In Long-Term Recovery Fighting for Custody

A woman in long-term recovery recently contacted me about this issue. She’d voluntarily installed a breathalizer (aka ignition interlock device) in her car and a camera so it could be verified that she was the one who blew into the breathalizer. She’d also already agreed to and had been complying with random drug tests. Yet she still was unable to get the judge to modify her custody visits to some sort of physical custody.

Would we prevent a person whose cancer is in remission from enjoying a respectful, meaningful, equal shared post-divorce relationship with their children? Would we do that with a person who is managing their HIV, heart disease or diabetes?

Lisa Frederiksen Shares What Family Law Attorneys & Judges Need to Know When Substance Misuse or Secondhand Drinking are present

Of course not. But that’s because we understand those diseases. They are no longer shrouded in secrecy, misinformation and shame. Those involved in a family law proceeding (family law attorneys, judges and the clients themselves) see these individuals as separate from their disease and applaud their recovery as commendable and something to be honored and supported.

On the contrary, family law proceedings with persons in long-term recovery from a substance use disorder are often fraught with discrimination, mostly because all concerned do not understand addiction for what it is – a chronic, often relapsing, but TREATABLE, brain disease, nor do they understand addiction recovery. And so they see the person in recovery as their disease, rather than a person with a treatable disease from which For some family members, it's difficult to forgive and forget a loved one - even after years of sobriety.they are in recovery. As such, those in family law proceedings still associate that individual’s pre-recovery, pre-treatment behaviors as intentional, rather than an outcome of the chemical and structural brain changes that are the hallmark of the brain disease of addiction.

All of this deeply hurts the children caught in the custody battle. Often the tragic outcome is the children suffer what are known as Adverse Childhood Consequences (ACEs), which in turn sets them up to suffer a host of unhealthy outcomes – including the development of a substance use or mental disorder, themselves.

What Can You Do if You Are in Long-Term Recovery Fighting for Custody

Please note the phrase, “long-term recovery.” As a mother of two daughters caught in the insanity of the untreated family disease of alcoholism and my ensuing divorce from their father in the early 1990s, I understand how terrifying it is when the parent in question is active in their addiction. [Check out my articles, Fears for Children When Divrocing an Alcoholic and Family Law Discrimination Against Recovering Alcoholics/Addicts.] So this article is addressing the person living in long-term recovery vs early recovery or active addiction. Why the distinction?

As stated, relapse is a hallmark of the disease of addiction. And because addiction is a brain disease [disease by its simplest definition is something that changes cells in a negative way; addiction changes cells in the brain – the organ that controls everthing a person thinks, feels, says and does] treatment of this disease is not done in 28 days. So this article is for the person in long-term recovery fighting for physical custody. The following suggestions can also be used by someone in early recovery to build a parenting plan that demonstrates their commitment to their addiction treatment and recovery.

Educate the Court and the Family Law Attorneys Involved

For most people, the notion that addiction is a disease, let alone a brain disease, is pretty far-fetched, which is why I love the science. Here are three sources that may help you educate the courts, family law attorneys and even your opposing party (not in a “I know it all” manner, rather, “It’s a whole new world in our understanding of the brain and the brain disease of addiction…”):

How Science Has Revolutionized the Understanding of Drug [and alcohol is considered a drug] Addiction

…Today, thanks to science, our views and our responses to addiction and other substance use disorders have changed dramatically. Groundbreaking discoveries about the brain have revolutionized our understanding of compulsive drug use, enabling us to respond effectively to the problem.

As a result of scientific research, we know that addiction is a disease that affects both the brain and behavior. We have identified many of the biological and environmental factors and are beginning to search for the genetic variations that contribute to the development and progression of the disease. Scientists use this knowledge to develop effective prevention and treatment approaches that reduce the toll drug abuse takes on individuals, families, and communities. Source: NIDA’s Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction

Does relapse to drug [alcohol] abuse mean treatment has failed?

