How to talk to M-I-L about excessive drinking?

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We just moved my M-I-L into independent living (and she's loving it! whew!). She had been living alone in a condo in Palm Springs where it is a ghost town in the summer. Very lonely, bored, not getting out (refusing to use the taxi account we go for her and we live 2 hours away and can only come once a week), sending the home health care companion away after 15 minutes. She was only eating junk food (if that), smoking two packs of cigarettes a day and drinking 5-6 "light" beers every day. You get the picture. Now she's getting regular (and good) meals, the smoking is drastically reduced because she can't smoke inside. But... the beer drinking continues. In addition to general health reasons, we fear that she's going to fall, break something (she only weighs 88 pounds and with very thin bone density) and then it's a race to the bottom. We don't expect she'll quit drinking completely but how can we bring up this subject, with love and support? As you can imagine, she gets very defensive when my husband (her son) talks about it. Any strategies for helping her reduce the number of beers at least? Like alternating one beer and one non-alcoholic beer? - I get that part of this is simply the habit of something cold to drink while watching tv. Thanks.

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Top Answer
As an alcoholic with 31 years of no drinking at all since joining AA in 1986, I can tell you that from my experience with hundreds of fellow recovering alkies, you may as well save your breath. I do not say she is an alkie, but my hunch is that she likely is. "Talking sense" to a person who drinks that much is a no-win situation.

I do not write to percolate an argument with anyone...

(We long term recovering problem drinkers know what we are talking about..)

Grace + Peace,

Bob
First you might want to consider what "excessive" drinking is... What size lite beers (12 or 16 oz) over what timeframe? With food? Are there other health concerns (liver/kidney problems, medication conflicts) or is it just your fear of her falling? If MIL is otherwise healthy, even at 88 lbs she should be able to metabolize a pint lite beer(4.2% alcohol) in 1.5 to 2.0 hours. Has she always drunk this much beer or has it recently increased? Try to determine if MIL is self medicating for pain, depression or anxiety. I have a family member who works construction and drinks beer in the evenings at home because (1) he likes beer and (2) it helps with minor muscle pain so he can get a good night's sleep. Maybe MIL is drinking for a similar reason - anxiety over all the recent changes in her life that are out of her control? Her doctor might be able to prescribe something for anxiety but medications have side effects too. If MIL is unwilling to drink less, maybe you could suggest she perform riskier activities (for falls) like bathing in the morning before she begins drinking or use a walker in the evenings. Suggest you begin the conversation with "I'm concerned you might fall and get hurt/end up in the hospital" and avoid the phase "you're drinking too much" at all costs. Good luck.
Since your MIL does not use the taxi service, how does she get the beer? My Mama is "Miss Jesus drank wine" lol. I love her and she has dementia. Since coming home from rehab and simply forgetting, she has slowed down on the drinking wine. I also buy smaller jugs. She cannot remember what you said 2 minutes ago but she can ration the wine if not much is left and it's a Sunday. This is an old habit and as long as they don't start drinking more than before then it's okay. Pick your poison.
How old is your MIL? If she's up in years, what do you expect to gain from her cutting back on drinking? If she's competent, I'd likely let her doctor say if her health is in danger and then, if she's competent, that's her call if she wants to make any changes. If I were a senior, I'd like to live my life as I wanted, as long as I don't hurt others. So, I'd eat what I want and drink my beverage of choice.
* * * UPDATE * * * We had a heart-to-heart talk - focusing on our primary concern of her future health, that we want her to be healthy and happy, and explaining that we fear that she might fall and break a bone after drinking, and then end up in the hospital. She said she's heard stories of falls, broken bones, hospital stays, etc. from her new friends at the I-L residence. When i suggested that she alternate: one Coors Light and then an O'Douls, she thought that was a terrific idea and admitted that sometimes it was just the habit of reaching for a "cold one" while watching tv in the evenings that caused her to drink. Happy to report that on average she's only drinking 2-4 Coors Lights a night now - instead of her top number of 7 or 8.

