Straight Talk Advice

Dysfunctional Family Gatherings? It’s the Alcohol, Stupid!

Dec 02, 2014

The Pesky Holiday Problem of Drunken Parents

Dear Straight Talk: My sister and I dread, rather than enjoy, family gatherings. Political and religious arguments ruin them, especially when the adults have too much to drink, as they usually do. My parents are as bad as the others. If we go to our room to escape the conflict, we get yelled at for being “antisocial” and ignoring our relatives. At a relative’s house, there’s no escape. I don’t see why they can’t just get together and enjoy everyone’s company. Too much alcohol is a big part of the problem. —Tina, 16, Sacramento, Calif.

Brandon 22, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

I've noticed that alcoholic parents don't wake up about being alcoholic until someone outside their life calls them an alcoholic. From what you’ve described, they seem like alcoholics (there, I’ve said it!). I've had friends and family members in this situation. I hope your parents become embarrassed about ruining a gathering meant for family. I urge anyone living the alcohol-fueled Christmas blues to show the offenders this article. I also recommend embarrassing them by telling them this isn't the time to pledge allegiance for or against Obamacare, or the flying spaghetti monster. If you don't speak up, nobody will. You may be happily surprised at the results.

Folks, keep inappropriate alcohol use out of family gatherings. It’s disgusting and traumatizes kids. If you need to get drunk to have fun on the holidays, you're not living life right.

Breele 20, Dana Point, Calif. Ask me a question

Your parents have created precisely the situation they warn about! They say if a situation is making you uncomfortable, remove yourself. That's exactly what I would do. Sit them down a couple days before the occasion when they're sober, and let them know if they start getting into it, you and your sister are going to stay with friends. Arrange for a responsible friend to come get you if it happens. I’d do this even if they get upset. They're behavior is unacceptable.

Christina 22, Marysville, Calif. Ask me a question

Bring your concerns to your parents ahead of time and see if they have suggestions. They may be unaware. Perhaps there’s a separate room you and others can play board games or other bonding activities.

Gregg 23, Houston, Texas Ask me a question

Parents: You’re in front of your family! It’s never appropriate to be drunk. Maybe tipsy, but not drunk! It’s lowlife. There’s alcohol at my family’s gatherings, but everyone is appropriate to the point that one year I embarrassed myself by drinking too much. It’s not the time and place!

My dad always says if a situation makes you uncomfortable, leave, but since it’s family, I’d try to change things. Talk to your parents in advance. If there’s no change, speak up with, “Can we not argue about this on Christmas? Why don’t we share family stories instead?”

Maddie 15, Cotati, Calif. Ask me a question

My parents are the worst drinkers (i.e., total lightweights) and hardly drink. When religion or politics come up, it usually turns into a philosophical discussion, which, truthfully, is boring. Your situation, where parents choose to throw away a perfectly good family gathering, is not uncommon. Try steering the conversation away from religion or politics by actively contributing to the conversation. If that doesn’t work, find your sister or a family member who isn’t taking part and talk to them elsewhere.

Dear Tina: I grew up with alcohol-fueled “holidays from hell” myself. I hope today’s column does embarrass some folks to change their behavior. I also like the panelists’ ideas for coping. But don’t despair if you can’t change a group of alcoholics. The best you may be able to do is decide (as I did) that YOUR adult life will NOT look like this.

  1. By Robin, age 17, from Anaheim, CA on 12/03/2014

    I had a similar experience last Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.  It was the worst Christmas I’ve ever had.  It was my dad and stepmom’s turn to have me for Christmas Eve for the first time since they got married last year.  It seems like it’s a family tradition for everyone in my stepmom’s family to get totally smashed during family holiday gatherings.  I’m not sure about some of the others, but I don’t think my dad and stepmom are alcoholics as they are not heavy drinkers the rest of the time and can have one drink or a glass of wine without needing more, but they got just as bombed as everyone else this time.  And as with Tina’s family, they also got into heated political and religious arguments about things like immigration and gay marriage.

    In addition, my 16 year old stepsister who’d never had hard liquor before decided to try it and nobody stopped her.  She got very drunk and sick like many people do the first time.  She was literally falling down drunk and I had to help her to the bathroom to throw up and even had to pull her pants down for her so she could use the toilet then take her to the room we were sharing and undress her and put her to bed.  Then I had to take her to the bathroom 2 more times during the night so that she could throw up and use the toilet.  She had a horrible hangover the next morning, and her Christmas was ruined.  My dad and stepmom also had hangovers, so it was not a happy Christmas morning to say the least.  I was very glad when I got to leave at noon to go back to my mom’s and at least have a nice Christmas dinner with her family who do NOT behave this way. 

    This year I will be at my mom’s on Christmas Eve and go to my dad’s in the afternoon on Christmas, so I think I’ll miss the worst of it, but I’m still not looking forward to going there after last year.


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    1. By M.G., age 16, from Carmichael, CA on 12/04/2014

      I had a similar experience on Christmas Eve last year, but I was the one who got drunk and it totally ruined my Christmas as I was sick and with a horrible headache the whole next day.  It was mostly my fault, but if the adults hadn’t all been drunk and made it so easy for me to sneak drinks, it wouldn’t have happened.  It was my first (and so far my last) drunk and at least I learned my lesson.  My older sister had already been through something similar and stayed sober (she was the only one) and saw what had happened to me and had to help me in the ways that Robin had to help her stepsister.  Even though she’s my sister who I share a room and the bathroom with, I was still very embarrassed when I sobered up and realized that she had to help me use the toilet and undress me like a baby.  I guess most people go through a “first drunk” like this, but I’m sure sorry that it ruined Christmas for me.