No. The chronic nature of the disease means that relapsing to drug abuse at some point is not only possible, but likely. Relapse rates (i.e., how often symptoms recur) for people with addiction and other substance use disorders are similar to relapse rates for other well-understood chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which also have both physiological and behavioral components. Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors, and relapse does not mean treatment has failed. For a person recovering from addiction, lapsing back to drug use indicates that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted or that another treatment should be tried.28   Source: NIDA’s Drug Facts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction

The Addiction Project, created by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and HBO, is one of my all-time favorite sites, chock full of information about the disease, how it develops, why some develop it, relapse, treatement, co-occurring disorders, recovery and more.

Consider Using a Family Law Mediator

And not just any family law mediator, but one who understands addiction and recovery. Alona M. Gottfried, a family law mediator and attorney in Arizona, wrote an excellent article for In Recovery Magazine’s Fall 2015 issue, titled “Finding Peace Through Mediation,” which was posted online 11/06/2015. In her article, Ms. Gottfried shares the following about her own work as a family law mediator:

Parenting Plans which address addiction concerns and the potential impact on children.

Modifications or Temporary Modifications to custody orders.

Legal Separation to handle issues until one party achieves a certain level of sobriety. By legally separating, the parties can divide their assets and debts, then make arrangements for support issues and parenting time during this transition period, including concerns that their partner could drive under the influence or face other criminal charges that can have financial repercussions.

Post-nuptial agreements, which are agreements that allow them to stay married but still address treatment and recovery issues.

Reconciliation-type Forums – These types of mediations generally do not result in a binding agreement, unlike those involving legal actions. Instead, in a facilitated conversation to help make it as productive and comfortable as possible, those taking part in the process air their concerns, feel heard and understood, then create a road map for moving forward in relationships.

Source: Alona M. Gottfried, “Finding Peace Through MediationIn Recovery Magazine’s Fall 2015 issue.

Fine-tune Your Long-Term Recovery Plan

Addiction is an entirely TREATABLE brain disease and recovery is entirely possible when a person treats their disease. And for this, NIDA provides another excellent resource, Principles of Effective Addiction Treatment: A Reserach-Based Guide (Third Edition)I suggest you create a document that shows what you are doing to treat your addiction and address common relapse concerns, namely:

Effective Co-occurring Disorders (aka Comorbitity) Treatment – in the event you have both an addiction and mental disorder, such as anxiety, PTSD, depression, Bipolar, it is important to treat both at the same time. Resource

Addressing Your Underlying Risk Factors – there are five key risk factors that contribute to why a person develops the disease of addiction: genetics, social environment, early use, mental illness and childhood trauma. Explain what you are doing or have done to address yours so that one does not become the trigger of a relapse. An example might be cognitive behavioral therapy to address childhood trauma around early verbal, phsycial or emotional abuse. Resource

Anti-craving Medications – the power of addiction cravings is incredible which is where anit-craving medications to treat drug addictions can help. These include methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone for opiod addiction and naltrexone, disulfiram and acamprostate for alcohol and other drug addictions. Reource

Continuing Care, aka Aftercare – treatment for addiction must follow the same 3-stage treatment model used for other chronic diseases: 1) detox/stabilization, 2) acute care/rehab and 3) long-term continuing care, aka aftercare. Stage 3 is the one most often missing – in other words, what is the plan for maintaining one’s long-term recovery? It should be written and might include several of the following: attending 12-step or other self-help meetings, using a recovery coach, using a recovery app on their cell phone, agreeing to random drug testing, installing a breathalizer and camera in one’s car, regular sessions with a therapist who specializes in addiction. For all, it should be a commitment to engaging in the now scientifically understood brain healing/wellness practices of nutrition, aerobic exercise, sleep and mindfulness practices. Make a list and be specific – include where, when and how often. Resource 1 and Resource 2.

What If – What to Do Relapse Plan – relapse doesn’t mean treatment has failed (as explained above) nor does it mean all the recovery progress the brain has experienced disappears. But it’s important to have a plan in place in the event a relapse does occur. As for resources, looking back at the ones provided above will shed light on what you will want to do in the event of a relapse. The main purpose of this effort is to show you will take action and what that action will be.

