by Dr. Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP
Holiday gatherings can be high-risk times if alcohol is involved—as it usually is.
Most of us in the moment will attempt to ignore excessive drinking. It’s not a good time for a rational discussion; there’s a good chance the discussion will lead to an angry argument instead. Yet, while it may not be the time for a discussion, it is important not to ignore the excessive drinking entirely. Make sure to take care of the excessive drinker: no driving, a trip to the ER or whatever else might be needed. Alcohol related injury and death will be all too frequent over the holiday season.
Once the drinker has sobered up, you may find yourself deciding between saying something and just hoping he/she will be better next time. As for the latter option, how many times have you hoped for that outcome already? You may decide to say something and find yourself wondering how to go about it.
If that’s the case, here are some guidelines:
Think ahead to the consequences you might face if the drinker, even stone cold sober, gets argumentative, or worse, vindictive. Are you prepared to accept these consequences?
Gather one or two others (but not a crowd) to support you. If no one is available, are you ready to have the conversation alone?
Unfortunately, the conversation could go in many different directions from this point (if you are even allowed to finish saying what you started to say). Here are some statements it might be worth repeating, over and over, until they sink in.
Having the Talk
You might have your own thoughts on what to say, but oftentimes, it can be difficult to find the words. Here are some suggestions to help guide you through the conversation:
- Be brief and straightforward: “I don’t know how much you remember about [the party]. From my perspective you were drinking too much, because you [got nasty, slipped and fell, passed out, got very loud and argumentative, etc.]. It would be easier to ignore what happened and hope it doesn’t happen again [but I’ve already done that]. I care enough about you to tell you about my concerns. I hope you will stop drinking so much.”
- “I’m not telling you what to do. I’m telling you what I observed. You can check out my observations with others who were there.”
- “I’m concerned about you, because I care about you. I’m concerned because I see you hurting yourself.”
- “How to address this issue is up to you. You’ve solved many other problems in life. You can figure out how to solve this one, too.”
- “If you think you need help, there are many options available. You could investigate them and see what would work for you.”