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Just spent a week with my brother and realised he has a serious drink problem. Devastated and desparate for advice

(25 Posts)
justkeeponsmiling Sat 01-Nov-14 16:54:44

I'm at a complete loss as to what to do.

I don't see my brother very often. We both moved away from our (European) home country and our family there. Him and his GF/fiancée of 8 years moved to Switzerland for a few years to make some money before starting a family.
I moved to GB, met DH and started a family.

So, my DM rented a house for all of us to have a holiday and family get together on the south coast for a week.
During our time there we all drank a lot and were quite merry every night. We all noticed my DB putting a fair bit away and DH and I spoke a few times about how he seemed to have an extremely high tolerance for alcohol and a taste for neat spirits (mainly vodka and gin). On one occasion, DSD saw him standing by the fridge and taking a swig straight from the bottle of gin. But I think because we were all drinking it didn't really register as a problem iyswim.

However, during our last evening together my DB popped out for a bit and one of us mentioned that he was drinking quite a lot considering he was meant to drive home to Switzerland the next day. His GF then said that actually, she was really worried about his drinking. She had a kind of break down and begged us all for help as she apparently didn't know what to do anymore. I was horrified at some of the things she said!
Apparently DB:
Drinks very nearly every day, at least a bottle of wine, often more, plus neat spirits.
Lies to her about whether he has been drinkink and hides bottles (she said for example they went to stay with her parents and he left a few days before her. After he left her mum found an empty bottle of vodka hidden on their terrace)
Sometimes is too drunk to come and pick her up from the train station at 18:00.
Most nights sleeps on the sofa now because she does not want him to share her bed when drunk - he accepts this but doesn't seem to care anymore.
Has embarrassed her many times in front of friends and her family by being off his head drunk.

She said she tried many times to convince him to seek help but he seems mostly in denial. She has tried to reason, tried to argue and shout but nothing works. My heart went out to her when she said she cries herself to sleep regularly. They are engaged to be married next summer and are meant to start a family shortly after but she said she is not prepared to bring children into this relationship as it currently stands.

The more she talked, the more I felt my heart was breaking. I love my brother so much. We were never very close as children but have developed more of a bond as adults. I was very touched and honoured when he asked me to be his "best man" for his wedding next year.
He holds down a job without problem - he works in catering in a hotel and often has to get up at 5 am to manage the breakfast buffet. Other times he works behind the bar in the evening (ironically). He never seems to be having a hangover. I'm almost 100% sure he does not drink until the afternoon or early evening ans his GF confirmed this.

Now, our grandfathers were both alcoholics in the "classic" sense: they were drunk all day every day and mostly made the life of everyone around them hell. But my brother is nothing like them. He is kind and caring and was wonderful with my DCs all week. He is funny and loving and him and his fiancée were clearly very much in love and seem made for each other (his fiancée kep saying she loved him so much - but not when he is drunk!) But I can't help feeling that even though he is nothing like our grandfathers he might actually be classed as an alcoholic??

I've no idea where to go from here. Shortly after my DBs fiancée finished begging us for help he returned. We were all completely shell shocked and because it was late and we had all been drinking we didn't feel it was the right time to confront him or try and talk to him. The next morning we had to vacate the house really early and so we all drove home without anything being said.

I have no idea what to do now. I'm so far away but I really don't feel that this is a conversation I can have over the phone with him. I'm not sure if my DM and stepd will be any good at handling this, bless them, as they can be a bit blunt and I'm scared they will be too confrontational and push my DB further into denial.

Does anybody have any experience of this? I'm desperately worried for my DB, for his health and his relationship. I would do almost anything to help.

BiancaDelRio Sat 01-Nov-14 16:59:19

He is an alcoholic.

And I don't use that word lightly (and often think MN is far too quick to use it).

Sorry to say but no-one will be able to help him until he wants to and is ready to help himself.

If his girlfriend were my sister or friend I would tell her to run like the wind. Sorry OP sad .

Twinklestein Sat 01-Nov-14 17:08:41

He's an alcoholic and she shouldn't marry him. Her leaving him and intervention from your family might shock him into confronting his problem, but it might not. He has to find his rock bottom and he doesn't seem to have hit it yet.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 01-Nov-14 17:10:25

Agree with the PP. Alcoholism is a horrible, destructive problem. The sufferer can't be helped until they are either forced to seek help by circumstances or they decide unilaterally that their behaviour is a problem. IME those closest to them are to be pitied as they try & fail to help someone who resists at every turn and who will happily use every trick in the book to keep drinking. The biggest tragedy is - again IME - that it take the same people years to work this out, by which stage all kinds of damage has been done.