Share the Fact there are 23 Million Americans Living in Long-term Recovery

Most of society doesn’t understand this fact – people can and do recover and they can and do lead joy-filled, productive, engaged “normal” lives. Check out these websites:

Faces and Voices of Recovery

The Anonymous People

Facing | UNITE to Face Addiction

For Addictional Questions and Resources

As always, please feel free to contact me directly at or browse through the “For Families” section on my website.

©2015 Lisa Frederiksen

My Addicted Child – Author Larry Fritzlan

For the last twenty years, today’s guest, author Larry Fritzlan, has witnessed the transformative power of individuals and families in recovery. His passion is to help teens and young adults escape from the downward spiral of addiction, stemming in large part from his work as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and his belief “…that the failure to begin addiction treatment with the whole family system is a primary reason for the failure rate of nearly 50% in the addiction industry. We believe professionals need to understand that the client is not the addict, the client is the addicted family system.” In today’s post, Larry shares his passion, beliefs and the reason for writing his book, My Addicted Child.  

To learn more about Larry, visit his website,

Interview with Larry Fritzlan, author of “My Addicted Child”

What made you want to write this book now?

My Addicted Child -  Author Larry Fritzlan

Larry Fritzlan, author of “My Addicted Child”

We see an urgent need for the information we have, that we have used so successfully to treat addiction, to get out to those who are suffering in a much broader way. We believe the evidence-based, family systems approach that we use will someday become the norm in treating addiction.

What is different about the family systems approach to treating addiction?

What happens today for many addicts who are looking for treatment is they go to a 30-day treatment program—what we call the “spin dry” approach, and then are turned out with a suggestion to go find a 12-step program for support. That is why treatment today after one year has only a 40-60% success rate. We know that addiction is a brain disease, that there are many steps needed to restore normal functioning to the brain, and 30 days isn’t long enough. Moreover, if the family system is not treated alongside with treating the addict, the system itself will pull the addict right back into addiction. We believe professionally guided treatment needs to be at least one year in length. What we do is create a plan for the first year, for every person in the family.

Why is this book focused on parents of addicts? Why is that important?

My Addicted Child - book mockup 2 (1)Parents of addicts are in a very difficult place. Watching your child in the throes of addiction is hard. Before your eyes, your child becomes someone you don’t recognize. Parents, out of love and fear, tend to do exactly the wrong things. when they see their child heading down this path. As parents, we want to protect our children from harm, but unfortunately that urge when dealing with an addict becomes what we call enabling, which hampers the addict’s ability to get the help they need.

We know though that there are things to do now, when the child is still under 18, that can interrupt the pattern. We want to help parents intervene at the earliest possible time and not let the addiction progress and the damage become severe. Addiction kills. Teen addicts die from substance use, and we want parents to be aware of the dangers of drugs, to seek evaluation and treatment for their child, and address any substance abuse in children as soon as they notice any potential signs. Legally, parents or guardians are responsible for the wellbeing of minors. It would be negligent of them to observe addiction progressing and becoming more severe in a minor who is under their charge, before intervening.

You, Larry, talk in the book about your own experience with addiction. Why did you decide to share your story?

In my story, I show how at age 14 I had already become addicted. I was neglected by well-meaning but ignorant adults: my parents, doctors, teachers, and other adults who, if they had the right information and the right tools, could have intervened right then. It would have been so much easier and cheaper! Instead, it took another 25 years for me to get help, and it was a very long intense process of rewiring the neuronal networks in my brain to get myself to the place where I was a healthy, functioning adult. I use my story as an example of the hard way. There are millions like me who “made it” but we comprise only a small percentage of the estimated 30-45 million addicts still suffering and not receiving help.

What are the main things you want parents to know about addiction?

1-Addiction is a serious, potentially life-threatening disease of faulty brain chemistry and structure. There is a biological component, and it is a disease that occurs to anyone of any class.
2-In the throes of this brain disease, the midbrain continually overrides the rational, thinking brain. Most addicts are in denial about how they (their rational selves) are not in control.
3-Professionals define it by the 4 c’s: craving, loss of control, continuing despite adverse consequences, and chronicity
4-As addiction progresses, it changes the brain

You talk in the book about how difficult it can be for parents to discern the difference between “normal teen” behaviors and the onset of addiction. What are ways parents can tell the difference?

