How to deal with a group member whose drinking is becoming a problem?
May 18, 2014 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Last Friday, it became clear that a member of a group that I'm in has drinking behaviours that may be becoming incompatible with being in the group. I can see several ways to proceed, but any advice is welcome - especially if you experienced something similar and tried something that worked.

This member of our group - let's call him X - tends to show up for meetings looking dishevelled and slurring his speech. On more than one occasion he has fallen asleep during the formal part of the meeting, snoring loudly, and this also happened last Friday.

After the formal part of the meeting there were snacks and drinks, as is usual for our group's biweekly meetings. There isn't a bar, wine and non-alcoholic beverages are set out on a table and after one or two formal toasts everyone helps themselves to whatever they like. Except for X, people pretty much tend to do this in moderation. On Friday, I overheard comments from one person and got comments from two other people, all remarking on X's excessive alcohol intake during the evening. I didn't witness this myself, since X is a smoker and spent most of the evening standing outside while I spent most of my time indoors, but when talking to him during the evening I did notice that he seemed to have trouble being coherent. At the end of the evening, around midnight, X pretty much begged those of us who were still there to go with him to a nearby bar for "one last drink".

X lives within walking distance of the place where the group meets, so he should be able to get home afterwards without endangering others or himself. Nevertheless, continuing to go down this road doesn't seem like a good thing for anyone involved.

I can see several ways to proceed, but, as I indicated above the fold, any advice is welcome - especially if you experienced something similar and tried something that worked.
posted by rjs to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It would probably help to know a little more about what kind of "meeting" this is and what kind of relationship the group members have to each other. I think I'd give different advice, to some extent, depending on the nature of your social bonds.
posted by yoink at 12:38 PM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's a comasonic lodge (a masonic lodge that's open to men and women). Some of our meetings are ritualistic (as was the one last Friday), and some are discussion meetings. Though we discuss pretty serious life stuff at some of our meetings we're not a therapy group, and though friendships develop in the lodge most of us don't socialise much outside of lodge activities.
posted by rjs at 12:45 PM on May 18, 2014

Then I think there are two different questions in play. One of them is how you respond in the best interests of your group and the other is how you respond in the best interests of this member. With regards to the first: if his presence is disruptive or disturbing to other members it would seem possible that you might want to confront him and tell him he needs to improve his behavior or risk being barred. With regards to the second: if there's a member (or members) of your group who is close to him or close to members of his family it might be an idea to encourage that person to talk to him and talk to his family about seeking appropriate help.
posted by yoink at 12:50 PM on May 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Someone needs to have a quiet, private word and tell this man "Your inebriation at the Lodge events is making the other members uncomfortable (and if it at odds with the membership charter, say so here.) If this is something you need help with, I would like to help you with."

Couch it in terms of offering help. If X says he doesn't need help, this chat has at least put him on notice that his drinking is becoming a public spectacle.

Avoid at all costs the impulse to couch this as "We've noticed... everyone says... we'd like to help you." It's a cop-out on the part of whomever is speaking with him and will do nothing but humiliate him.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:57 PM on May 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Moderation and level headedness are masonic values, are they not? And eating and drinking to excess are discouraged. I would include that in the discussion.
Your group needs to nominate one guy to talk to this guy. Make it a formal thing. "Dude, your behaviour is at odds with our masonic goals and the kind of place we want to be. Coming in / becoming repeatedly drunk in the lodge is not okay. We're going to have to ask you to stop coming in drunk. That means Either don't drink that night or don't come. Are you on board with that?"

Ideally, the person telling him this should outrank him. That means the people who outrank him need to reach a joint decision to do this.

Then see what happens.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:15 PM on May 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

(Obviously, if he repeats his drunk appearances, escort him out / remove him from the group entirely.)
posted by Omnomnom at 1:21 PM on May 18, 2014

Most groups have rules somewhere, and the rules probably require civil behavior. Or there's a mission statement. His behavior is disruptive and probably can be construed as violation the rules or being antithetical to the mission. X, I'm concerned about you. At the last meeting, you seemed -insert behaviors-. On previous occasions, it has been reported that -insert behaviors-. X, you're a valued member of the lodge. Here is some literature on alcoholism, in case it is helpful to you. Meanwhile, the lodge is making a formal request that your behavior at meetings be sober, so that you can participate meaningfully, and to allow meetings to proceed without disruption. As your friend and fellow member, is there anything you want to talk about? If there are lodge members who are recovering alcoholics, perhaps someone would volunteer to take him to a meeting.
posted by theora55 at 2:06 PM on May 18, 2014

Really you are asking two questions [I agree with the premise above] - how do you deal with this in regards to the Masons and whether you should intervene generally in regards to his drinking.

