teach, but she could kill someone. Call the police the next time you know she's out driving drunk and let them pull her over.
posted by xingcat at 7:07 AM on April 18, 2014 [40 favorites]

You already know you can't stop her, can't control her.

Have you been to Al-Anon, for family and loved ones of substance users? If not, that may be the best thing to do to start.
posted by Sublimity at 7:09 AM on April 18, 2014 [14 favorites]

Find out about local Al-Anon meetings and check them out. They are for family members of alcoholics and for other people who care about alcoholics.
posted by mareli at 7:10 AM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd definitely call the police. And go to Al-Anon meetings.
posted by radioamy at 7:12 AM on April 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Call the police.

She is a teacher and has a lot to lose if she got a DUI.

I hate to be dismissive, but who cares? As someone who might one day encounter her on the road (and as someone who never met her grandmother thanks to a drunk driver) I think this type of behavior deserves to be punished. And as someone who might one day have children, I don't much like the idea of someone this irresponsible teaching them, anyway.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:12 AM on April 18, 2014 [78 favorites]

She obviously doesn't make good decisions after she's been drinking. Maybe you could convince her not to drive to wherever she is planning on drinking?
posted by Brent Parker at 7:12 AM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Al-Anon seems like a good idea. Also, are you sure it's a good idea to live with your sister? It doesn't sound like a particularly healthy dynamic.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:13 AM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's true what Sublimity says, and I'm sure you know that you cannot reason with an (active) alcoholic. Especially since it sounds like she was still drunk when you were talking to her. If she's a teacher and could lose her job, that's incredibly sad, but as you know, she has to care more than you do.

More people are going to have much more sensible advice than me, but from dating someone with a drinking problem...they are unlikely to change until THEY want to, and it will be on their terms.
posted by bquarters at 7:13 AM on April 18, 2014

has she had ever had a dui or know someone who has?

i have only known two people personally that have gotten DUIs and had to get blow-and-gos.

and i know a lot of people who leave the bar drunk or buzzed all. the. time.

she probably thinks she's not gonna caught because there are unfortunately a LOT of people who drive under the influence every single day.

i hate to say it, but getting pulled over would probably the best thing for her.
posted by McSockerson The Great at 7:16 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you knowingly allow her to drive drunk and she kills/maims someone you are somewhat complicit in the act. I would say call the cops any time there is a likelihood of them apprehending her in the act and hope that her suffering the consequences of her foolishness is enough of a shock to her that she saves lives (her own and others) by taking the necessary steps to change her behavior. Seems so harsh doesn't it? Yet, it is much better that she lose her job than slaughter an innocent bystander.

"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to fill the world with fools." - Herbert Spencer

Applies in particular to addicts.
posted by jcworth at 7:22 AM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've known more than one person who's been convicted of a DUI who still drives when not completely sober. Just don't get your hopes up and assume that all you have to do is scare her straight.
posted by girlmightlive at 7:25 AM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Don't call the police. Don't assume she is an alcoholic. She drinks and sometimes she makes the awful decision to drive. Plenty of people do this every night, she is not a bad person, she just has bad judgement. That was me in my 20s, this is millions and millions of people since Henry Ford cranked out the model A.

She hasn't been caught yet and doesn't understand the real consequences, which could easily be a lifetime in jail. Unfortunately no amount of lecturing is going to sink in.

So, make it easier for her not to drive. Make sure she has $50 to get a cab. Put several taxi numbers in her phone. Be totally cool and chill about picking her up from bars. Make it a thing that you pick her up and go out to a late night diner and gossip. Go out with her and show her how easy it is to get home and scoop your car up the next morning. Make it the norm. Make the idea of driving tipsy to be a freak occurrence rather than the norm.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 7:26 AM on April 18, 2014 [22 favorites]

You could offer to give her a ride to the place she is drinking and pick her up later. This way she won't "forget" to call you if drunk.

