'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,
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
(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.