How to Handle Toxic Family Members

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“Who gives a sh-t?”  Shouts your intoxicated uncle in front of your three and four-year-old family members.  Worse yet, he doesn’t stop there.  He goes on and on making racist comments and telling offensive jokes, apparently oblivious to your, and everyone else’s, negative reactions to them.

How many of us have been in situations like these around the holidays, and often far worse?  It doesn’t really matter whether or not your uncle is an alcoholic, although there’s a good chance he might be.  What matters is that you know this behavior occurs when that person drinks, and drink they will during the holiday season.  Or, you might be in a situation where you chronically come into contact with a family member who is the same way year-round.


What you really care about is getting through the holidays peaceably, and you can with some of these tips.

Alcoholism is One of the Most Challenging Types of Addiction:  It’s Very Uncomfortable, So What do You Do? 

Everyone in the room feels uncomfortable except for the intoxicated individual.  You can’t control his or her behavior, but you can control some of the circumstances surrounding the situation.  Here’s what you can try:

  • Don’t serve alcohol.  Pretty easy one here.  Simply do not serve alcohol at the holiday gathering this year.  Of course, they can always bring their own, but if they don’t know you aren’t serving any until they arrive, you might be able to avoid those uncomfortable drunken situations that happened in the past.
  • Pour drinks yourself.  If the intoxicated individual drinks liquor, offer to pour the drinks for them.  That way, you can control the actual amount of booze going in to each one.  They may have a BAC just low enough to keep them from hitting that point where they make everyone else uncomfortable.
  • Call your local Al-Anon chapter.  Experience is the best teacher.  They know some of the facts about alcohol abuse.  Give your local Alcoholics Anonymous Chapter a call, and ask how others deal with drunken family members.
  • Honestly communicate your feelings.  Tell the family members your honest feelings about the situation.  Say something along the lines of, “We have children and our grandparents here and we don’t allow drinking at family gatherings.  Your behavior is embarrassing to yourself and everyone else in the family.”

If the individual reacts negatively, simply accept their feelings, but don’t take them personally.  Do be prepared for them to get offended and not show up to the party at all.

  • Invite them to the last part of the party.  If you want to be inclusive to these challenging family members, simply invite them to the latter half of the celebration.  While their behavior may still be disruptive at times, it will be kept to a minimum, and before you know it they’ll be gone.

What Tips do You Have?

You might also consider an addiction intervention.  These are our tips for dealing with intoxicated family members – what are yours?  Have you tried any creative solutions with success in the past?

Mike Loverde

With firsthand experience with addiction, Mike Loverde is now a Certified Intervention Professional (CIP), as accredited by the Association of Intervention Specialists and the Pennsylvania Certification Board. He founded Family First Intervention in 2008 and has since helped hundreds of families find intervention and addiction rehabilitation solutions.

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