My 34 year old cousin has a drinking problem. His mother (another cousin of mine) came to me and my grandmother yesterday morning, crying because he got on her nerves about asking her for beer while she was sleeping, getting ready to go to work early in the morning. He's been doing this for many years. He's 34 and he does have a mental problem and he has hit her and her car with a chair and she's done nothing about it. He's been spoiled since he was a kid, and right now he lives with his mom, his younger 12 year old brother, and another relative of mine in the same house. When she came to us crying that was the straw that broke the camel's back for me, and I want to give her sage advice on how to solve this problem and talk to him in a calm manner and try to reason with him, persuading him to go to rehab or such. I fear if I don't do something it might get worse. If I do this (giving sage advice to his mom and try to reason with my 34 year old cousin), would I make the situation better or should I stay out of it? (For I will make it a lot worse than it is.)
I forgot to add the advice I wanted to give to my cousin's mother: "Have no beer or any alcoholic beverages inside the house. Make him drink Snapple, Apple juice, Kool-Aid, Milk, water and other non-alcoholic drinks. While he's in your house, he needs to go to rehab, he needs to work, contribute to the household. If he wants beer, he needs to get his own place and work for it while he's in his own place. If he does get rowdy, because you didn't pick him up some beer and cigarettes, call the police and have him arrested and put him in jail because I doubt that there will be beer in jail, or kick him out and let him move into a homeless shelter. If you feel threatened, come to my grandmother's house." Again, I fear that if I don't take action, my little cousin, his mom, and my other relative that lives with the 34 y/o cousin will potentially get hurt or worse because of his drinking problems and his unpredictable behavior. I'm worried that if he asks his mom for beer early in the morning while she's asleep, she might not have enough sleep and she will get into a car wreck because of that while she's on her way to work or lose her job. She pretty much supports them (the 34 y/o cousin, my little cousin and my other relative, who also has a mental illness).
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There are four problems here: your cousin’s drinking problem, his mental illness, his mother’s refusal to do anything about it, and the potential danger not only to his mother but also to the other children in the household and to your 34-year-old cousin himself. I don’t know what the nature of the mental illness is, since you don’t specify, but apparently it is not so severe that he cannot work. Still, whether it is autism or depression or something else, it needs to be treated, not only for its own sake, but also because it likely is exacerbating his alcoholism in one way or another. You don’t say whether or not he or your other relative with a mental disorder is receiving treatment, but that is one of the first things that should be taken care of if at all possible.
His mother is what is called an enabler. These are people who are in denial about the problem, or don’t want to confront it, or won’t accept the severity of the problem (“Oh, it’s not so bad”), or even blame themselves for the problem. All these things make it easier for the 34 year old to keep doing what he is doing.
Now within this troubled family you want to step in and give such as advice as: deny him alcohol, make him get a job, make him go to rehab, and call the police if he gets physical again. These are all things that I’m sure everyone reading this would agree are good ideas. However, the problem is that if you tell this to his mother or, worse, to him, you will only receive anger and defensiveness in response.
There are two reasons for this: 1) these problems didn’t spring up overnight and are the result of much deeper problems within the individuals and the family, so it is these problems that need to be sorted out and addressed in order to resolve the resulting symptoms, and 2) marching into a dysfunctional situation like this with “sage advice” makes you come off as a know-it-all, and the immediate reaction will be on the order of “Who do you think you are to be interfering in matters that don’t concern you?” This might mean that not only will your efforts produce no results but you stand the risk of them cutting you out of their lives completely.
Ideally, your cousin and his mother should both be seeing a therapist, and your cousin should go to an alcohol-abuse treatment program such as AA. Getting them there against their own will would be very problematic, however.
My first advice to you, then, would be to contact the Adult Protective Services program at your state’s Department of Social Services office. I would call them, perhaps make an appointment, and visit the office and express your concerns, asking them for their professional advice. APS usually focuses on seniors who need help, but they also help with adults who are dependent on their family, which your cousin certainly is. They can recommend the best steps for you to take and whom to contact in your area for help in terms of alcohol and mental illness treatment programs. They can also help you with any financial assistance programs that might be available to your cousins.
Next, go to your local police department, not with an official complaint or report, but give them the information about what is going on, what the address is, etc., and tell them your concerns about a serious domestic violence potential and that you will be contacting them if you see trouble. They will appreciate the heads up.
Okay, now you are armed with information and you have alerted law enforcement and social services. What now?
What now is what is sometimes called “seeding.” Seeding is when you talk to the people in trouble and implant information into their heads without accusing them or confronting them angrily or “sagely.” You are being non-confrontational. Let the mother know that you are keeping an eye on them because you care about them. Express your concern for your 12-year-old cousin and other relative who live in the house and that you are upset about your older cousin’s tendency to anger and be violent. Let her know that if there is any trouble, the mother can come to your grandmother’s house (that was one good thing you said that was right on target.) Mention things to her that you have been reading stuff about enabling and that you are concerned she could be an enabler. Express your concern that the man’s tendency to wake her up early in the morning for beer is making her exhausted and that you are worried about her driving tired and the effects on her job.
Things you do not want to do is anything that makes this enabling situation easier for them, such as babysitting, doing chores around the house, offering rides to work, buying your cousin booze (I know you certainly wouldn’t do that), and so on. You want to help her realize that this is a bad thing and that pretending that it isn’t will only make matters worse. Don’t do so in a lecturing, sager-than-thou way, but do it in a loving, caring way. If you see an opening where it looks like the truth is beginning to dawn on her, pass along some of the information that Social Services will no doubt give you.
Since you are not part of the direct family, you are not going to be able to drag them into therapy or call for an intervention no matter how correct you are that they need it. This softer approach of seeding is a better tactic for you in this case.
I’m is proud of you for caring about others.
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