Can I Stage an Intervention for a Near-Stranger’s Alcoholism?


Christoph Niemann

My sister-in-law is friends with a woman I see socially about three times a year. She is a high-functioning alcoholic: She doesn’t drink during the day but becomes a slurry obnoxious mess at parties. I avoid her, and eventually her husband steps in. But recently, my teenage stepdaughter witnessed her “drunk show” and helped the woman’s daughter through tears of anger and shame. Now I feel complicit. My sister-in-law won’t intervene. So, I would like to tell this woman she needs help. Can you suggest a diplomatic approach?


Remember that ancient party trick Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Its premise: Any two people, but particularly actors, are separated by fewer than six others who link them. It was utterly charming until its ubiquity made it insufferable. But if Six Degrees proved what a small, small world we inhabit, it never argued that folks at the far poles of separation should intervene in our most personal problems.

I admire your helping impulse. But you are a near-stranger, not complicit. You see this woman about three times a year and avoid her when you do. You have no idea what goes on during the other 362 evenings (or any of the days). And denial is common among people with substance problems. Many report that when they do seek help, it is thanks to the intervention of loved ones — not sisters-in-law of uninterested pals.

You are not the right messenger, but you still have a big opportunity: You (and your husband) should speak with your stepdaughter about what may have been an upsetting experience at the party. Praise her for her kindness to the woman’s daughter; sketch out the limits of helpfulness (for example, no getting into cars); and answer her questions. The most valuable dialogue to begin is with someone close to you.

Siblings Only

My boyfriend’s niece is getting married in Colorado. His brother suggested a pre-wedding trip and invited us along. After the wedding, this brother wants his wife and me to leave, so that the brothers and their sister can have some time alone. (The brother’s wife has no problem with this.) The siblings live in different states, so I get that time together is precious. But being asked to leave early rubs me the wrong way. I would never ask this of anyone. Is the brother being rude, or am I too sensitive?

I. W.

Unless you have an abstract interest in rudeness, you’re asking the wrong questions. Who cares what the brother wants? Focus your attention on your boyfriend — whom you love, presumably. If he wants a few days alone with his siblings after the two of you enjoy a high-altitude mini-break, I would go along with him.

Source: The New York Times