How to deal with alcoholics in the family

How can you stay calm in an alcoholic home? Three (3) practical strategies for bringing peace into your life here.

minute read

Keeping the Peace: Tools for Staying Calm in an Alcoholic Home

Rage, tears, yelling, screaming, slammed doors, shattered glasses, shattered lives: this is one experience of an alcoholic home. Others may be more subtle but just as destructive with:

  • hidden shame and lies
  • family secrets
  • unspoken commands to speak quietly, never criticize, or to stay out of the way after Mom or Dad or Uncle have had a few glasses

The rules that have to be managed for surviving in an alcoholic home can be overwhelming and frequently leave you emotionally crippled, stressed, and anxious. So if you are living in a home with alcoholism, or as many people are right now preparing to go visit the family home over the holidays what can you do to stay calm, to take care of yourself, and to maintain your own peace in the midst of the chaos?

3 strategies for dealing with alcoholics in the family

These three strategies can be used together or independently to bring a little more calm to your own life whatever else is going on around you!

1.    Be aware of what is going on for you.

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Notice the point at which you get stressed, what family behaviors trigger that? Do you always feel your shoulders tighten when Dad dips into the eggnog for the second cup? Do you start to get short-tempered when Mom pops open the extra bottle of champagne? Noticing how the actions around you impact your experience allows you to start making choices about how to take care of yourself, the first step though is to be aware.

2.    Accept what you have control over (and what you don’t).

You can hide all the alcohol, you can throw a big fit to divert attention, you can strategically empty glasses when people aren’t looking, but none of this kind of behavior changes the fundamental issue or dealing with an alcoholic environment. You can’t make an alcoholic drink and you can’t stop them from drinking beyond using lies and trickery of your own.

So what can you do?

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Manage your own behavior. Avoid getting pulled in to conflict by staying quiet, resist the urge to protect people from their own choices, practice taking care of yourself by being aware of what you need to feel comfortable.

3.    Take action to take care of yourself.

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If you know that being with the family for more than two hours always leads to a big fight, leave after an hour and a half. If things are totally unpredictable and you never know when things are going to get out of control have a back-up plan, go for a walk, bring an art project you can quietly work on, retreat to your room. Remember that getting involved in the chaos is a choice, you can also choose actions that get you out of the chaos.

You have choices!

Living with alcoholics or coming from an alcoholic family means that you might be too comfortable with chaos, stress, and insanity. It doesn’t mean that you have to stay comfortable with that and that there are no other choices for how to live.

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recovery today.

Every interaction we have is ultimately up to us to affirmatively decide to have. It might make us sad to not be with family but it might also make us feel terrible to be with them. It’s up to each of us to decide what is right for our lives, to choose that path and to embrace the opportunity for peace that making that choice brings.

About the author
Maggie Harmon is a writer, speaker, leadership coach and business consultant who approaches every engagement through a holistic understanding of the situation. Her consulting practice focuses on deeply understanding who or what you are and what you want to achieve, and from there helping to create a plan, develop tools, and access resources that let you get where it is you want to go, and do what you do, better! You can connect with her here or via Maggie's Blog.


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  1. These are great actions that people can take to be proactive when living with or visiting someone who is battling alcoholism. In so many ways, they might feel powerless. It is important to recognize where they do have control to make decisions in these situations.

  2. My fiance is an alcoholic he is great, inspiring, happy, very good to me from when he wakes up to about 7pm. After that its a free for all i dont know if he will go Won a tangent or just falling over leaving me to babysit him. I used to fight back with him so much throwing pies at him yelling but i realized you can’t argue with a drunk it does nothing. He isn’t a violent drunk but i can’t handle it. I just had a 2 level cervical fusion so i can’t drive anywhere to get away so i just keep quiet and lock myself in another room but it stresses me out so much. He acknowledges he’s an alcoholic and has slowed down but i have to keep an eye out on him and monitor his bottle. When its happening i just dont know what to do.

  3. Thank you Maggie for posting this. As the Director of Admissions at a treatment center, that shall remain nameless 🙂 , I deal with the families all of the time and my heart truly goes out to them. It’s like a tornado that they cannot do anything about.

    They need blogs like this one to give advice on what to do when they have a family member who is an alcoholic/addict.

    Working in treatment, I’ve gotten increasingly frustrated with the lack of information and guidance on what to do with their alcoholic loved one, specifically in finding the right treatment center considering how many are out there. I decided to start an unbiased website/blog that gives families advice on the right type of questions to ask and hopefully give them some insight on how the treatment world really works!

    And thanks again for writing this blog, it really is very helpful to those who need it.

    -Blake C.

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