With teenagers, it is the parents’ job to see that their child is kept safe and is socialized in a way that will allow him or her to ultimately become self-sufficient, to work and start their own family, and to become a contributing member of the larger society. However, a healthy teen’s goal is to stand up for themselves, to not rely on the family, to be free, to make their own decisions. We often find ourselves telling parents the following: “If you are the parent of a teen and there is not a crisis going on, you are not paying attention.” The crisis is built in. The parents’ job, in effect, is to say, “You are our child, and our job is to train (socialize, educate, influence) you to be a healthy adult, and we have some clear ideas of what that looks like.” The teen, unconsciously, in effect is saying, “Screw you and your ideas; I have my own ideas; in fact I resent the fact that you still have the power to set curfews and restrict my life. I want to run my own life; I want out of this nest.” This is often what it’s like in many normal, healthy families.

Drug use makes this process much more complicated and exponentially raises the risk of an unsuccessful “launching” — getting your “good enough” kid to move out of the house and support himself on his own resources. This is where “enabling” starts. When parents choose to allow the use of drugs (or alcohol, or all-night video games, etc.) they enable what comes next, because they always have the power to minimize or stop the harmful behavior. They can set and enforce appropriate boundaries that keep their child on a healthy track, or that get him back on track, if he veers off course.

We encourage parents to reflect on potentially problematic behaviors they may have observed in their child. (We have even created a questionnaire to assist in this process.) Signs include changes in sleeping patterns, moodiness, disinterest in after school activities, different friends, and secrecy.

What do you think society as a whole needs to do?

We believe that the failure to begin addiction treatment with the whole family system is a primary reason for the failure rate of nearly 50% in the addiction industry. We believe professionals need to understand that the client is not the addict, the client is the addicted family system.

What do you want people to take away from the book?

We want people to know that healing is possible. On this path, addicted families can begin to build healthy, heart-centered relationships and joyful lives of long-term sobriety and serenity. We believe, barring any unusual complications, every individual and every family is capable of rewiring their neuronal networks to reach this goal.

National Night of Conversation – November 19

Dr.Oz#NightofConversationIt’s time to set the table – this time, it’s with an empty plate to signify the importance of family discussions to break the silence and shatter the misinformation about drug and alcohol misuse and addiction.

What is the National Night of Conversation?

Co-sponsored by the Dr. Oz Show, Facing Addiction | UNITE to Face Addiction and the Partnership for Drug Free Kids, Dr. Oz is calling on all of us to have dinner with people we care about to talk about a very serious, serious national health issue – substance misuse and addiction. Quoting from Dr. Oz’s talking points:

Dependence on alcohol and drugs is a serious national public health problem. The federal government is taking steps to address the problem on a policy level, but evidence has also shown that emotional support plays a huge role in preventing drug addiction as well as supporting recovery. By having meaningful discussions about substance abuse, we can help those around us avoid the disease of addiction. For many of us, this is not something we are used to talking about or comfortable with, so this guide is designed to help make the conversation easier. This guide provides tips to get a discussion started between adults and kids,but everyone can have this conversation. To facilitate a more in-depth discussion you can download a toolkit from

How to Start Your Conversation

The Dr. Oz Show has created a powerful PDF chock full of helpful suggestions, including this screen shot of page 4, Starting the Conversation:

Screen Shot, pg. 4, The National Night of Conversation

Consider Setting Your Table Once a Month

One of the most powerful tools to change the course of substance misuse and addiction is to talk about it – OFTEN. So pick a night of the month – 1st Sunday, perhaps? – and revisit Dr. Oz’s PDF for conversation starters. You might also check out NIDA for Teens 2015 National Drug and Alcohol IQ Challenge for additional talking points.

Just Say, “No,” doesn’t work because of the complexity of the human brain – especially during adolescence – that influences a teen’s decision to try a substance but can thwart a teen’s attempts to control that use. Given addiction is a developmental brain disease that typically begins with substance misuse during adolescence, it’s imperative we end the silence. So, let’s talk about it, and let’s start tomorrow night, November 19, 2015, with the National Night of Conversation.


