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"Happy" Alcoholic, Sad Family

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    My brother is an alcoholic and I need to know how much I should do to try to get him to stop drinking.

    My brother is in his 40s now. He is a lifelong bachelor and has always enjoyed a pretty debaucherous lifestyle. He did really well in Silicon Valley in his twenties and he is pretty much set for life now. We’ve always joked that he is like the real life Charlie Sheen character in the show Two and Half Men. He has always been attractive to women and he likes to sleep late and go out pretty much every night. He also likes to drink and he has never been apologetic about that.

    In the last couple of years though I can see that something has really changed in him and whereas he used to be sort of a playboy type he is starting to get a lot sloppier and more disjointed and where it used to be about drinking and going out with friends and meeting girls – now it’s just about drinking, mostly alone at home. The alcohol is also ruining his good looks.

    I popped by unannounced late this morning and I was pretty disturbed by the squalor he was living in. I hadn’t been by in more than a year. He always comes to our place to see the kids. It’s a beautiful house but it was dark and dirty and it smelled and there were empty bottles everywhere you’d turn. I got so upset by the way he was living I actually started crying. I asked him how he could live like this and why he was killing himself with alcohol. He is usually pretty mellow but he got pretty angry and defensive and he asked me to respect his right to live as he pleases. He says he knows he drinks more than is healthy but that it is his body and he’d rather ‘be here for a good time than a long time’ as he put it. He said he doesn’t tell me how to live and he doesn’t need me to tell him how to live.

    I don’t want to watch him die but if he doesn’t want to change I don’t know what I can do to stop this from happening. As I understand them interventions work when a person denies the problem. My brother doesn’t deny that he drinks too much – he just doesn’t want to stop drinking too much. Is there anything I can do to get him to see that life is to valuable to throw away down a bottle?

  • Dr. Ari Hahn Says ...
    Dr. Ari Hahn

    This is truly one of the saddest questions I have ever had to answer. I do not think that you can reasonably expect to stop your poor brother from drinking if he has decided to be drunk until it kills him. However, that does no mean that there is not a reasonable way of dealing with it.

    There is a old AA saying that an alcoholic needs to hit rock bottom in order to change. That normally means losing either family or work. Your brother doesn't seem to need either. If he did then he might feel threatened enough to reconsider his habits. While it is a long shot, I would think that if he felt that you (or somebody else that he considers family) would leave him and it is important enough, he might reconsider. It is a long shot because, first of all, he seems to be a loner and not dependent on anybody. You would have to embark on a project of becoming very close to him which would be very difficult and draining on you and your family. And even if you decided to do that, it might not work until he felt extremely incapacitated from his addiction. 

    This is not very different form a situation where a person has any other disease (cancer, diabetes, MS, etc) and refuses to accept treatment. Very sad, indeed.

    While is might sound cold-hearted, I believe that the healthiest path for you to take is to accept that (at the present moment) you have already lost your brother to the bottle. If you are able to mourn this loss, and accept it, you can cherish the time you have with him. He might have many years a head of him. He might one day turn around. You might decide to help him. But ultimately the only time he will ever save himself is when he wants to.

    I am really sorry for you. Contact me if you need more support.

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