HomeLifeAsk a counsellor: ‘What can I do about my brother’s heavy drinking?’

Ask a counsellor: ‘What can I do about my brother’s heavy drinking?’

Counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective to a sister who is concerned about her brother’s alcohol dependency.

The problem
“My brother has always been a good man, but over the past few years, he’s become a very heavy drinker. It’s changed his whole personality and now he drinks nearly all the time, which makes him aggressive and intolerant.

“My sister-in-law has been patient with him and says he’s tried to give up but that, when he does, it never lasts long; and when he starts again, he is often worse than before he stopped.

alcoholism in family
It’s not easy to watch a loved one struggle with addiction. (Thinkstock/PA)

“He runs his own building company and I’m sure that’s part of the pressure, but it’s not winning him any friends or customers. In fact, I think that’s part of the problem; the more he drinks, the more he puts people off and the less customers he gets.

Read: Are you too dependent on alcohol?

“This means he worries about money, so he drinks more – it’s a vicious circle. My sister-in-law says that, although he hasn’t actually threatened her or their children yet, the kids don’t like being around him anymore. I’ve tried to speak to him so many times but, just as when we were younger, he thinks he is always right and won’t listen to what I have to say.

“I’m at my wits end and so is his wife, but what can we do?”

Fiona says
“This is not an easy situation and I’m afraid there is no simple solution unless your brother wants to stop drinking. The sad fact is that people with drink problems often refuse to acknowledge that they have a real problem. They fool themselves into believing they’re in control and once this pattern of behaviour sets in, it is very hard for others – especially loved ones – to break through.

“You and your sister-in-law are probably struggling with a range of emotions, including shame, anger and guilt that you’re not able to help him. Please don’t, as you’re not responsible for your brother’s problems; whilst you are probably on an emotional roller coaster, please try and take a step back.

Read: Five signs your at-home drinking is something to worry about

“You and she need to take care of yourselves and of the children, while getting the support you need. Your sister-in-law, particularly, needs to be able to talk openly and honestly about what she’s going through, so I suggest she starts by joining Al-Anon, the support group for families of people with drink problems.

Fiona says that people with drink problems often refuse to see that they have a problem. (Thinkstock/PA)

Al-Anon meetings are held in more than 130 countries, and there are around 26,000 Al-Anon and Alateen groups worldwide. There are meetings in every Australian state. I would encourage you to join as well; although she is having to live with this problem, it is clearly taking its toll on you too.

“There is also a sub-section for the children of problem drinkers that might be of interest to your nephews and nieces, if they’re of an age to understand. As for how you deal with your brother, don’t preach at him about his drinking, but don’t shield him from the consequences of what he’s doing.

“Don’t try to argue with him when he’s under the influence either, as this won’t get you anywhere. As much as may feel you want to, you cannot force someone you love to stop abusing alcohol; the choice to do so is up to them. When he eventually admits he has a problem, he is going to need help – possibly even treatment – to overcome his problems, and it won’t happen overnight.

Read: How to cut back on your drinking

“In addition to coping skills, he will have to face up to the problems that led to him abusing alcohol in the first place and, for that, I’m sure he’ll appreciate your help. Finally, remember you’re not alone as, sadly, alcoholism and alcohol abuse affects millions of people.”

What advice would you offer in this situation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

– With PA

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