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Alcoholic Brother

answered 09:39 AM EST, Tue September 11, 2012
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anonymous anonymous
My brother is an alcoholic. He lives with me. About a year ago I had had enough with his drinking and all the trouble that went along with it and I gave him an ultimatum. He either had to start getting some help and go to AA and try to quit drinking or he would have to leave.

He agreed and now he goes to one or two meetings a day and he swears he is trying his hardest to really change his life and turn things around. He does not drink as openly anymore but I can often smell alcohol on him. When I have confronted him on this he admits to having setbacks sometimes but he says it’s just a part of the process of one day at a time.

I studied psychology so I know something about addiction and I know that it is sort of a process for life and that relapses are common, so I understand this. But what I am worried about is that he is not even trying, really. I think he is now going to meetings just to get me off his back so he can live with me for free and continue to drink as much as he likes. Actually, it’s better for him now, since now that he is supposedly in recovery and trying his best, everyone treats him with kid gloves all of the time.

I want to support him but I don’t want to enable him with a free place to live if he’s not even trying. How can I know if he is trying for real or not? Are there any more measurable standards I could use?

Rob Danzman Says...

Dear Anonymous,

There certainly is a fine line between enabling and setting effective limits. This may sound strange but there is no way of really knowing whether is is trying for real or not. Example: There are plenty of people that really, really want to be professional athletes. They may train hard, eat right and stay focused but sometimes a combination of luck, DNA and environmental conditions do not allow the athlete to produce the results necessary for pro-status. He may be trying. He may not be trying. Let's re-focus your question: Where is your limit to what you are willing to tolerate in your home and in your life? Ultimately, whether the person is a friend, stranger or family member, we have to develop and maintain our own boundaries first. In one sense, you are correct. The more you give him a free place to crash, the less motivation he has to get on track. You also don't just want to kick him out one weekend. So try the middle path - "I'm so thankful you have let me help you over the past few months. I am willing to help for another 3 months and then we need you to transition to your own independent home so you can continue growing and also so we don't lose our relationship." And, as you may notice, I didn't give you much about alcohol intervention. I think your focus should be on what you have control over. If everyone in his life focused on setting and maintaining clear, healthy boundaries with him, he would be more inclined to get help on his own rather than couch surfing. 

  1. Identify and maintain your boundaries
  2. Be specific with boundaries (ie. timeframe, dollar amount)
  3. Communicate your boundaries in a supportive manner as a solution
  4. Focus on boundaries rather than the drinking
Best of luck. 

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