I would quite honestly tell his girlfriend to get out now and forget marriage because, if she's upset now, it'll break her being married to an alcoholic. For yourself and the other members of your immediate family I would say 'look after yourself first and foremost' and maybe contact Al-Anon.

Notmeagain1 Sat 01-Nov-14 17:10:37

I agree with Bianca. Nobody can helo your DB but himself. If he doesn't think he has a problem, nobody can convince him otherwise. He will have to hit rock bottom and that may be his fiancee leaving.

Just be there when he finally realizes he's an alcoholic and support him then. Otherwise there is nothing you can do. Sorry OP. sad

Nomama Sat 01-Nov-14 17:27:54

Well, being very blunt and possibly unpleasant:

You could make yourself feel better by spending time and effort trying to help him, put him in touch with people who can help. You can make yourself really unhappy by trying every thing under the sun - chances are you will do some of this, I think we all do.

But you will eventually come to the conclusion that there is sod all you can do. There is nothing anyone can do for him, he has to want to do it for himself.

If it were in my power I would wave a magic wand and get you passed the shame, guilt and self recrimination and straight to the bit where you support his GF in leaving him and shoring up your parents when they waiver.

But I can't. So I will offer up a totally un MNsy hug and wish you well. justkeeponsmiling

justkeeponsmiling Sat 01-Nov-14 18:26:42

Thank you all very much for your advice.
It makes for upsetting reading but right now I feel that what I need is some honest opinions.
If his GF decided to leave I could wholeheartedly understand why. However, I'm not ready to take a step back yet.
I feel that I need to properly voice my concerns to him at least once. I feel that I need to sit down with him and look him on the eye and tell him that I am worried about his drinking. If he chooses to disregard this then I don't know what I will do next but I love him too much to give up on him just yet.

muddylettuce Sat 01-Nov-14 18:40:20

My brother also has a problem with alcohol (as well as mental health issues). He made a few cries for help at the beginning of 2013 and was referred to a support group. He has had many relapses but is ploughing on. It has deeply affected the family as for a long time all we could do is look on as he self destructed. He changed as a person for months and it was/is difficult to separate drunk brother from normal brother if that makes sense. He was quite nasty when drinking. Your brother needs to recognise he has a problem before you can support him. My brother had throughout a very patient girlfriend, still does. Thing is, your future sister in law has to live with this man for life, alcoholism is not curable. The likelihood is he will never be able to drink again if he seeks help for his problem and if he carries on the way he is he is essentially opting out of family life. Either way, it will affect her. There are support groups for family members too so she would have that option too. Has she spoken to him? Is he aware he has a problem? He might need a reality check from the family too. Ultimately though he has to want to get better in order for anyone to support him.X

Topseyt Sat 01-Nov-14 19:07:30

My BIL is an alcoholic and has been for at least 20 years. I have seen the effect this has had on my husband and other members of the family, and it isn't pretty. His behaviour when he is drinking becomes very paranoid, unreasonable and aggressive. He has drunk his way out of many jobs, relationships, out of his only marriage and out of any possibility of contact with his daughter as she grows up.

I fully understand why you feel unable to step back from this at the moment. He is your brother, and you want to feel you have done all you can for him. It might be that if you have that conversation with him then it may bring him up short and cause him to realise he has a problem. Or, he may want to deny it and bury his head in the sand (this is sadly all too common. You will never know which way it will go if you don't try though I suppose. Just be prepared for the possibility that you may not get the reaction you would be hoping for.

It took my husband a long time to accept that he could not change his brother, because if said brother does not want to be helped (he doesn't seem to) then he is just totally unreachable. The only thing continued attempts to get through to him ever achieved was frustration for my husband. Stepping back for his own sanity has been the only option (there were other issues too, but that is a whole other thread and would take all day to describe).

Every family is different though, and I am sure every alcoholic is also different, although they share many traits in common. I will wish you luck and hope that your brother is more responsive to you than my husband's has been to anyone.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 02-Nov-14 08:17:27

"I feel that I need to properly voice my concerns to him at least once. I feel that I need to sit down with him and look him on the eye and tell him that I am worried about his drinking. If he chooses to disregard this then I don't know what I will do next but I love him too much to give up on him
just yet".

That way though madness lies. You are falling into the self same traps that many have done before you.

He is not listening and he will not listen to you. All he will hear from you is white noise. Other people have tried that and failed. You will also not succeed and you are no different from them. You cannot change him.

Find your local branch of Al-anon in the UK and attend their meetings or at the very least read their literature. That is the best way of helping you, you cannot help anyone who does not want to be rescued and or saved. He does not want your "support". If you really are sincere in wanting to help him you need to help your own self first.

The 3cs re alcoholism:-
You did not cause this
You cannot control this
You cannot cure this

Remember that last one in particular.