6 Things to Never Say to People in Recovery

What impact do our words have on the people we love – especially when that loved one is in recovery from addiction?

JessiRae Pulver-Adell is today’s guest author. She is an addiction & recovery blogger for Harbor Village, writing to clear up misconceptions about the disease of addiction and self harm. Through her work, she work strives to empower readers to take action, live mindfully, in health and pursue treatment when necessary. JessiRae can be reached via email at

6 Things to Never Say to People in Recovery by JessiRae Pulver-Adell

Guest Author, JessiRae Pulver-Adel, writing on 6 Things to Never Say to People in Recovery

Guest Author, JessiRae Pulver-Adel, writing on 6 Things to Never Say to People in Recovery

You’re no stranger to the struggle of addiction recovery if you’ve been mortified about the things spawning from your mouth in the heat of the moment with a loved one struggling with a substance use disorder. Addiction is a disease many feel personally attacked by, even if they’re not the one battling the uphill struggle to recovery.

As parents, siblings, spouses, friends, and loved ones, we feel our wellbeing should be more important than a prescription drug, a dose of heroin, or a denomination of cocaine. The unfortunate truth is in the height of addiction, we’re not.

Addiction has a cruel way of twisting the brain’s chemistry to crave nothing but the taste of one’s drug of choice, to help them feel normal. If you had to choose between being able to sit comfortably in your skin, or sit through a family dinner, which would you choose?

Conversely, being cast aside in favor of an addiction which is ultimately ravishing both the physical and psychological aspects of the person you love, it’s common for our words to profane themselves, glazed over in anger to express what it is we think we mean.

But what do we really mean when we say things like, “You’re never going to amount to anything,” You’re worthless,” or “I hate you?”

Are those the sentiments we’re truly trying to express, or are we stymied by the emotions fomented over long nights of pleading for your loved one’s recovery? Learning how to express yourself clearly, and bite back the words which will likely foment another relapse, is essential in helping your loved one conquer addiction.

Our words are far more powerful than we are aware; they have the ability to motivate, inspire, and break barriers- or condemn, maim, and stagnate growth and recovery.

Family is an important aspect of recovery. Remaining a beacon of light is imperative for recovery, and your own mental wellbeing. So let me share 6 things to never say and what to say instead:

1. “You’re not worth it.”

Is dejecting your loved one’s self esteem, and idea of self-worth truly what you want to do?

Or is it that their life choices are forcing you to question your own worth within their eyes?

More often than not when we attack our loved ones who are struggling with addiction, it is because their disease forces us to question our own roles, and our inability to whisk them away from it.

By abnegating their “worth” deliberately we’re giving ourselves an exit- an excuse not to care anymore. But this achieves the opposite effect, doesn’t it?

Instead of trying to convince yourself you no longer care, be constructive when you speak to bring out the solution best for all parties involved. Try something along the lines of:

“By not going to treatment, you’re making me feel like I can’t help you.”


“When you don’t tell me what you need help with, I don’t know how to respond.”

If you’re simply fed up and emotionally exhausted, you can try communicating this instead:

“I love you, but I cannot deal with everything that is going on right now. I’m still here for you, but I need some space to figure everything out.”

You can go one step further by prompting dialog, which will ideally lead to a solution by adding:

“What do we need to do to move forward?”

2. “You’re never going to amount to anything.”

Do you really want to be responsible for dooming your loved one to become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Because that’s all this language achieves. It de-motivates, and gives those struggling with addiction ammunition to continue down their destructive paths. If you’re frustrated addiction is holding your loved one back, and you wish them to achieve their potential, you can help!

Try: “Remember when you used to write every day, you were so dedicated to finishing your book. We can do it together.”

“Let’s explore the things you want to accomplish, and set goals to get them done!”

“When I see you wasting your potential it makes me so sad. Let me help you find your calling again.”

Instead of demoralizing and attacking your loved ones out of frustration, allow your motivations to be expressed in a positive way. Offer solutions, don’t blatantly criticize a situation without measurable goals of achievement to prevent them from being perpetuated.

3. “You’re trash, worthless.” or “You’re stupid.”

