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Happy Birthday, Alcoholic Brother?

  • Kate Minola Asks ...
    Kate Minola

    My youngest brother (51) is a raging alcoholic. We were very close when we were growing up, but have been estranged for over a year now. He cut me out of the loop because I told him he needed help. He told me to mind my own business and not to contact him ever again. Of course I feel guilty but I have adhered to his wishes. However, his birthday is coming up and I am wondering if I should send him a birthday card. If so, what do I say in the card, or should I just sign my name and tell him best wishes for a happy birthday

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

    Your poor brother was probably an enraged raging alcoholic when he told you to butt out. I don't think there's any doubt that he does not want to hear you discuss his addiction. On the other hand, there must be a place inside of him that he is sorry for the loss of your relationship. The message that he is giving to you is really that his relationship with the alcohol is more important to him than his relationship with you. While this is really unfortunate and painful, that is what defines an addiction. I think it is safe to assume that he would like you to keep contact with you as long as you do not confront this major problem. But that is a question you will have to decide for yourself. Which is more painful to you: the loss of the relationship with your brother or watching your brother destroyed himself with alcohol?

    Regardless, I think it would be a good idea to acknowledge his birthday. I hardly have enough information to tell you what to include in the birthday card, but some handwritten words expressing your love for him could only be helpful. It might give the message that even though you cannot approve of his drinking habits, you still love him. I would not reference the alcohol at all since you have already demonstrated that your intention is to respect his wishes.

    One exception. I think it is pretty well established that "raging alcoholics" don't usually change their habits until they hit rock bottom. If he is close to hitting rock bottom then it would be better for you to ignore his birthday. In other words, if he is losing his job and/or his immediate family and you do not want to go in and show moral support when he needs to fall flat on his face.

    I wish you the best of luck.

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