6 Ways to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister

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

alcoholic sister brother

“6 Ways to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister”

“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.

6 comments On 6 Ways to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister

  • Hello even if no one ever reads this, I am going to post to get it out for once and for all! I lost one sister to alcohol 3 years ago. My sibling and I have had a strained relationship for years. They are your typical alcoholics. I am at wits end, both my sibling are alcohol dependent and have decided now after not seeing my parent 1 to 2 times a year to become part of her life again……sounds wonderful doesn’t it… My father passed away last month after a short hospice (11 days). My father took care of my mother who has dementia. Now I am here with my mom most of the time however now I am having to put up with my drunk sister because she thinks she is moving in. I am in between a rock and a hard spot because I have no desire to be roommates with a drunk! I would love to go home but I feel that would be a disaster. Yesterday I returned to work for the first time in 2 months because I thought if she is gonna be here might as well. Let me tell you an alcoholic doesn’t usually make a good babysitter , so I found out yesterday! She took my mother with her to town after drinking a “few beer”, however she didn’t drive her car drunk she drove my parents car! So today there was a Hugh explosion here because I am sick of her giving my mom cigarettes and beer! Her and I had a confrontation today she was screaming and yelling telling my mom that I am in it for money and that I want to keep her car. Now keep in mind my parents have given her not one car but 3 cars over her drunken years. My sister was screaming ” mom keeps telling me …you are making her miserable” making my mom
    miserable( my mother has dementia). She doesn’t remember to bath or eat but she insisted that my mom is miserable! I can’t take this one more moment I can’t eat or sleep I have the stomach pain! she was in my face backed and slapped her chest and said in that voice “bring it on” I am 51 years old she is 47 my son heard it and said I am on my way ! She is gone tonight but what about tomorrow or Monday? I would have called the police but my poor mom
    Sorry this is from my iPad it is hard for me to type a lot on them,

  • My sister refuses to go to Alanon meetings and drinks herself into unconsciousness. I had her stay with me for 5 days and she went berserk everyday -and after the first two days of the shakes. She complained that she needed to get back to work. She cried and acted like she was dry-heaving. I now know she was wanting booze. I took her to 2 Alanon meetings, but it was a waste of time. I’ve already told her “goodbye”. Her husband has hung in there but after 5 years of this he’s wearing out. I’ve backed away. I am struggling with the notion this is a “disease”. To me it’s a mental illness and lack of character. Sorry, I guess I just don’t understand obsessions.
    I wish everyone well

  • My practicum is in an alcohol and drug recovery treatment program, and I’m learning that family can’t do much to help the ones they love. It’s sad, but the alcoholics I’m working with tell me that their family couldn’t do anything to save or help them. Many of the counselors on our team are recovering alcoholics, and they too say that their families tried, but couldn’t do much. The only they they could do is be there if and when the alcoholic hits rock bottom and decides that enough is enough.

    AA is founded on the belief that we are powerless over the alcohol, and we need God or a Higher Power to give us the strength to quit drinking. It seems like you’re not doing enough if you “just” pray for your sister…but maybe prayers are more powerful than you think. Prayers, and constantly reminding your sister that you are there for when she needs you to walk alongside her during her recovery.

  • Wow, what an incredible lady you are. You have a wonderfully deep enriching ancient, wholesome soul.

    Don’t worry, I didn’t take it personally what you wrote.

    After an alcoholic dad who was abusive, I hated him. He died over 20 years ago and just recently I have forgiven him. Clearly he was not able to move on to heaven or hell until then. I held on to my anger for a long time. You’ll be okay with your sister. My opinion is that, like with my sister, I don’t discuss her drinking anymore with her. I talk about ours animals and her animals. She only calls me when she’s been drinking and she’s always crying and saying how much I hurt her. Her complaint is unfounded and I don’t react to what she says. She is a very angry drinker. Her real personality comes out and she can be very spiteful. When she’s sober she’s great. Go figure. I have separated my frustration away from my feelings for her and I am letting her be. Not getting directly involved with her, but I’ll always be her sister. After all, she’s not doing this to me.

    You are such an amazing person, I am convinced that your feelings for your sister won’t be damaged. Looks like we need to remain steadfast with the “care and feeding” of our own families and let our sisters marinate. We only have what’s so. We move on and if it’s supposed to happen our sisters will catch up with us down the road.

    Always good to hear from you.

  • After numerous stays at my house (my sister came to detox). Much has happened, she was able to stay sober, after leaving my house, for a couple weeks. She was lucid, sharp and cheerful. I guess a ‘dog must have crossed the road’ (as her husband calls it) as her reasoning to drink again. Basically she doesn’t need a reason.
    Well, I have stopped communicating with her. I was having physical problems from the stress of seeing her drunken rages. And I mean rages. I’ve had back pains, sharp stomach pains for about 3 months where the pain woke me up in the middle of the night while I’m screaming in pain.. That progressed to clenching my teeth to the point that my jaw was in agony pain. I was taking aspirin 3 times a day. Then there were the bouts of crying (me!). She was now calling me and blaming me for something I supposedly ‘did to her when she was 10’. I spoke to the folks at my Church and they said “you have to stay away from her” (I was even crying in Church). Well, I followed their suggestion, I knew I had to do something drastic and after two more weeks of crying, anguish and frustration over that decision, my pains are all gone and I am happy again. She had become so poisonous to my whole aliveness. I will always love her greatly, but I know nothing will help her. She chooses her addiction over everyone. Actually I was the only one in the family talking to her out of 8 brothers and sisters. Now she doesn’t even have me. We’ll see what happens next.
    Kindness to all

  • Hello even if no one ever reads this, I am going to post to get it out for once and for all! I lost one sister to alcohol 3 years ago. My sibling and I have had a strained relationship for years. They are your typical alcoholics. I am at wits end, both my sibling are alcohol dependent and have decided now after not seeing my parent 1 to 2 times a year to become part of her life again……sounds wonderful doesn’t it… My father passed away last month after a short hospice (11 days). My father took care of my mother who has dementia. Now I am here with my mom most of the time however now I am having to put up with my drunk sister because she thinks she is moving in. I am in between a rock and a hard spot because I have no desire to be roommates with a drunk! I would love to go home but I feel that would be a disaster. Yesterday I returned to work for the first time in 2 months because I thought if she is gonna be here might as well. Let me tell you an alcoholic doesn’t usually make a good babysitter , so I found out yesterday! She took my mother with her to town after drinking a “few beer”, however she didn’t drive her car drunk she drove my parents car! So today there was a Hugh explosion here because I am sick of her giving my mom cigarettes and beer! Her and I had a confrontation today she was screaming and yelling telling my mom that I am in it for money and that I want to keep her car. Now keep in mind my parents have given her not one car but 3 cars over her drunken years. My sister was screaming ” mom keeps telling me …you are making her miserable” making my mom
    miserable(my mother has dementia). She doesn’t remember to bath or eat but she insisted that my mom is miserable! I can’t take this one more moment I can’t eat or sleep I have the stomach pain! she was in my face backed and slapped her chest and said in that voice “bring it on” I am 51 years old she is 47 my son heard it and said I am on my way ! She is gone tonight but what about tomorrow or Monday? I would have called the police but my poor mom
    Sorry this is from my iPad it is hard for me to type a lot on them,

Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.