Sage Advice: Grandma Is Drinking Again

By Amy Dickinson | August 1st, 2018

Can anyone stop her alcoholic benders?


Dear Amy: My mother-in-law, “Jane,” is an alcoholic. She underwent surgery in 2015 and got a new liver and kidney, after being on dialysis and nearly losing her life.

Jane didn’t drink for a while after that, but in the last seven or eight months we have noticed that she seems to be drinking again.

Not only is she drinking, but her behavior seems strange. She is in her 60s and recently got two tattoos; she has stolen things from my home while my husband and I were there, and she has been spending my father-in-law’s money to buy random things online. He tries to cut her off from his bank accounts but always gives in.

She opens credit cards in her own name, buys frivolous things, and throws away the statements, with no intention of making payments.

My husband I do not trust her to be around our children. It’s hard for me to bite my tongue when she makes off-the-wall comments, and frankly I do not care to be around her at all. Although my husband’s entire family knows her behavior is not normal, no one says or does anything about it.

I’m not one to shut out family, but I don’t want my kids to be around this. Am I wrong to want to distance myself and my children from her?

– Bothered Daughter-In-Law

Dear Bothered: I’m not sure how your mother-in-law’s tattoos or erratic spending habits would impact your children, but this is up to you two parents. Obviously, she should not be with children unless you are present.

I sense that you might be using access to your kids to launch your campaign to get someone – anyone – in this family to wake up and smell the booze.

Sometimes it takes an “outsider” (an in-law, for instance, who didn’t grow up in this enabling family system) to shine a torchlight on the obvious.

What you can’t do is be a one-woman rescue squad, mainly because these enabling family members will undermine and undo your efforts, possibly in very creative ways. You can ask your mother-in-law: “Jane, I sense that you are drinking and hope you will get help to stop.”

You and your husband should attend Al-Anon meetings ( He, especially, will continue to wrestle with conflicted feelings regarding both of his parents’ behavior.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2018 by Amy Dickinson

More from Boomer