Alternately, just install an ignition interlock device and she can't start her car if she's been drinking.

You could also install a security ignition keypad that requires you to type in a code to enable the ignition. Change the code when she is going out and she can call you for the code or a ride depending on her suitability to drive.
posted by mikepop at 7:28 AM on April 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

'nthing mikepop's idea for an ignition interlock device, which he posted as I was looking at another vendor's site. Chat confirmed that it could be installed without involving courts or police, and they have a monthly lease.
posted by Sophont at 7:37 AM on April 18, 2014

The Uber app has made a big difference for people I know who otherwise have to be talked out of driving drunk.

Calling to arrange a ride seems like a big step to a drunk person -- hitting a button on an app and not needing to do anything afterwards except get in and out of a car is much more doable. I think this may also address her "needing to get out right then" desire -- she can walk out, hit the Uber call button, and then walk towards the direction the taxi is coming from. (You can see the progress of the car on the map.) That way it will feel like she is making progress towards getting away from the person.

Eventually she'll need to work through whatever is sending her on this pattern of behaviour, but hopefully this will address the immediate problem.
posted by Pwoink at 7:40 AM on April 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

It doesn't sound to me like the OP is willingly letting her sister drive anywhere drunk. Her sister is a grown woman and responsible for her own actions. The OP can't be her sister's watchdog or call the cops any time she thinks her sister might be out drinking and might have an argument with a boyfriend and might drive home drunk afterwards. She's trying to find ways to make this stop and has offered her sister several valid alternatives to driving drunk, which is completely the right thing to do. Saying she is complicit in the results of actions she can't know about or control isn't fair. From what she describes, her sister goes out drinking with friends four times a week and sometimes drives home drunk. The OP can't call the cops every time her sister goes out and tell them she might possibly be driving home drunk at some point later that night, or might not.

OP, I agree with the suggestion of Al-anon, but it sounds like you're already either dealing with your own drinking issues or in AA ("two years sober"). AA might be a better option for you. I say this because part of the alcoholic mental process can be taking too much responsibility for things you can't control, and that can lead right back to drinking for those already fighting it. You are not responsible for fixing your sister. Like they tell you in the flight emergency reel, first you put on your own face mask, then you help the passenger next to you after.

Another strong component of alcoholic behaviors is secrecy. She can't make you keep her secrets just by letting you know them, and it's important that she know you're not going to enable her to keep secretly drinking and endangering herself by becoming a part of her drinking behavior like this. I would suggest you make it absolutely clear to her that whether or not you tell your parents about her drinking is your choice, that you don't and haven't agreed to help her keep it hidden from them. Don't help her be an alcoholic.

I also agree with arbitraryandcapricious. You should move out. Don't endanger your own sobriety by living with someone with a drinking problem (and yes: If she is driving while drunk, she has a very serious drinking problem. She may or may not be addicted to alcohol, but she is repeatedly engaging in extremely dangerous acts as a result of her drinking; whether or not she's technically addicted to alcohol is going to be a moot point if she kills somebody some night.)
posted by kythuen at 7:40 AM on April 18, 2014 [13 favorites]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
Thank you for the suggestions. For those of you suggesting I call the police before she drives home - the problem is that I'm not usually out with her. Therefore I'm not aware of the drunk driving until after the fact. This situation simply doesn't happen when we are out together because I am the DD.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:42 AM on April 18, 2014

Congrats on not drinking, that's hard.

If you knowingly allow her to drive drunk and she kills/maims someone you are somewhat complicit in the act.

You should call the cops if you know she is specifically getting into a car after having had too much to drink. That said, this sort of "If you know, then you're complicit!" doesn't address the general reality of the situation of people with serious drinking problems and can push the buttons of people who grew up in alcoholic circumstances in thinking that, as the non-alcoholic, it's up to you to save the lives of the people with drinking problems and the people they might hurt. It's a pretty hardass thing to say but: it's not.

