The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 2, 2001 Issue
Counselor's Corner

'My brother is an alcoholic. How can I help him to stop?'

Helping him requires letting him go and allowing him to pay consequences

By Kathleen Dau

QUESTION: I come from a "Brady Bunch" family of - eight children. An older brother in his mid-40s, has a chronic drinking problem (drugs, too) - probably since he was a teen. He blames everyone else for his problem - step-mom, siblings and so on. He has been in and out of in-patient programs. Most seem to hit too close to the underlying problems and he walks out. Recently, he was hospitalized for threatening suicide and is becoming more combative when he drinks.

The family has tried to help, but we've all given up because nothing works. He has lost his house and loses most jobs after a month. He has a warrant out for his arrest and I've turned him in to the police just to get him off the streets and sober. The family has even discussed having him committed so he is forced to complete a program. We are tired of listening to him say he is ready to get his life back together only to find out a week or two later that nothing has changed. We know he needs to take responsibility for his actions, but is there any way to help him?

ANSWER: Alcoholism is a family disease and all members get caught up in the craziness. Usually family members try to protect the alcoholic from his/her pain. They do that by taking responsibility for the addicted person's behavior; such as paying-off loans, calling employers, making excuses; or, by rescuing them, such as bailing them out of jail, giving them a place to stay or telling lies. In this way, the addicted person is shielded from consequences and does not have to change.

In order to help your brother, it is important to let go of the responsibility and allow him to pay the consequences. This may mean calling the police if he's driving or has warrants for his arrest, not giving him money or a place to stay, and letting him know you don't want to be around him if he's using. That is easier said than done, because it's difficult to watch people we love live on the streets, become depressed and suicidal, and often die from their addiction. The fear and guilt that accompanies letting go is a spiritual process that involves grieving ... grieving the loss of your brother to a disease and grieving the loss of yourself in trying to control the disease.

To help your brother, you must let go of helping him and help yourself. He knows where to get help if he's been in treatment. When he's ready, he'll seek help. Help may also come through consequences of his addiction - the criminal system or the healthcare field. In letting go, you care about and love your brother but do not take care of him. Letting go requires courage, understanding the disease and its consequences, but most of all, love.

If you or anyone you know finds themselves in this position, please contact the Catholic Social Services office closest to you for support or referral. You might seek area Alanon groups for additional support.

(Dau is a counselor with Catholic Social Services, Marinette.)

Send questions to Counselor's Corner, c/o Catholic Social Services, P.O. Box 23825, Green Bay 54305-3825. All questions will be answered in print or through the mail. Identities will remain confidential.

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