When does my brother's drinking become my problem?
October 26, 2008 2:31 PM   Subscribe

How do I help my mother deal with my sibling's alcohol use?

Ever since my brother moved back in with my folks after his college graduation (about two years ago), my mom has had a really hard time dealing with his drinking. My brother isn't shy about coming home pretty drunk or calling to say that he's too drunk to drive and is staying elsewhere.

I know it causes an inordinate amount of stress for my mother, who's already medicated for her anxiety. Maybe every two or three months, she'll have a kind of breakdown about it and call me, sobbing and asking what to do. Today, her call was prompted by noticing that my brother's face was scratched up after a night out. He told her that he was so drunk he fell down the steps at the party.

I've tried just listening, giving advice, and tough love. Nothing seems to comfort her or spur her to take definite action on the problem. I guess I'm interested in others' experiences with these situations. When is it time for me to intervene with my brother? If I did, what would I even say? Short of that, what advice can I give my mother to either deal with her anxiety about the situation or take action to solve it?

Other info: My father also lives with them, but isn't really concerned about my brother's drinking. He grew up in a family of alcoholics, though, and he's rationalized their behavior to me for as long as I can remember. I have a very close relationship with my brother, but we've never discussed this issue.

Thanks in advance, Mefites!
posted by non sum qualis eram to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Easy solution: mom kicks brother out of house. One of the downsides to living with mom and dad is that they can dictate your behavior to a degree.
posted by k8t at 2:40 PM on October 26, 2008


Do *you* think your brother's drinking is a problem? Or is the problem really your mother's reaction to it? I mean, being in control enough to make responsible choices about driving home isn't exactly a warning sign, but we don't really have enough info.

If it's just your mother's reaction, then a) your brother should know he's freaking her out, if he doesn't already, and b) she should probably be in therapy. She might just need the right kind of objective ear to say whether or not it's worth her stressing over - and "my kid" is almost never the right kind of ear.

If it is your brother's drinking itself, then that's a whole other kettle of fish.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:44 PM on October 26, 2008


I've tried just listening, giving advice, and tough love. Nothing seems to comfort her or spur her to take definite action on the problem.

It sounds like you've already done everything you can. It's your parent's home, not your own. That said, it's important to leave the door open for your mom. Tell her, "Mom, I feel like I've done everything I can - I've listened and tried to give you advice - I don't know what else to do?"

When is it time for me to intervene with my brother?

Technically it will never be the time to intervene because everyone involved is adults, and he's not in your home.

That said, he's your brother, what's stopping you from calling him right now and saying, "Yo dude, what the fuck? You're driving mom crazy with your drunken bullshit. You need to get your act together and get your own place, you looser."

what advice can I give my mother

"Mom, he's an adult. If you don't like the choices he is making, kick him out."

I have a very close relationship with my brother, but we've never discussed this issue.

If you're so close, then talk to your brother... you're over thinking this I think. Pick up the phone and call him right now. Tell him he's being an irresponsible lush and that it's driving your mom crazy...
posted by wfrgms at 2:45 PM on October 26, 2008 [5 favorites]


It sounds like you have two questions, really:

1. How can I help my mother with her anxiety over my brother's drinking?
You can remind your mother that she did not cause his drinking problem, she cannot fix it, and she cannot control his drinking. She can, though, allow him to face the effects of his drinking... specifically, she can inform him that he needs to move out on his own, pay his own bills, and be responsible for himself. Yes, he might fail, but that might be good, actually. Right now, he is being sheltered from the effects of his actions, which means he'll be slow to realize how much he's screwing up his life.

2. As your title says, when does your brother's drinking become your problem?
Here's the short answer: Never. It's his problem, and he's the only one who can decide if and when he will quit. If he's a problem drinker, this may come with maturity. If he's an alcoholic, this may or may never come about. You can suggest AA or another treatment for him, but I will guess that he won't seek help until he's faced negative consequences of his drinking.
posted by Houstonian at 2:49 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Your mother (and you too) should consider Al Anon. This is exactly what AlAnon is for - to help family and friends figure out what to do when someone they love has a drinking problem. I really can't recommend it strongly enough. There are meetings all over the place, they're free, and you'll be able to hear about and connect with all kinds of people who are struggling with the same issues. It's an incredible resource.

Down the line, your family might want to consider an intervention, but make sure you find someone who knows what they are doing, as someone who doesn't can do more harm than good. If you want recommendations, mefi mail me, and I'll see if I can get you a name and number.

But I think that's down the line - my first and best recommendation is AlAnon. Find a meeting for you and for your mother, and go today!
posted by jasper411 at 2:58 PM on October 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the answers so far.

restless_nomad, I've definitely been out with my brother before and seen him go overboard with the alcohol. However, I'm not in their house to see how often and to what extent this happens, so most of my information is second-hand.

Re: kicking him out - she'd never do it. Even if she did sack up, my dad wouldn't agree. Also, it'd be even MORE my problem at that point because he doesn't make enough yet to afford a place of his own (legitimately - he's not just wasting his money on stupid shit) so he'd most likely have to come live with me. Do not want.

I guess the hard part for me is being passive here; I'm a fixer, so I have a compulsive need to stick my nose in, even though my mom has specifically asked me not to mention anything we've discussed with my brother or anyone else. Yet she continues to ask for advice. Ugh.
posted by non sum qualis eram at 3:33 PM on October 26, 2008


Your brother seems to be adult enough to get his own home as he has a working network of adult persons who are also privileged enough to be able to get drunk with, without interference from other adults, e. g. their parents.

