Chapter 1: Interpersonal challenges

Intoxicated family members

Some people cope with stressful times by getting high, drunk or otherwise “checking out” for a time. Although we may recognize that this form of disengagement doesn’t help in the long run, we must understand this may be their only way to cope with this overwhelming situation.

The family of someone who is seriously ill and dying may be under considerable stress, which sometimes has lasted for years. Some will cope by using substances. The range of intoxicated behaviours presents a challenge: some people become funny, others depressed and some violent. Your goal is to keep the situation contained and calm so you’re able to care for the patient.

Responding to intoxication

  •   Remove the person

If possible, engage another family member to accompany them.

  •   Give them a supportive task

If they’re capable, ask them to find a blanket or make a pot of tea.

  •   Help the person to refocus

Encourage them to focus on the patient’s needs.

Let them know that dangerous and unacceptable behaviour may necessitate police involvement.

Remember that substance use and abuse are often long-term and extremely complicated issues. They won’t be solved in one encounter. Offer treatment recommendations only if this seems appropriate and isn't likely to escalate the disruption.