If your brother or sister struggles with alcoholism, you may feel helpless. These six ways to help an alcoholic sister or brother are based on a book called Sober Siblings – they may help you understand your sibling’s drinking problem and figure out what you can do to help.
Sober Siblings: How to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister – and Not Lose Yourself by Patricia Olsen and M.D. Petros Levounis M.D.is an excellent book on family alcoholism. It’s where I found some of these tips on helping a sibling with recover from alcoholism.
One of the first ways to help your alcoholic brother or sister is to learn what a mature relationship is. Psychologist Mary Pipher says, “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. It involves thinking about one’s environment and deciding what one will and won’t accept.” Maturity involves being realistic about what you can and can’t do when you’re coping with toxic family relationships. You can’t rescue or save your brother or sister from alcoholism, but you can reach out in healthy ways and stay true to you.
If you’re struggling to understand how alcoholism is a disease, read my blog post The Disease of Alcoholism – a Simple Explanation. I wrote it in response to a reader’s question about her alcoholic sister – I posted it on my Counselors’ Corner blog (I’m working in the alcohol and drug addiction recovery program for my counseling practicum).
6 Ways to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister
One of the best ways to help an alcoholic sibling is to attend an Al-Anon meeting, and get support from other siblings who are dealing with alcoholic brothers or sisters.
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 with a drinking problem can apply to most families.
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. If your relationship with your alcoholic brother or sister is affected by your mom or dad, read How to Deal With Difficult Parents.
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).
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.
Learn about alcoholism treatment options. You can’t help an alcoholic brother or sister 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 into alcoholism
“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 alcoholic sister or brother cope with alcoholism 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 about helping an alcoholic brother or sister, please comment below. I can’t offer advice, but it might help to sort through your feelings in writing.