If he cannot afford an own home now, he should decimate the money spent on drinking and start saving to get his own place to stay. Tell him how girls look upon someone who has his own appartment compared to someone who lives with his parents!.

Until he finds his own home, he has to accept that the owners of the house decide how he behaves, i. e. how much he can drink to a party. Just like any other kid who stays at home has to. Again this doesn't change if he is 16 or 32: Staying at home means that you are just a kid: In your parents eyes and in the eyes of anyone else. Propagate that notion to him and he will get into thinking of moving, but of course help him in any way doing so. This should help the situation a lot.

I think from what you are telling us, that this is much more the issue than that he drinks too much as such. Drinking is a problem if you cannot invite him and your own friends over at the same time, because he too often gets "problematic" during the event, not because he gets as intoxicated as everyone else, if that is part of the event.
posted by KimG at 3:49 PM on October 26, 2008


uf, I got behind your summary, Non sum qualis eram, I hope my points are still reasonable valid and that I gave a hint or two you can use. I think you have to talk to him and tell him to get a job that can pay for another place to live so that his self-esteem will rise - and it will.
posted by KimG at 3:54 PM on October 26, 2008


I'm with jasper411 above on getting your mom to Al-Anon. Take her yourself. What you learn may be good for you as well. It might help you cope with future crap from your brother, and your mom.

I can speak best from the drunk side of things. Here is a comment I made awhile back about what late stage alcoholism can be like, and here is another about alcoholic rehab. Stick this information in your back pocket and if it's helpful someday with your brother, then great. Also, feel free to MeFiMail or email me any time if you wish to talk details.

Best of luck to you. Alcohol can tear families apart.
posted by netbros at 3:57 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Al Anon is made for situations like these. If she's not interested in that, I'd try to interest her in therapy or counseling of some sort, for herself, to learn some coping mechanisms.

Tell her that you don't know how to help her, but that you'd like to try to help her find people who can.
posted by decathecting at 4:13 PM on October 26, 2008


It doesn't seem like your mom wants advice or help so much as she wants to vent.

The next time she starts talking to you about it, tell her "mom, I know you don't want me to talk to my brother about this, and it makes me really uncomfortable to have this kind of talk with you about him but not be able to talk to him directly about it. I think you should talk to my brother directly, and if you want me to help or to talk to him I will, but I don't feel right about having these conversations kind of behind his back."

Hopefully, she'll relent and let you talk to him, and then you can assess the situation a little better. Right now you just have her venting, which is like half of one side of the situation. It's not really fair of her to dump this on you in secret.

If you feel on your own like you have reason to be worried, then talk to your brother without mentioning your mom.
posted by KAS at 4:21 PM on October 26, 2008


I'd talk to her about yourself, and about her. Be honest about how you feel without judging her or your brother, and without telling her what to do. She has to find her own solutions.

"Wow, Mom, it sounds like this is really upsetting you."

"Have you ever thought about what steps you could take?"

"Wow, I would not be able to deal with that. That would make me crazy with worry. I'd probably tell them they had to either quit doing stuff like that or move out."

"Mom, you know me. I'm a fixer, I compulsively want to fix this. It's driving me crazy to hear about a problem I can't fix!"

"Man, it is so hard to hear about this. I hate imagining him acting like that, and I hate seeing you so worried."
posted by salvia at 5:51 PM on October 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


or calling to say that he's too drunk to drive and is staying elsewhere.

Which is far more responsible than DUI so that he can play down how drunk he is.
posted by ersatz at 5:08 AM on October 27, 2008


In addition to Al Anon, you may be interested in attending an open meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Open meetings welcome everyone, and you don't have to be an alcoholic to attend. In addition to the insight that you could learn from other non-alcoholics through Al Anon, we alcoholics can be very useful ourselves in understanding what your brother is doing and why he is doing it.

Just make sure it is an open meeting.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:34 AM on October 27, 2008


Nthing the suggestion of Al Anon for your mom, if not yourself too.

My parents were big-time enablers of my brother's alcoholic lifestyle -- he truly lived only to drink -- which only made it more and more comfortable for him over time to adopt increasingly irresponsible behavior (drinking at work, not eating for days at a time) with, unsurprisingly, negaive and even life-threatening results. I stopped feeling close to my brother the longer he continued to live the way he did. The few times I tried to speak with him directly about it were pointless; he gave me flippant answers or irrelevant comments when I asked him why he was doing the destructive things he was doing. I don't have any good suggestions for finding a way out of this situation, for I have found that parents can rationalize even the most unbelievable and destructive behavior, and can allow almost anything to go on under their roofs. But you can be there to listen to your mother, and suggest in a non-judgmental way to both her and your brother that they seek professional help.
posted by lgandme0717 at 1:13 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks so much for all of your thoughtful answers. I mentioned Al Anon to my mom, and here's a quick follow up from her:

i am better. i talked with him and more importantly Dad did too. i think the meeting is a good idea. i do overreact sometimes. i just love you kids so much, my heart breaks, which does nobody any good. let's think about going when things slow down for you. you are the best. thank you.

Let me reiterate that to all of you, too.

You are the best. Thank you.
posted by non sum qualis eram at 2:55 PM on October 27, 2008


I guess the hard part for me is being passive here; I'm a fixer....

Of course you are. You want your family to be all better, and if there was just something you could do.... But see, it isn't like leaky plumbing, where you can find the leak and fix it.

What you are describing is the role of the Good Child in the dysfunctional family. Although your intentions are the best, fixing would get you caught up in (are caught up in?) the dynamics of your dysfunctional family. You might want to read a book or two about this, because it isn't obvious. It will help clarify what is going on, and how you can best deal with it.
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:33 PM on October 27, 2008


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