Alcoholism is a family disease (was not at all surprised to see that relatives were also alcoholics, alcoholism can be learnt behaviour as well) and alcohol is a cruel mistress.

Zazzles007 Sun 02-Nov-14 08:28:01

I am sorry that you find yourself in this situation with a loved one OP. A PP was 100% correct when she/he said that it will be difficult for you to support your brother while he doesn't accept that he has a problem - all your efforts will circle and circle round the plug hole and go down the drain.

A person cannot be 'helped' with something they don't believe they have a problem with. Until he accepts that he has a problem, he will not reach out for help, he won't curb his drinking in a meaningful way, nor will he listen to the affect it is having on the people he loves. How you 'get' someone to realise they have a problem is a difficult topic in itself - as humans we are uniquely placed to ignore or lie to ourselves about the reality of any given situation.

Tutt Sun 02-Nov-14 08:34:58

You as has been said can't really help him and for goodness sake don't rock up saying he's a alcoholic! The only one that can 'label' him is himself and if he doesn't think he has a drink problem then to him he doesn't so wont get help or take kindly!
As Attila says alcohol is a cruel mistress it is also a very intense 'relationship' so please don't underestimate it, a relationship in the true sense unfortunately and in many cases to the detriment to all other relationships.

I will add if he is a heavy drinker he will need professional help if he decided to 'give up' as it isn't as easy ( safe) to just stop.

InFlagranteDelicto Sun 02-Nov-14 08:41:21

what Attila said

Xh is an alcoholic, and she was a clear voice of sense in the madness. Very hard to listen to, but there were many times I wished she was in my RL. Keep those 3 c's in your mind. I pray his girlfriend is able to escape, and you all find a level of peace.

Whereisegg Sun 02-Nov-14 08:58:06

My sister is an alcoholic.
I haven't spoken to her in over 10 years, except for when our father died, lots of other family members also have gone nc, my dm does still speak to her on the phone but will just hang up if she's drunk.

I feel for you op, it's just fucking shit and I miss my (sober) sister incredibly, but she is violent when drunk, often getting arrested, and the lies are just incredible.
In fact, I think the lies are the most terrifying as should she anything ever actually happen to her, no one would believe her sad

You just can't do anything op, I have chosen to protect myself and my children.

Squeegle Sun 02-Nov-14 09:31:46

I do think that there are a couple of things that you can do. You can talk/ write to him outlining your concerns. In all likelihood, he will not take it on board- however, it has now been mentioned, it's out in the open. You can say- let me know if there's anything I can do to support you. I can't see any problem with that; it leaves the door open.

The other thing you can usefully do is to advise your brothers fiancé to go to al anon or educate herself about alcohol problems. It is a long road, but as many have said above, she won't be able to change him, she seriously needs to look after herself, and will need some support in that. She may need to get out of the relationship full stop, at least till he has been sober a while. Absolutely right she should not stick with him just as it is in this situation. She shouldn't have kids with him. I say that as someone who has walked this path. I thought I could change him. It took me a while to realise there was only one person who could do that. And actually, as soon as I realised that things started to change. In his case it was cos he realised no one else was looking out for him and so he had to take on that responsibility.

Sorry you're going through this. And by the way, I do think genes play a part. My ex had a father who was also an alcoholic. Things can change, it isn't all predestined, but there is a very set pattern to this behaviour and it's worth reading up about it a bit. Then you can see how best to help. Detaching with love I think they call it.

I got a lot of support from a website called sober recovery. It has forums on it and there is one called friends and family. Worth a look?

Whereisegg Sun 02-Nov-14 09:52:26

squeegle I was so worried about the 'being in the genes' thing that I now drink maybe twice a year.

Squeegle Sun 02-Nov-14 10:00:24

Well, I have no medical insight, I don't know anything more than what I have seen, hence - is it nature/ nurture, I don't know. But my Xps siblings both have difficult attitudes to drink. One is an alcoholic, the other never drinks. There is something in the way that alcohol hits the spot in some people that is very different. My ex would literally light up with the first sip- come alive almost.

We had two kids, i need to make sure they are aware and educated about the way alcohol can affect people differently.

