Addiction to Alcohol/alcoholic brother


Out of 6 kids, I am number 4 and my closest younger brother is an alcoholic.   He just got off probation 3 months ago for his latest DWI (thank God he hasn't killed anyone)  He's been going to AA, has a sponsor.  He was living with our mother after she refused to keep paying his rent which she did for about 2 years.  I thought he was stable enough to housesit an extended period of time for me.  I recently gave him an old car of mine which he did have outfitted with a breathalyzer as required.  I thought I was helping him and giving him a chance to prove himself.   He lived in my house for a month and today I was told he is in jail, aggravated battery on household member.  Apparently he moved an alcoholic girlfriend in with him.    I wanted your thoughts on my asking him to housesit.   (I'm sure it was a HUGE mistake and asking too much)

Dear Suze,

Alcoholism is a sneaky perpetrator.

When I coach family members of alcoholics who do not drink (that's "alcoholics who do not drink," not "family members who do not drink"), I suggest looking out for resistance, defensiveness, and unwillingness.

Often, the concern of the family member is, "Uh oh. I think he is drinking again." This concern is misplaced. How does the alcoholic behave when abstaining? Does he seem humble? Or, is he begrudging? Did your brother, who, by your account Suze, was doing all the right things, install a breathalyzer in your car with genuine enthusiasm? Or, was he tentative and hesitant?

In your case, you did the right thing, Suze. Family members of drinking alcoholics want more than anything to see their kin get better. And, when he stops drinking, so much hope appears in its stead. Often the alcoholic has caused wreckage; financial, emotional, & physical. Trust has been broken. Only two things may repair that trust: good deeds and time. In your case, you had both. You acted on this and helped your brother. Your act of love happened to BECOME a mistake.

And, we all make mistakes. By the measure of your letter, you are a smart woman. Good money says you won't make the same mistake again. But, not so fast! Alcoholism is an insidious family disease. For family members' of alcoholics (drinking & abstaining), decision making is driven by the alcoholic's behavior. Hide the booze. Don't serve wine with dinner when he comes over. Don't tell Mom. Don't tell Dad, etc. And, if he's not drinking--abstention doesn't treat alcoholism-- there's that restlessness, irritability, & discontentedness associated with the defensiveness and resistance I mentioned earlier. The power of alcoholism over the non-drinker--or social drinker--such as yourself--is as insidious as the drink is to the alcoholic. We can't predict---no matter how smart the family member is, how she will behave in the face of turmoil. Whether the alcoholic is drinking or not.

But, enough about your brother. The most important question is how are you? If you feel angry and betrayed, that is about right. If you're unaffected, and think you've made a mistake and you're moving on, that would be the healthy disposition. No matter, because of the circumstances you've described, you qualify for AlAnon. (You will find the link for AlAnon Family services at the bottom of this page. I hope you will use it.)

I facilitated an AlAnon panel in Toronto and I posed the question, "Does the non-drinker in the family feel physical pain?" (In the spirit of full disclosure, while I do qualify for AlAnon, I do not belong; my full recovery has come by way of a fellowship for drinkers.) The answer was astounding: AlAnons die from alcoholism. Stress. Cancer. Heart disease. And the dramatic; murder.

So, Suze, I believe you acted as a loving sister and have nothing to be ashamed of. Frankly, your gestures inspire and reflect the goodness us all. Perhaps, your brother may need to demonstrate good, sincere, & genuine deeds for a longer period of time next time. If he is blessed with a "next time." I sure hope he is. Some see one year of good behavior as a model. That is four seasons. Nevertheless, thank you for writing. Please don't hesitate to contact me anytime. I am here to help. In the meantime, take care of what's most important: yourself.



Addiction to Alcohol

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Charlie Haviland


I am a recovered alcoholic. My experience in the the addiction recovery process is personal and professional. I am better suited to address questions about alcoholism.


I have been a member of a twelve step fellowship since 1984. I have facilitated a fourteen week, twelve step workshop at Henry Ford Hospital, West Bloomfield, Michigan

I am on the auxiliary staff of the Stepping Stones Foundation- the Historic Home of Bill & Lois Wilson, in Bedford Hills, NY

New York Times, Newsweek, Wired Magazine, Grapevine, Huffington Post, The Detroit News, Detroit Free-Press, Denver Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, Denver Lo-Do News, The Oakland Press, Detroit Metro Times, Denver Westword

Michigan certification: FOADP (Fundamentals of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems)

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