How to Help an Alcoholic Sibling

It is often said that alcoholism is a family disease. Maybe only one family member is drinking, but the whole family reels. Figuring out how to help an alcoholic family member can be confusing and frustrating, but there are a few guidelines that can help you, as a brother or sister of an active alcoholic, to navigate this challenge.

Keep It Simple

Start by thinking through what you’d like to convey to your brother or sister. Keep your message simple: “I care about you” is usually a great place to start. You might not know how to help an alcoholic take that first step into recovery, so speak about what you do know: your own feelings. Use “I statements” to emphasize that you are not accusing, demeaning, or shaming your sibling — just speaking your truth.

Hope for the Best, but Prepare for the Worst

Approach your sibling from a place of hope and be positive, but understand that it is likely your brother or sister will not be receptive to your efforts at first. It is common for alcoholics to feel defensive when the subject of drinking comes up, no matter how carefully you phrase it. Don’t take it personally, and don’t get distracted from your goal — to communicate your feelings of care and concern to your sibling.

Have Resources Ready

If your brother or sister is open to taking that first step, don’t miss this opportunity! Be ready with information such as the meeting time and place for the closest Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. There are professionals who do know how to help an alcoholic get through those tough first days and weeks — the detox, withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Do some research and be ready to provide information and a ride if need be to that next AA meeting or therapy appointment.

Step Aside

One of the best ways to help an alcoholic make the journey toward a healthier lifestyle is to step aside and allow the natural consequences of his or her behavior to play out. Don’t cover for him or her. Refuse to get involved in the lies or denial that are bound to be a part of the alcoholic behavior.

Separate the Person From the Behavior

This can be tricky and hard to express, but it is important. You may find yourself saying things like “I love you but I cannot lie to your boss for you.” Or “I care about you and I’m concerned about your behavior.” Make it clear to your sibling that you love and support them while at the same time you do not condone their alcoholic behaviors. This is helpful because often people who are actively drinking feel shame and guilt about their drinking and their behaviors. Extending love and support to the person while rejecting the problematic behavior is a way to help an alcoholic also make that separation. Feeling less ashamed can lead to feeling more empowered to be able to stop drinking.

Face the Facts

How can you help an alcoholic sibling? The truth is that you might not be able to help — at least not on your timeframe. Face the fact that you cannot control your brother or sister’s behavior and only he or she can decide to get help and stop drinking. You, however, can get help with your struggle. Being in a relationship with an alcoholic can be an emotional rollercoaster with real-world consequences. You can try Al-Anon, therapy, or other support groups designed to help people with alcoholic family members. Stay positive, focus on yourself, and get help if you need it. Your sibling may see your choice to get help as an inspiration. [Wikihow is not typically a top-flight resource, although this piece on helping an alcoholic family member is well done. It is simple, illustrated and engaging, and conveys accurate and accessible information.]

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