FrauHelga Sun 02-Nov-14 10:03:34

You'll waste your time and emotional energy talking to him. He has to get there himself.

dementedma Sun 02-Nov-14 10:10:10

My brother is an alcoholic. Agree with the posters above that you cannot help him until he acknowledges the problem and actively seeks help, or until he finally hits rock bottom. And there are many "false" rock bottoms on the way down to the final near death one, believe me! His relationship with booze will not only destroy him but all around him. The GF must not marry him until he is clean and sober. And here's the good news. It can be done. This week we celebrated by brothers 2nd birthday. He is actually 53 but two years sober, now studying for a second university degree ( just got distinction for year 1) and hoping to soon find a place of his own to lkvre and move out of the Salvation Army supported accommodation where he is at the moment. I have my brother back but he so very nearly died in the process. Pm if you like. Happy to share my experience.

quietlysuggests Sun 02-Nov-14 10:30:56

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

justkeeponsmiling Sun 02-Nov-14 13:07:49

Once again, thank you for all your words of support and for sharing your stories. I'm not sure how to say this but it helps immensely to see that people get through this. Not just the positive stories - dementedma your mentioning of your brother's 2nd birthday has brought tears to my eyes - but, perversely, those who have lived or are still living with a not-dry alcoholic in their lives. My worst fear is that my DB will not acknowledge his problems and destroy himself in the process. I've been lying awake in bed the last couple of nights trying to imagine what it must be like to watch some you love slowly killing themselves and being unable to do anything at all to stop it amd my heart was breaking at the knowledge that this might be me soon.
So for this reason I find it almost comforting to have somebody say "I have been/am there but I am detaching and accepting that I can not help and I am surviving". Like imagining my worst nightmare and knowing that one way or another I will get through it. Does that make any sense?
Btw I completely agree that there is absolutely no point in saying "DB you are an alcoholic" - god, even I struggle to apply that "label" to him, even though in my rational mind I know this to be true. But I agree that this is a point at which he has to arrive by himself, in his own time.
But I do feel I want to say to him "I'm worried about you. This is NOT normal". Because I think that in our society drinking daily is mostly accepted as the norm. On top of that, as I said before, my DB has worked behind a bar for most of his adult life and therefore sees people getting drunk on a very regular basis. I'm not trying to make excuses at all but I think it is important and sometimes helpful to hear "what you are doing is not normal" to help gaining a sense of perspective. I understand that he may well just hear "white noise" but at least I will feel I have tried.
As for any other help/intervention, I understand that it would be pointless. In that respect I am almost glad I don't live close by - I don't know how tempted I would be to try and drag him to AA meetings or go round their house trying to look for bottles to destroy. All completely pointless of course but it is one thing to know this rationally, quite another to act on it.
I'm very tempted to post my DBs fiancée a link to this thread btw. I feel she really needs to read your advice.
Thank you all thanks

justkeeponsmiling Sun 02-Nov-14 13:17:38

Btw, fwiw I have already told his fiancée that I feel she urgently needs to find a support group for relatives of people with alcohol problems. My heart goes out to her as I cannot imagine what it must be like to love somebody who loves alcohol more... I really feel she needs all the support she can get, regardless of what will happen.
In addition, my DM told her she should definitely not marry my DB, or consider having children with him. A childhood spent with an alcoholic father has sadly taught my DM a lot.

Squeegle Sun 02-Nov-14 14:53:55

It is very sad I agree. Of course your brother is in denial on the surface, but underneath he will know. Most people with alcohol problems are only too aware, but they spend a lot of time pretending everything's fine. They often find themselves in jobs where heavy drinking is the norm as that helps with denial.

So... Yes... Let him know you're worried (maybe a letter?); that you're there for him and let him come to you. I suspect he will one day, particularly if fiancée can find the strength to let him know the weddings not happening. That will be a big violation into the world of denial. Hopefully will make him think hard.

Nobody says there is a miracle cure, there is not. But people DO stop drinking. My ex hasn't drunk for more than 2 years. I think his rock bottom was when he finally moved out and he was forced to confront reality. He has said to me since then that it was when I stopped trying to help was when he realised he had to do it himself.

Good luck to you all.

whitebits Sun 02-Nov-14 17:46:11

My brother is an alcoholic and I eventually cut all contact with him 4 months ago after 15yrs putting up with his shit. You sound like a loving, caring sister, so I would say to try writing a letter, or having a sober chat with him if the opportunity arises. This is as much for his benefit as yours, so that you know that you gave him a chance. At the risk of sounding like the profit of doom though, my own experiences tell me it will make little difference.

I tried love, tough love, letters, screaming and shouting, counselling, Al Anon, rehab and God knows what else and my brother is still drinking. The final straw for me was when Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and he "chose" to spend the day pissed rather than stay sober to hear if the cancer had spread or not after her mastectomy. I eventually emailed him to say that he brings nothing positive into my life so I don't want him in it. It would be nice to say I miss him, but I don't. I feel so sorry for my parents though as they know that when they are no longer here there will be absolutly no ties between us and we come from a large close family. Take care OP. I would advise the GF to leave, at least to give him (and her) time to figure things out and get the appropriate help if that's what he needs. In the end I think it comes down to self-preservation though. And I didn't love him enough to drive myself crazy trying to make him better.

whitebits Sun 02-Nov-14 17:46:46

prophet of doom !!!!

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