How to Help an Alcoholic Brother
It can be very hard to watch a loved one struggle with alcohol use. You may feel scared and confused about how to approach the situation. Getting help sooner rather than later is important and can help prevent further harms to your sibling’s health, well-being, and relationships.1 This article can help you understand more about alcohol use, the signs of an alcohol use disorder (AUD), as well as how to talk to your sibling and help find them treatment.
Understanding Alcohol Addiction
When it comes to understanding alcohol use disorder (AUD), know that managing it is not as easy as just stopping drinking through willpower. AUD is a chronic, relapsing disease marked by not being able to stop using alcohol despite the negative outcomes alcohol use causes in multiple aspects of your life. But it’s important to know that AUD is treatable, and people can and do recover.3
I Think My Brother Drinks Too Much
While only a doctor or a licensed addiction specialist can diagnose someone with an AUD, there are some signs that may mean your brother has a problem with alcohol. These signs include:4
- Trying but not being able to cut back or stop using alcohol.
- Using alcohol in high-risk settings, such as driving.
- Not being able to fulfill responsibilities at home or work due to drinking.
- Continuing to drink, despite knowing it worsens a medical or mental health problem.
How to Help an Alcoholic Sibling
Helping a sibling with an alcohol problem can be challenging, so it’s important to know what you can and can’t control. You can’t make your brother go to treatment or force him to stop drinking. However, you can offer support. This might look like:
- Helping your sibling research treatment options.
- Suggesting they talk to a doctor if they won’t talk to you.
- Going with them to family/group therapy or any other appointments.
How to Talk to Your Brother About Alcohol
Starting a conversation about someone’s alcohol use is never easy, but there are a few tips that can make it a little better overall. Ideally, approach your loved one while they are sober. Most important, harsh confrontation is not usually a good idea, nor is attacking or ambushing them.
What to Say to Someone with Addiction
It can be helpful to approach your loved one in these ways:5
- Do talk to them when you have privacy and as few distractions as possible.
- Do start by telling them that you are worried about them and that you are concerned about their drinking. Try saying something like, “I am concerned about you, will you talk with me?”
- Do listen and acknowledge their feelings.
- Do offer to help, such as by finding them a treatment program. You can also try asking, “What is the best way that I can help you?”
- Do stay patient. Change doesn’t happen right away.
What Not to Say to Your Loved One
It is important to keep the lines of communication open with your brother. It can be helpful to avoid some of these common pitfalls in talking to your sibling about their alcohol use:2,5
- Don’t lecture them or say critical things.
- Don’t make them feel guilty.
- Don’t bribe or threaten them.
- Don’t call names or use labels. Remember that labels like “addict” or “alcoholic” can be hurtful.
Take Care of Yourself
It is important for you to set boundaries for yourself and to remember to take care of yourself while you are dealing with your sibling’s alcohol use. Caring for someone with an AUD is challenging, and it’s harder for you to help someone if you are not feeling well mentally. Counseling for you can be helpful, as can going to support groups, such as Al-Anon.6 It can also be a good thing to avoid enabling behaviors, such as:
- Bailing your brother out of jail.
- Minimizing the seriousness of the situation.
- Giving him money that you know is being used for alcohol.
- Making excuses for them and justifying their drinking.
Boundaries are important, too, and this can look like not letting your sibling use alcohol in your home, loaning them money, or calling into work for them.
Types of Alcohol Rehab for Your Brother
There are many treatments for AUD, which typically involve a combination of talk therapy and medications in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Common approaches to treating alcohol use disorder include:7
- Detox is often the first step in treatment. It can help your brother safely manage withdrawal symptoms and get him ready for the next step.
- Inpatient treatment, where your sibling can stay in a 24/7 program to get around-the-clock support.
- Outpatient treatment, where your brother could stay home at night and on weekends and get help during the day.
Most inpatient or outpatient treatment programs include some form of behavioral therapy, including:7.8
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), where people in treatment are taught to change their patterns of thinking to help them avoid alcohol use.
- 12-step facilitation therapy, which incorporates the use of mutual support groups and encourages people to attend 12-step groups.
- Contingency management, in which people get rewards for following a treatment program. For example, getting free movie tickets for attending a certain number of 12-step groups.
The best approach to treatment varies from one person to another. No one type of treatment fits all, and it should be tailored to meet each person’s recovery needs.8 Cost and insurance coverage can also impact program choice.
If you are still struggling to get your brother to agree to go to treatment, it is possible to use the CRAFT approach, which stands for Community Reinforcement and Family Training. CRAFT trains family members in communication techniques to help facilitate a family member’s entry into treatment for substance use disorders.9
Getting Help for Your Brother
If your brother needs help for alcohol use disorder, there are many options available to get him the help he needs to enter recovery and manage AUD. At American Addiction Centers (AAC), we offer caring and compassionate treatment for AUD. Call us at today to get started in locating a treatment program that can help your sibling.