JessiRaePulver-AdelArticleIf this is the second, third, or fourth relapse, it’s understandable your patience may take a nosedive, but it’s not right to push your own heartbreak onto your loved ones by solidifying their self odium.

Chances are, they’re more upset than you about it- even if they don’t show it.

Remember, many substance use disorders begin to mask underlying pain; low self-esteem is almost certainly a factor- don’t add to it because you’re angry.

Take your frustrations and turn them into the potential for change! Encourage your loved ones to return to their passions and hobbies, don’t crucify them for letting go. Instead suggest:

“Remember when you used to always make soccer practice? There are teams we can look into again.”

“Remember when you got the highest score on your essay? How about writing poetry, or starting your own mini anthology about your experience with addiction?”

“You used to love school. Let’s take a class together! You’re so smart, you just need to be in an environment that encourages you.”

Play to your loved one’s strengths, and explore topics they once derived joy from, or turn their substance use disorders into potential momentum by helping themselves understand the disease.

4. “You’re ugly.”

It’s no secret substance use disorders eventually deteriorate one’s looks. Over time, changes in one’s physical appearance can become quite severe. Whatever someone in recovery (or not) looks like now, in comparison to what they looked like before, is not your place to judge.

Demeaning one’s appearance is not helpful to rebuild their self-confidence to take care of themselves and does not serve as the “tough love” you may be attempting to poorly employ. If you want to send the message you’d like to see your loved one take better care of themselves, offer these thoughts instead:

“Remember when you used to love getting dressed up? Let’s see what we can find to wear today!”

“You would look so beautiful if we tried this with your hair. Will you let me help you find your new look?”

If they’re self-conscious about the way they look,

“There are plenty of people who go through physical changes during an illness, it doesn’t mean you can’t look amazing again! Let’s find a look that expresses who you are inside!”

“You’re beautiful no matter what. We just have to work on (showering regularly, changing clothes, getting rid of worn clothes, etc.)”

It’s important not to just say pretty things, if you offer to help someone redefine their look, or cut their hair- do it!

5. “You’re not the way you’re supposed to be- this wasn’t supposed to happen!”

JessiRaePulver-AdelArticle_3We don’t get to choose which physical or mental ailments we succumb to. We don’t shame people for having high blood pressure, so why do it for people with substance use disorders? If you don’t like the direction your loved one is going, try to help them see it. Do not be accusatory- that serves no one.

If you want them to change and reach their full potential, you’ll need to become a valuable tool in their recovery! You can start by asking your loved one to come to AA or NA meetings, or get them out on the town for community events.

If what you really want to say is that you’re frustrated with the way circumstances have aligned themselves, and stolen valuable time away from the both of you, tell them. Don’t hide behind accusatory statements. If you want them to let you in, you’ll have to do the same.

6. “You deserve what’s happening to you.”

No one chooses addiction, nor to remain addicted. Overcoming the disease may take a lifetime of recovery, and no one deserves the destruction coupled with the sickness. As I mentioned before, addiction strips our ability to feel useful, effective, and measurable when we can’t seem to help our loved ones overcome the disorder.

If you point fingers and play the blame game, you lose out too.

Becoming an active participant in recovery is critical for success. And it’s as simple as being mindful about what you say, and expressing your emotions honestly, without the hues of scorn.

Holidays With a Loved One Who Drinks Too Much

Holidays with a loved one who drinks too much? Are you prepared?

For the families of a loved one who drinks too much, holidays can be fraught with angst, worry and fear about what’s going to happen this year. They worry about how to keep him (or her) from drinking too much, keep his sister from making nasty comments about his drinking, keep his wife from nagging him about ‘having another beer,’ and hope dinner is served before he passes out. Likely all of this will have them on pins and needles, snapping at the other children, ‘listening’ for signs that things are about to go badly; almost giddy with angst trying to keep it all ‘happy.’ And, if it goes like it usually does, all of their expectations — their dashed hopes and dreams — will turn into resentments before the New Year.

So what can you do to improve your holidays with a loved one who drinks too much?