She should absolutely lose her job if she's driving drunk because it beats killing someone. You should tell your folks because that beats killing someone. You should consider moving out if you want to send a message. You shouldn't otherwise look at this as your problem to solve. I am sorry, it is lousy trying to keep someone from making terrible choices but you've said your piece and if the only way to keep her from driving after drinking is to have you give up your life to follow her around, that's too much of a sacrifice.

I agree with kythuen. Bring it out into the open, refuse to keep her secrets or take on her burden. Your sister is on a bad path and you need to not get stuck on it with her.
posted by jessamyn at 7:44 AM on April 18, 2014 [13 favorites]

To quote the wisdom of Magnolia, "Sometimes people need a little help. Sometimes people need to be forgiven. And sometimes they need to go to jail."

If your sister is driving while intoxicated on a regular basis, She Has a Problem. If she will not recognize that problem, yet continues to endanger other people by behaving this way, she's going to need someone outside herself to keep her in line. If she won't listen to you, then she needs to listen to someone else, and that someone may need to be the District Attorney.
posted by valkyryn at 7:44 AM on April 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

Thank you for the suggestions. For those of you suggesting I call the police before she drives home - the problem is that I'm not usually out with her. Therefore I'm not aware of the drunk driving until after the fact. This situation simply doesn't happen when we are out together because I am the DD.

Thanks for the follow-up - very helpful to know the constraints here. I recommend you call your local police station (on the non-emergency line!) and ask for their guidance. Depending on the resources they have available, they might tell you that it is appropriate to preemptively call them when she's going out. (For example, you might say: "I know that A is going out drinking at Z tonight and may or may not be driving home afterwards. She has a history of driving drunk. She drives an X car from YEAR and the license plate is BCD-123.") I don't know how effective this would be, but it could be useful for them and at least a step in the right direction. I suggest you only do this if they tell you it is a good idea.

Thank you so much for taking this seriously. It makes you a good sister and a good member of society in my view.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:04 AM on April 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

For those of you suggesting I call the police before she drives home - the problem is that I'm not usually out with her. Therefore I'm not aware of the drunk driving until after the fact.

Doesn't matter. If you're willing to drop a dime on her, like for real, all you need to do is call the police as soon as she gets home. If you call the police when she gets home, they take her BAC within an hour or so of her arrival, and you're willing to testify to that fact, the DA has her dead to rights. Some states even define DUI/DWI as having a BAC over the legal limit within an hour or two of driving. Your testimony would very likely be enough to both constitute probable cause for the police to conduct a BAC test and to convict her on any resulting charges.

Of course, this would involve not only ratting her out but then testifying against her in court, so this may not exactly do wonders for your relationship. But if your main concern is that the police aren't catching her in the act, I'm here to tell you that this isn't necessarily a problem.
posted by valkyryn at 8:21 AM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nthing Al-Anon or some other support group to help you deal with the frustration, because when all is said and done you can't stop her.

You've already sincerely offered her several super-easy solutions to her problem and she's refused to take them, despite knowing what the consequences are.

I grew up in a small town where DUI was an absolute EPIDEMIC, and I've seen your family's situation over and over again. The absolute only thing that made a difference with the loved one I had in a similar situation was moving to within walking distance of a bar so driving wouldn't be an issue. And he still managed to kill himself because one of his buddies with a suspended licence got cut off and managed to persuade him to walk home, get his car, and drive him to the next nearest place over the town line (The buddy walked away with cuts and scratches).
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:32 AM on April 18, 2014

She's said it won't happen again, and you've warned her. You've implied she has another chance, so give it to her.

If you have to escalate, do it slowly and with plenty of warning.

You people have amazingly responsive police, it seems: you should be grateful. Where I live, calling the police to go out to try and find a single, possibly drunk driver (who they probably couldn't stop on a mere tip-off anyway) would be a waste of time, to put it mildly.
posted by Segundus at 8:32 AM on April 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

It doesn't sound like you should live together.
posted by spaltavian at 8:45 AM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think whatever you do the first step should be talking to your sister when she's well rested and sober about what happened. Talking to her while she's still drunk, and likely to be defensive, is probably not going to be the most effective.

