Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,
My brother is 40 years old and an alcoholic. He doesn’t have anywhere to live so I let him live with me. The other day we had to call the 911 because he had a seizure. My husband and kids want me to throw him out but I am afraid of what might happen if I make him leave. I’ve tried to get my mother and sister to help but they don’t seem to care. How can I get my brother help? I’m afraid that if he doesn’t stop drinking he will eventually die.
I feel bad!
Dear I feel,
Your brother will eventually die whether or not you shelter him. Having the threat of seizures over your head paralyzes you and makes you ineffective. The fear of his death causes you to actually become part of his illness and enable him.
You are not trained in substance abuse counseling nor the medical complications of substance abuse. It is inappropriate, and dangerous, for you to place yourself in a position where you are substituting for the help he actually needs. If he is having seizures he should be in a detox. When he’s done with detox he should be discharged to a sober house. Every city has them. In order to be able to live in a sober house your brother must be sober and participate in a 12 step program. Can you do the same?
His seizure was an opportunity to the help he needed. What you should have done was to take him to a hospital and say it wasn’t safe for him to return home with you.
If a person is a threat to themselves, others or property, that is legal criteria for involuntary admission to a hospital or detox program. The system is structured so that it is not possible to take action until this threshold is reached. When your brother had a seizure, he met that criteria. In order to assure he gets outside help you really need to understand and reinforce the idea that that he is a danger to himself and cannot return home.
The highest risk of dying from alcohol isn’t actually when he is drinking, it is when he quits. The DT’s are lethal 50% of the time. Under no circumstance should he be going through this at your house. Aside from your enabling him, he is also a crappy role model for your kids and he is clearly interfering with your marriage.
Doing too much for another person is as deleterious as doing too little.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: Those among us who have given up and are spiraling downwards can take out a lot of innocent bystanders on their way down. I understand that you feel responsible for your brother, but stuff the survivor’s guilt back in the closet and open your eyes. This is like letting someone who is suicidal, and a lousy shot, into your house with a gun. He’s going kill himself, but he might kill you too.
There are professionals who can deal with your brother. That is their job. It isn’t yours. If you want your brother to live let someone help him who knows how.