Alcohol misuse at Christmas – The Family Impact

Jo Huey - alcohol misuse at christmas

I love Christmas and getting into the festive spirit. I enjoy some eggnog and mulled wine like the next person, but I know when to stop.  As the child of an alcoholic, I know how hard this time of year can be for families.

Christmas is a good excuse to enjoy a tipple because it’s a “special occasion” not to mention socially acceptable , but for families of drinkers it’s not such an enjoyable time. 

Christmas with a drinker

When I was younger I lived with my father who drank too much, Christmas wasn’t how I’d have liked it. I wanted him to be part of it, but most of the time he just did his own thing, went out or sat in his car and drank alone. 

It’s important to say that alcohol misuse isn’t just someone that drinks all day and night and can’t live without it. Binge drinking is a good example of alcohol misuse, but so socially accepted.  So many at Christmas drink too much in a short period of time, this specifically impacts the heart. 

“Holiday Heart Syndrome tends to come on after episodes of heavy drinking – usually at least 15 units (about seven and a half pints of 4% beer or one and a half bottles of 13% wine) in a 24 hour period.  If this happens, your heart starts to beat irregularly making you feel breathless. Your blood pressure changes, increasing your risk of a heart attack and sudden death”. Drinkaware

Some people drink more regularly and Christmas just makes that easier, they’re drinking will probably increase but for dependent drinkers it’s like a normal day. 

All the while the family are worrying about their loved one. Often the typical things I hear from families are that they just don’t know what to do and how to help the drinker in their life. 

When they’re in the midst of someone’s alcohol misuse, they often struggle at Christmas because they’re apprehensive about what the drinker will do. They worry about how much they’re drinking, where they are and who they’re with. 

If you live in the same house as a heavy drinker it’s so much harder, they generally don’t care, they might not be part of the festivities but if they are they can be embarrassing.

Drinker behaviour

Depending on the drinker they can be aggressive, rude, full of themselves and generally cause chaos. Each situation is unique and everyone’s experience varies depending on the level of drinking. 

If you’re affected by someone’s drinking, you aren’t alone. I’ve been there myself and know how hard it is. It’s natural to want to control it, it’s especially difficult for parents where they’re child is misusing alcohol. The natural instinct is to want to protect their child, to help them. 

The bottom line is that we can’t control someone else, let alone they’re drinking. Most of the time, people need to reach a rock bottom. Families often tell the drinker about all the things they do wrong, what hurt they’re causing, question the drinkers actions and generally feel very angry and resentful. I share some of the common questions families have in my brochure, you can download a copy here. 

Looking after yourself

It’s important for families to have boundaries, to accept that the drinker will be drinking and to simply state facts, without judgement. I know this is hard, but being critical and judgemental won’t help either. 

If having space is an option available to you, then you may want to consider it. Even if you visit a loved one for a short period of time and make your excuses and leave. Life isn’t fair and no it would be nice if it wasn’t this way, but then that’s not realistic. We all have addictions in some form or another, some choose alcohol. Unfortunately the family and friends and the ones that have to deal with the consequences. 

I wish there was a magic wand and an easy answer but there isn’t. The main thing families have to do is focus on their own well being, do what’s going to help you cope at the time. 

Support for families

If you need support then you can join my Change Your Mind Facebook group by clicking here, full of families and people affected by a loved one’s drinking. We’re there to help you in your time of need. 

I recently did an interview on BBC Radio Solent Dorset with my sister about living with alcoholism around Christmas time. You can listen to my interview by clicking here, which is about 4 minutes and my sister shares her story as an alcoholic. You can listen to her interview by clicking here. It lasts around 8 minutes. 

Have a lovely festive period in the best way you can. 

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