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  2. By M.K. , age 15, from Lodi, CA on 12/05/2014

    Last year on Christmas Eve when all the adults were drinking my mom who hardly ever drinks got really drunk and decided to do a striptease!  Even though she’s my mom and I’ve seen her nude many times, I was really humiliated and embarrassed to see her this way.  Even worse, my 10 year old little brother saw this and since he’s a boy, she doesn’t otherwise let him see her nude.  He was very interested in watching and I had to drag him away and into our room.  Since we share a room, he sees me nude all the time and I don’t worry about it since he hasn’t reached puberty and doesn’t seem to have the least interest in seeing my body, but based on what I’ve read in Straight Talk, I figure out something when I see that he’s starting puberty like a partitician.  Maybe he has no interest in me since it’s old hat by now but he was very interested in seeing our mom and I think it was totally inappropriate as well as doing it in front of the others, especially the kids!  Alcohol can affect people in crazy ways, especially for people who aren’t used to it so you really need to be careful.


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    1. By Margie, age 16, from Toledo, OH on 12/06/2014

      I agree with what everyone is saying about adults getting drunk and spoiling family holidays as I’ve also been through it and also making alcohol available to teenagers as something similar happened to my sister, but not to me as I learned from her bad experience and bad example. 

      However, I also want to comment about M.K.‘s comment about not having a problem with letting her little brother see her nude.  My sister and I have our own room so we don’t have to share a room with him.  But when he was 9 we still didn’t worry about walking around in a T-shirt and thong in front of him and going to the shower nude since the bathroom was right next to our room.  But he told our mom that it really bothered him and she told us that we must stop letting him see us this way, and he was only 9, so it had never occurred to us that is was a problem.  Your brother is 10 and even if he hasn’t reached puberty yet, he’s not that far away, so the time to stop letting him see you this way is NOW, before it becomes an issue and he starts getting aroused.  You say that he was very interested in seeing your mom nude, so seeing a nude female obviously is starting to mean something to him.  If separate rooms are not possible, then you should get a partition, and get it now, and until you get one, you should change in the bathroom or your mom’s room.  My sister and I are still very casual about nudity with each other, but we only are that way in the privacy of our room with the door closed and now always put on a robe when we go to take a shower.


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      1. By Jerry, age 15, from Westminster, CA on 12/06/2014

        First of all, I don’t understand adults who are totally hypocritical and tell teenagers not to drink and then get drunk and make complete asses of themselves and spoil what should be happy family holiday get-togethers.  I’m expecting it to happen again this year with our family. 

        You are also right on about girls not letting their younger brothers see them naked long before puberty.  When I was only 8, I had to share a room with my 12 year old sister who wasn’t shy about being naked in front of me.  When I was younger it didn’t bother or interest me to see her naked.  But when she started getting breasts and pubic hair it really disturbed and upset me to see her this way.  Even though I was too young to really understand what was happening, something told me that this was something I shouldn’t be seeing.  I was afraid to say anything because any mention of anything remotely sexual caused my mom to accuse me of having a “dirty mind.”  I did my best not to look at her when she was naked, but it was impossible to totally avoid when we were sharing a room and she had no shyness in front of me.  Fortunately, when I was 10 and she was 14, our mom was finally able to afford another bedroom, so I no longer had to see her this way by the time I reached puberty, but I can still remember the disturbing feelings this gave me even at such a young age.


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  3. By Suzi, age 16, from Petaluma, CA on 12/07/2014

    My parents don’t drink to excess and neither do most of our relatives.  However, my uncle (my mom’s sister’s husband) is an alcoholic who always gets very drunk at family holiday occasions and gets very obnoxious.  My parents don’t want to make waves in the family and say that we just have to put up with it since it’s only a couple of times a year, and it’s his wife’s problem to deal with the rest of the year.  Even so, we don’t think it’s right for one person to spoil things for everybody.  Last year he cornered my sister and me and looked us up and down and made sexually suggestive comments about our maturing bodies which really disturbed us.  He didn’t try to touch us or actually do anything sexual with us (and he was so drunk, I doubt he could have even if he tried), but it still was very upsetting. 

    On the issue of girls letting their little brothers see them nude, my sister and I have never done so.  From the time we were 5 or 6, our mom told us that brothers and sisters aren’t supposed to see each other this way and was very strict about it which I think is a good thing, especially after everything I’ve read about the issue in Straight Talk.  My sister and I aren’t overly modest at all.  We share a room and have no shyness about nudity with each other and even have no problem sharing the bathroom in the morning even when we’re “using the facility” to put it nicely, and don’t have a problem undressing in front of our friend’s either.  However, we would never let our brother see us undressed.


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  4. By St. Martin, from Santa Rosa, CA on 12/07/2014

    Dear Tina,
    I agree that alcohol abuse doesn’t belong at family holiday gatherings for several reasons. First of all, the behavior of those that are drinking can be obnoxious and toxic. It doesn’t set a good example for kids and teens that are impressionable about social situations. And the scariest for me – when my dad drank and then wanted to drive home, he put all of us at great risk of serious injury or death because he was intoxicated. You might want to talk to your parents (or the hosts) prior to the get togethers, let them know your concerns, and suggest other activities. Games, things you’re thankful for, family stories, and good walk before and after dinner are all alternatives.
    St. Martin

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