My experience with the Masonic Lodge is limited - I almost joined some time ago and I have several friends who are Masons and I've been to meetings. As you know they have a very stringent organizational structure - I would bring the matter to the attention of the leadership and let it go at that.

As to the matter of his drinking to excess... if you figure out a solution please let the world know. Until then I would just make sure he has something to eat available and let that slide as well.
posted by vapidave at 2:19 PM on May 18, 2014

For me, if you don't like people being tipsy at these meetings, the smartest thing to do is not serve wine. Moderation is obviously a good idea, but when you serve alcohol, you greatly increase the likelihood that at times, somebody will have a bit too much. He would certainly not be the only person I've known to fall asleep at a meeting in the evening without having a drop, so that seems like questionable evidence to try to present to him.

I feel like you'd have an easier time explaining to him what you need to change if you could point to something specific, like, "you were loud," as opposed to "people were talking about how much you had to drink." There are people who will talk if somebody has two drinks and people who won't talk until somebody has more than five. The mere fact that there's gossip about how much he's drinking isn't the easiest thing to take to him as proof that he needs to change his behavior or else.

In other words, I don't disagree that he may be going down a bad path, but I'm not sure he's given you enough to go on at this point for it to be likely that you can make a very good case for booting him, or that you can tell him you think he's an alcoholic. What would you tell him he's being booted for? Drinking more than people think he should? Falling asleep? It would be an easier discussion if you could say, "You were loud and disruptive," not just "we've decided you drink too much at the meetings where we serve unlimited free alcohol." I'm not sure what in this behavior you could tell him is violating a rule against being civil, for instance.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 3:23 PM on May 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe he's leaving work and going to happy hour before the meeting, and sometimes it gets away from him. Have someone in the group at his age/experience level casually mention that he should watch it with the pre-loading before meetings, or he can just skip the meeting. It doesn't sound like he wants to be there; rather than backing out at an adult level he's showing up out of it.

Let that be the consequence for his inappropriate behavior, and see what changes.

If nothing changes, then follow up.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:32 AM on May 19, 2014

X lives within walking distance of the place where the group meets, so he should be able to get home afterwards without endangering others or himself.

First of all, are you sure he's not driving? I would express concern each and every time about how he's getting home.

Then, how about one day you walk him home or agree to go for that last drink and say, "You keep showing up half in the bag and falling asleep; what's up?" Or if not you, someone he trusts or who has relevant experience. The thing is, it doesn't sound like you know how far along he is in his drinking problem; he may not be aware of doing this. Or he may be all too well aware of it. See if that one nudge is enough to make him stop showing up drunk, or stop showing up. (I agree with halfbuckaroo; he's likely not interested enough to keep coming anyway.) If the behavior keeps up, then you may decide to escalate and ultimately kick him out.

I also think making the meetings dry is not a bad idea depending on the general feeling.
posted by BibiRose at 8:21 AM on May 19, 2014

Alcoholism is an illness, like any other. How would you respond to a member of the group whose untreated cancer was affecting their behaviour? Would you tell them that falling asleep in meetings or going outside to be sick halfway through were contrary to masonic values, would you term it 'inappropriate', or would you rally around that person to ensure they get the help that they need?
posted by matthew.alexander at 10:05 AM on May 19, 2014

First of all, thank you very much for your thoughtful replies. Rather than marking 'best answers', I'd like to conclude this by summarising what I took away from this thread.

Reading the replies, and thinking the whole thing over, my thinking shifted from 'how to deal with this one person's behaviour' to 'how can we, as an organisation, do better in this area'.

Some of our current or future members may be unable to be somewhere where alcohol is served. That doesn't make them unfit to be members, but it is something that we need to be aware of and may need to accomodate.

There's a difference between drinking beforehand and drinking at the end of meetings.

Heavy drinking before meetings may impair people's ability to get to the meetings safely as well as their ability to participate, and it may cause their behaviour during the meetings to be disruptive. It also means that anything they drink later on will come on top of what they had beforehand. We can't control what people do before they walk in the door, but we can and should make clear what our expectations are.

Heavy drinking at the end of meetings is actually not that easy to do. Usually there's only one or two hours between the end of the formal part of the proceedings and the time when everyone starts to head home. We don't serve huge amounts of alcohol during that time, and what we have is shared between a fairly large number of people. In order to get seriously drunk you'd have to either bring your own booze (which I don't think is happening) or pick up a full bottle and finish it on your own. By keeping our eyes open, intervening when necessary, and restricting access to the storage area where the extra bottles are kept, we should be able to keep that from happening.
posted by rjs at 12:06 PM on May 20, 2014

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