Giving her options such as Uber, planning a ride home before going out and getting drunk, and maybe telling her that she can wait in her car for you to come get her might sink in better when she's had a bit of time to reflect on what happened.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:46 AM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I dated someone who did this for almost ten years. No amount of calm reasoning, desperate pleading, crying, offering to DD or pay for a cab, threatening to call his parents or the police, etc. ever made any difference to him at all... unless you count him growing to resent me with a fiery passion and mentally filing every single one of my concerns under "annoying nagging from a killjoy bitch who doesn't want me to have fun" as a difference. It killed the relationship, and he still drinks and drives with no compunction whatsoever.

Some people are so seamlessly convinced of their own ineffable rectitude that admitting that their drunk driving could ever present a problem is simply unimaginable to them. It doesn't fit with their idea of themselves, so they leave it out. Society tells us that drunk drivers are bad, but they know they're not bad, which means they must not be a REAL drunk driver. They'll barf up a million crazy justifications like this just to be able to continue to believe that what they are doing is not really a problem -- not because it isn't a problem at all, but because they're the one who's doing it. Furthermore, drunk people are incredibly prone to making a lot of promises sober ("I won't do it again!") without taking care to acknowledge that they are going to lose any/all ability to keep even a shred of those promises as soon as they get drunk again.

The only thing that made a difference to me was joining an Al-Anon group and, upon entering, being handed a single pamphlet on a single topic: Detachment. I still keep my copy folded up in my pocket -- I'd be happy to scan it into a PDF and send you a copy, if you'd like.

You can't get her to stop doing anything she doesn't want to stop doing, and you'll only make yourself crazy if you try to force her hand or start considering yourself responsible for her actions and their ramifications. Detach, detach, detach.
posted by divined by radio at 8:47 AM on April 18, 2014 [13 favorites]

So I used to drink, probably more than was good for me, and once or twice I probably got behind the wheel when I shouldn't have.

In making this suggestion I don't, for a moment, mean to suggest that addiction isn't a real and difficult problem, or that this is going to magically solve everything, but:
"Hey, your drinking is putting you in situations that are uncomfortable to you and dangerous to others. Why don't you try to stop drinking for a month to see if it helps you to not be in situations where you feel like you need to get out of there now."
The thing that got me to stop drinking wasn't much more than that (actually, it was "you get awful B.O., I think it happens when you drink, why don't you stop for a bit to find out..."). If it works, great (and be supporting, learning to hang out with drinking buddies without drinking takes some doing).

If it doesn't work, then you've got the basis for a "you need help" discussion. AA works for some people, although I'm wary of it as a prescriptive thing because it doesn't work for everyone and can make things worse if someone believes it's a panacea and can't get it to work for them. But that can at least start the discussion.
posted by straw at 8:59 AM on April 18, 2014

Ugh. She has put you in a horrible situation. I see no reason to "give her another chance". She is an adult that knows the consequences of her repeated actions and does not care. I would tell her you need to schedule a meeting with her principal and your parents to discuss strategies to avoid her drunk driving because she is not adult enough to handle it alone. She doesn't want to do that? Then she surrenders her license and sells her car and she can only get them back when she is not longer a potential murder. She isn't willing to do that either? Then she is ok with being a murderer and considers her comfort more important than an innocent person's life. I wouldn't want to live or have a relationship with someone like that, but it is your choice.
posted by saucysault at 9:07 AM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it's right that you need to escalate the consequences as an involved participant and observer. What I might recommend, though, is having something of a hard conversation with her in which you will let her know that this is what will be happening if things don't change, no second chances. There is a risk that she could start hiding behavior, but I imagine it's hard to hide coming home drunk for too long.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:27 AM on April 18, 2014

I tend to see a lot of the suggestions above as an attempt to control her behavior, and that often has bad results.

