How to Help an Alcoholic Brother or Sister
If your sibling struggles with alcoholism, you may feel helpless. These six ways to help an alcoholic brother or sister are based on a book called Sober Siblings, and they may give you insight into your sibling’s drinking problem.
If you’re struggling to decide what behaviors to accept from an alcoholic sibling, read Sober Siblings: How to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister – and Not Lose Yourself. It’s the first book geared towards helping siblings of alcoholics, and is written by the sober sister of two alcoholic brothers. Also offering expert advice is Petros Levounis, M.D., the director of The Addiction Institute of New York and chief of addiction psychology at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals in New York City.
Here’s what psychologist Mary Pipher says about maturity in relationships:
“Maturity involves being honest and true to oneself, making decisions based on a conscious internal process, assuming responsibility for one’s decision, having healthy relationships with others and developing one’s own true gifts,” writes Pipher in Reviving Ophelia. “It involves thinking about one’s environment and deciding what one will and won’t accept.”
Maturity – especially when you need to learn how to help an alcoholic brother or sister – involves being realistic about what you can and can’t do about the drinking problem.
6 Ways to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister
Every sibling and family is different, even though the thought patterns and behaviors of alcoholics may be the same. These general tips for helping a brother or sister who has a drinking problem can apply to most families. If your sibling tends to drink more during the holidays, read Family Fights at Christmas – Tips for De-Escalating Conflict.
Learn about your sibling’s perception of alcoholism
The more you understand about alcoholism and the way an alcoholic thinks about his or her disease, the better able you’ll be to help with the treatment process. And, the more open you are about your family history and interactions, the better.
“Whatever the reason your brother or sister became alcoholic, it’s helpful for a counselor to hear about your family dynamics in order to know what direction to take,” writes Dr Levounis in Sober Siblings.
Let go of personality differences
Personality issues may crop up, which may or may not be part of the disease of alcoholism. Separating personality differences from real issues that affect your alcoholic sibling may be part of the healing process for both of you. Read How Birth Order Affects Your Life to learn how siblings relate to each other — and themselves.
Stop enabling your alcoholic brother or sister
“Enabling” is allowing or encouraging your alcoholic brother or sister to continue their disease.
Enabling an alcoholic includes covering up, providing alibis, minimizing the addiction, attempting to take control by getting rid of the alcohol, and removing consequences (such as bailing him or her out of jail, or lending money). If your sibling is open to getting help staying sober, read 8 Different Ways to Stay Sober.
Recognize what you’re doing
To stop enabling your brother or sister’s alcohol problem, you need to recognize what you’re doing.
“You have to realize that it not only doesn’t help your brother or sister but actually allows – even helps – him or her to continue drinking,” write Olsen and Levounis in Sober Siblings. “Sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw the line. No one’s perfect, and things are not always black and white. Allow yourself a few gray areas, for your own sanity.”
In most alcoholic families, events and behaviors aren’t cut and dried – especially during family celebrations! If you find holiday or birthday celebrations difficult, read How to Handle Relatives Who Get Drunk at Family Gatherings.
Learn about alcoholism treatment options
You can’t help an alcoholic sibling by forcing him or her to get treatment, but you can be well-informed about treatment options for drinking problems. If you’re in an alcoholic family, find out about the addiction treatment centers in your area.
Don’t be disappointed if your sibling relapses
“It’s natural to have hope for your brother or sister, but don’t be disappointed if she stops drinking and then starts again,” write Olsen and Levounis in Sober Siblings. “Relapse is not a sign of failure or weakness; it’s part of the disease, and often more than one stay in rehab is necessary if the person is to be successful.”
For more tips on helping a family member with alcoholism, read How to Help an Alcoholic Husband.
Here’s an excellent book that will help you figure out how to help an alcoholic sister or brother cope with drinking without losing yourself: Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
If you have any thoughts on how to help an alcoholic brother or sister, please comment below. I can’t offer advice, but it may help you to share your experience.
May your family become strong and healthy – and may you learn how to set and maintain healthy boundaries with the people you love.