Some variation of this question comes up often, “I found hidden half-empty bottles of vodka all over the house. Should I dump them out? I did that the last time, and he accused me of snooping…not trusting him.”
I remember that sick, kicked-in-the-gut feeling when I found my loved ones’ hidden half-empty bottles. Sometimes I’d collect them all and line them up on the kitchen counter – to let Alex know I knew. (For those who know my story, I have had several loved ones, male and female, who’ve abused or were dependent on alcohol, to whom I’ve given the composite name, Alex, and the pronoun, he.) Sometimes I’d dump them out and leave the empties, and sometimes I’d grab one and track Alex down and confront him, shaking that half-empty bottle, screeching a venom filled spew – my anger, rage and hurt tumbling forth in waves.
None of it worked.
And now I know why.
In a nutshell… people who don’t have a drinking problem, don’t hide bottles of alcohol. People who aren’t worried about someone’s drinking, don’t go searching for hidden half-empty bottles.
Neither one is healthy. They both need help. Yes, I needed help, and Alex needed help, and my kind of help wasn’t working.
So I’d like to use this post to share a brief overview of what I wish I’d known then – “then” being the decades I’d spent living with and loving the Alexes in my life, while trying to control how much the Alexes drank.
What You Need to Know if You Find or are Searching for Half-empty Bottles of Alcohol
1. Don’t confront until you understand. The best thing you can do if you are in this situation – or approaching this situation – is to understand what you are dealing with. It is not “normal” to hide alcohol bottles, nor it is “normal” to go looking for them. So what causes people to do either? Understanding this comes in three parts, for which I’ve provided a few key links for further information.
- Learning how alcohol changes brain function and how changed brain function in combination with key risk factors explains how someone comes to hide alcohol bottles (they do not “want” to hide them, but their brain is overriding all rational thought because of the nature of the brain disease of alcoholism – one of the addictions):
NIDA’s Drugs, Brains and Behavior > Drug Abuse and Addiction (alcohol is considered a drug)
- Assessing the scope of your loved one’s drinking problem helps you appreciate how much is too much; that there really is a drinking problem. The links below share two anonymous ways you can assess a loved one’s drinking patterns:
- Understanding the impacts of secondhand drinking (the impacts of coping with your loved one’s drinking behaviors) on you explains how your brain has changed, which helps explain why you might be searching for hidden half-empty bottles. The Health Consequences of Secondhand Drinking | Drugging
2. Know what you want to say. You may need time for this. You may need to talk with a therapist who specializes in what addiction or substance abuse does to family members or attend a 12-step program that supports family members and friends of people who drink too much or do some further research on what happens to the brains of family members who have been living with secondhand drinking. The following post can help with what to say when you are ready:
3. When you are ready, set a date and time to talk. As difficult as this may seem to do (mostly because you want to confront them, now!), you’ll want to have a time when you know there will be no distractions, your loved one will be sober and you will be calm. This also allows you the necessary time to prepare your talking points of what you want to tell them and what you want them to do (see the link above). You may also want to have a “brokered” conversation. This means having a neutral third party – not an intervention, necessarily – but a neutral, knowledgeable person to help keep the conversation from getting out of control. One example of a “brokered” conversation is the service I provide (NOT that I’m suggesting you use mine, but it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about).
To Answer the Title Question – Should I Dump Them Out or ???
Dumping out the half-empty bottles of alcohol will not “make” them stop drinking. It will likely add to their shame and self-loathing, however. So the better approach is to take the above three action steps, as those can lead to real change for both your loved one and yourself.
If you have any specific questions, always feel free to email me at email@example.com. There is no charge for these sorts of email exchanges.