You can't control what your sister does – you can only control what you do. It sounds to me like moving out is your only recourse. If that is the case, and you're ready to actually do this, I would calmly explain to her (when she's sober, and not hungover) that you will gladly pick her up if she's been drinking/drop her off so she doesn't have a car/help her install Uber/whatever it is you're willing to do, but that you are not willing to live with someone who drives drunk. If she drives home drunk again you'll be looking for a place to live the next day. Then follow through. That's it.

Don't make any ultimatums, and don't say anything you are not prepared to follow through on.

Good luck with whatever you decide. Several members of my family drink and drive, and I know how infuriating it is.
posted by lyssabee at 9:40 AM on April 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Well teh calling the police thing would be drastic and possibly trash your sister's career, which would be totally deserved, but i understand why you as her sister would not want to go directly to that option so...

Tell your parents. If she herself feels that's "Worse than the cops" it just might work. It might generate teh shame and reflection of her true bad behavior enough to make her stop. Your 20s, at least in my cohort, were like the make or break time for people who drank. Most ended up scaling back dramatically, but a few unfortunately are lonely aging "partiers" that sort of got taken over by their bad behavior and the smattering of consequences (dui, underperforming and fired at job, unhealthy weight gain, etc), and as I'm 29 now, i can only assume the path ahead will get worse for them.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:41 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

A lot of my friends in suburbia drive drunk several times a week. Not wasted, falling over, just-had-a-dramatic-fight drunk, but definitely buzzed and shouldn't be behind the wheel. It is the norm, it is the culture for young people who live in places where there are not a lot of transit options and you have to drive to the bar. I guarantee you 90% of the people who leave the same bar as her that night are probably equally inebriated. They think it's ok as long as they're not WASTED YO.

Literally the only thing I have seen change people's behavior is the Uber app, mentioned above. Getting a car is easier than sending a text message. Why the taxi companies didn't do this long ago, I don't know, but for whatever reason hitting a button on your smart phone and not having to wonder if the driver takes credit cards or make a call and drunkenly try to give your address over the phone does it.

So does NOT DRIVING to the bar in the first place, but for a lot of people in suburbia this is unthinkable so YMMV with trying that route.
posted by bradbane at 11:35 AM on April 18, 2014

Does she have about ten grand in cash laying around?

Because a first arrest for DUI is going to cost her about that much in terms of fees, fines, and legal expenses. Explain that to her.

I used to do what she's doing. Without even thinking about it. I got caught. I spent a night in jail, then on probation. I lost my license for a while.

It well and positively and truly sucks. It's humiliating. It's expensive. And it was the only thing that would have made me stop. It did.

So ask her if she's got ten grand laying around.
posted by Thistledown at 12:59 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Does she have about ten grand in cash laying around?

There are a number of police departments engaged in anti-DUI PSA campaigns wherein they describe police cruisers as the most expensive cab rides in town.

Regular cab? $20-50.

Police "cab"? $10k easy.
posted by valkyryn at 2:23 PM on April 18, 2014

Unfortunately people who do this have a massive ability for self-deception - often, they think they are perfectly fine to drive after 4 or 6 or 8 drinks or whatever, maybe other people can't handle it but they can, and it's really hard to break through that. A DUI will get most people's attention, but, there are alcoholics are barely fazed by a DUI - they think they just had some bad luck, and can go back to doing what they do.
posted by thelonius at 2:33 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

My ex and I were in a situation where his "friend" was over, was hammered, and was demanding his keys so he could drive home (40 minute drive). We refused. He threatened both of us (while standing next to the knives in our kitchen). We gave him the keys. He drove off, we called the cops. The cops got him immediately.

I have no regrets. If she does it again (since you said you'd give her another chance), I would definitely escalate.
posted by getawaysticks at 10:05 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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