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Content warning: Alcoholism, physical and psychological violence.


My cousin just called me in tears. Again. She shared her fears with me about her parents drinking too much, even when they have to drive. She wanted to know what she could do to prevent her parents from driving when they're drunk (which is basically everyday).

Her mom (Elizabeth) and dad (Jack) have three daughters: her (19y.o.) and 11-years old twins. They've had to struggle with alcoholism for as long as I can remember. Their couple has been a mess for five years now, and they drink heavily every day to forget about their pain. After my grandfather died at the beginning of 2018, Elizabeth wanted to get sober and to get a divorce but was discouraged by my grandma, who told her "one does not divorce, no matter what you're going through, once you're married it's for life". So she gave up on both ideas.

Not only my cousins have to deal with their parents calling names and getting verbally and physically violent at each other, but they're in danger every time my aunt and uncle drive them somewhere, as they're basically drunk all day. I fear for their lives, not because of the violence (they wouldn't physically hurt their daughters), but I'm afraid I get a call someday telling me that they died in a car accident.

I've been wanting to talk to Elizabeth about that (I'm not close enough with Jack). To show her she can confide in me (I'm old enough now not to be hurt by what she could tell me), and to help her realize that she and Jack are putting their whole family in danger. The thing is, we're from a family where one doesn't talk about their feelings (she never mentioned her marriage troubles to anyone, we only know because we see how they behave with each other and their daughters, and because my cousin calls me at least once a month because of it). I've broke the implicit "no-feeling-talk" and extensively talked about the situation with my grandma and my mother (Elizabeth's sister) and told them I'm worried, but they won't talk to Elizabeth unless she mentions it first.

TL;DR

My aunt and uncle are miserable in their marriage and have been extensively drinking to forget about their pain. Their drinking habit puts my cousins in danger on a daily basis and I'm afraid they get hurt and/or lose custody should they have an alcohol-induced car accident.

How to talk with Elizabeth about their drinking problem and help them realize that they're putting their daughters in danger when they drive drunk? I can see she's in deep pain but we were both taught not to talk about our feelings so I don't know how to bring the topic up without making her feel like a terrible mother.

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    Sounds like an intervention needs to happen. Is there a rehab facility or mental health center nearby (or near enough if not in your town)? They may be more equipped on staging an intervention and could give you the tools needed to do so more effectively. – Lux Claridge Oct 30 '19 at 13:15
  • @Lux not that I'm aware of, sadly. I advised my oldest cousin to talk about it to the family GP but unfortunately they don't have the same one anymore :/ – avazula Oct 30 '19 at 13:28
  • I agree with @LuxClaridge- an intervention is probably going to be an important step. A rehab clinic or mental health facility will have resources that can help, but they aren't necessary for staging an intervention (there are lower-intensity sources, like addiction counselors and therapists, which can provide similar resources for planning an intervention). But more broadly, do you know if anyone has spoken to your aunt and uncle about their problematic drinking, in any capacity? And finally, what is your major goal: telling your aunt, or removing the risk to your cousins? – Upper_Case Oct 30 '19 at 15:52
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    Since your cousin is 19, could she take over driving? Is anyone willing to get authorities involved or physically prevent them from driving? I understand the ideal case is to get them to stop voluntarily, but that might not be possible. – Kat Nov 1 '19 at 20:58
  • @Kat my cousin isn't allowed to drive yet (she still hasn't got her licence), but it wouldn't change anything as she's living away. – avazula Nov 2 '19 at 16:26
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Alcoholics are not rational discussion partners

This is a frame challenge answer. I do not believe the chances are high of the outcome you want if you confront the parents.

Be careful what you expect as outcome of such a discussion. People are usually very defensive about their children and their relationship to them. Being a bad parent is probably the worst offense you can accuse someone of (that is a parent) - and it is very easy to interpret criticism as that accusation. While I have no experience talking to alcoholics, just talking to parents can be a minefield of it's own. I have trod carefully through a couple of those.

Getting that admission from someone rational is hard enough - it requires close to inhuman levels of self reflection and willingness to accept and evaluate such injury. Then consider someone under the influence of a debilitating, chronic situation like alcoholism which - not to mention the effects on health alone - also causes a strong tendency to irrational thought and specific mental deficiencies and illness. Few alcoholics can admit to the problem, they are "just going through a rough patch". Other mental deficiencies such as paranoia and delusions are common effects of alcoholism - which furthers the probability they will consider you an enemy. Someone that is out to steal or deny them something they have. (Husband, children, their drink). I think the best outcome of your proposed strategy is that they simply withdraw from the discussion and deflect your concerns.

I advice strongly to contact authorities

...such as Police and/or Social Services. If there is a local sheriffs office, they should have the necessary experience and tact to device a way to end this gracefully.

I would also investigate and ask someone with experience - is there an AA chapter near you? Ask someone who volunteers there for their opinions.

I would consider it a moral imperative for myself to contact the police and social services. I am not walking in your shoes, I will not moralize for you. (Please believe me when I say I am not questioning your sense of morality)

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