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful answers. It is so helpful to be in a community with other people who have dealt with these challenging issues.
She wouldn't use a taxi account you set up. She sent away companions. Somehow this doesn't sound to me like a woman you can talk out of doing what she intends to do, or to do want she doesn't want to!

It is wonderful the smoking has decreased! (And that didn't occur because someone asked her to reduce the smoking.) If MIL drinks while she watches television, if she gradually finds other activities she likes in the IL complex perhaps she will watch less television and therefore drink less. We can hope.

If she takes medications you can ask the pharmacist if alcohol interferes with any of them. If it does you could send a note to her doctor. Of course, you don't want to sound like you are telling the doctor what to do, but you can express your concern.

In some locations beer was drunk with breakfast and all day long, even by children, in colonial times. It was often safer than drinking the local water. I'm not justifying it in this day, but just trying to put it in perspective. It is not like she is snorting heroine.

I don't drink any beer because of medication interactions, but I could never drink 5 - 6 beers a day (light or otherwise) because I would have to pee every 10 minutes and miss a lot of my programs, and I would be asleep after the fist 2. I'm impressed that your 88 pound MIL can do this! Does she get drunk on this routine? Is she less steady on her feet? Now that she is being served real meals the beer drinking may gradually decrease because she just won't have room for all those extra calories. You might buy some near-beer for her, saying it was on sale and you heard that it was less filling, which might be good now that she is eating good meals. She might throw it back at you, of course, but it MIGHT be worth a try.

In short, I don't think you are going to come up with words that will convince MIL to drink less. She might listen to her doctor better than she listens to you (but I doubt it). But her new living arrangement is on your side; it might gradually decrease somewhat if she gets into activities and continues eating well.

How old is MIL, by the way?
I agree with OldBob1936. Your MIL is not going to to listen to anyone because she is probably an alcoholic though she will not think so. If you want to learn to deal with an excessive drinker like this, go to Alanon meetings - not just one meeting either. Get involved. Then, you will learn from others that you cannot convince your MIL with reason. My experience with a stubborn set of parents is that they will do whatever they want as long as they can - even if they die from it. My dad has diabetes and has eaten mostly what he wants for 30 years.
Hmm, would she listen to a health professional advising her about the problems with excessive alcohol consumption, especially as we get older? Maybe at the same time affirming her for already making such a positive change by drastically reducing the smoking -- that must have been hard, even if it wasn't really voluntary! I hope other people have some ideas.
It can be difficult to find a direct non-alcoholic substitute for beer. They're mostly too sweet or taste odd to a beer-drinker's palate. But this might be one option - I am delighted to discover that no fewer than forty-five American breweries produce mild ale, which typically has an alcohol rating of 3% to 3.5% (and sometimes less - Jennings's is about 2.3%, I think). Mild can also be delicious, flavour and alcohol content having absolutely nothing to do with one another, so your MIL won't have to feel she's having her pleasures watered down.

Does the amount she's currently drinking seem to affect her mood or behaviour? Would you say she actually gets drunk as such?
See Tgengine's recent post about discovering what his son in law - now gone, thank goodness - was up to for an illustration of what secretive alcoholism looks like. It isn't sipping your way through two or three or even four bottles of cold beer over six hours of a warm evening, it's covertly mixing vodka into your breakfast o.j.

Ronda's MIL is drinking more than is good for her, as in more than the various health agencies recommend, which for standard-sized ladies would be 1 or max 2 units of alcohol a day, or 1 or max 2 regular sized Coors Lights. It's probably half boredom, and half enjoyment of what she likes. So finding something else she likes drinking, alcohol free or very much reduced, would be worth doing.

Reacting as though this lady is having lost weekends, drunk-driving, waking up in flop houses, breaking into liquor stores or blacking her boyfriend's eye..? - not so much.

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