Here are seven suggestions:

Know the basics of alcohol’s effect on the brain

When a person drinks too much, it causes them to engage in any number of drinking behaviors — the key concept here is “drinking behaviors.” Drinking  behaviors are not the “true” nature of a person (unless it’s how they behave when sober), rather they are caused by the ethyl alcohol chemicals in alcoholic beverages interrupting the brain’s cell-to-cell communications in areas of the brain that control a person’s judgement, memory, motivation, pleasure and motor skills, as examples.

Drinking behaviors include passing out, starting a fight, continuing inane trains of conversations that only they can follow but the other is afraid to break for fear of them getting mad, being all lovey or being all nasty mean. You cannot control drinking behaviors because your loved one’s brain is no longer functioning properly. The only thing you can control is how you react.

In addition to what was shared above, it’s important to know alcohol is not processed like other foods and liquids. It bypasses the digestive system, moving into the small intestine and from there into the blood stream, traveling throughout the body.  It takes specific enzymes in the liver an average of one hour to metabolize (rid the body) of the ethyl alcohol chemcials in 1 standard drink. While the liver is metabolizing the ethyl alcohol chemicals, the chemicals “sit” in areas of the body that are highly vascularized (lots of blood vessels), like the brain, interrupting the brain’s cell-to-cell communications and thus changing a person’s thoughts and behaviors.  

A standard drink is defined as 5 ounces of table wine, 12 ounces of regular beer, 8-9 ounces of lager beers/ales, and 1.5 ounces (a shot) of hard liquor (boubon, vodka, gin, scotch). Thus a person drinking six drinks will take an average of six hours to metabolize the ethyl alcohol chemicals in those six drinks. Binge drinking (which is typically where drinking behaviors start – though they can start on far fewer drinks) is defined as 4 or more standard drinks on an occassion for women and 5 or more for men. BTW… Food only slows how quickly the alcohol reaches the small intestine – it doesn’t absorb it. Water does not dilute the alcohol – it only helps with dehydration. Thus the only way out is through the liver. In other words, the only thing that can sober a person up is time, an average of 1 standard drink per hour.

Try put yourself in a mental bubble

Not that you don’t enjoy your holiday, but try not to keep track of what everyone else is doing. When one or the other complains to you about what the other is or is not doing, smile and gently say, “I think that sounds like something you should talk to him or her about.” And then, WALK AWAY…easier said than done, I know, but you can always excuse yourself to go stir the gravy.

Consider not serving alcohol

It’s only one day and likely just a few hours. If not serving alcohol is a deal breaker for some of those you typically invite, hummmm….

Do it differently

Instead of the traditional meal that generally involves several days of shopping, baking, decorating, setting the table with the family china, stress over making grandma’s special cranberry sauce and Aunt Susan’s side of the family’s favorite stuffing, which is different than Uncle Harold’s (so you make a small size pan of his)… I mean talk about stress! How about downsizing the whole event so that it’s less about the meal and more about having time and calm to play games or take walks or snuggle with your children or significant other?

Keep your expectations low — not off but not Norman Rockwell, either

Try not to put stock in the hope that this will be the holiday you’ve always dreamed of because typically it can’t be when a loved one is misusing alcohol (drinking more than their brain and liver can process). The drinking behaviors that ensue set up a whole host of behaviors in everyone else as they try to grapple with what to do in their own way and with their own set of expectations, emotions and views of the situation. Controlling all of that is utterly impossible.

Count to 10 or 100…

…or take a walk or head to the bathroom and lock the door when it feels as if you’ll explode — do anything to break the moment so you can collect your wits about you.

Enjoy the parts you can

When you aren’t so focused on trying to stop what is beyond your control, you can focus on a child or another guest or your own admiration of the meal or having a private cup of coffee in the wee hours of the morning before the festivities start… basically, try to be ‘mindfully’ engaged in whatever it is that gives you pleasure and focus on that.

Bottom Line

The most important message is that when a person drinks more than their liver can metabolize, they are no longer thinking straight, nor can they act responsibly, nor will they be able to understand you and your feelings or give you the reactions you desire (and deserve, by the way). It’s not you. It’s their drinking behaviors. So this year try to do more of what works for you for which these two post might help:

Courage to Change the Things I Can

Detach. Detach With Love. You’ve Got to Be Kidding!