Dear Annie: My brother “Nathan” moved into an apartment with my other brother, “Steven,” who lives with his girlfriend and her son. Nathan has an alcohol problem that already caused him to lose his job and is now creating problems between Steven and his girlfriend. Steven has forbidden my parents to speak with Nathan about his alcoholism for fear of betraying his brother’s trust and embarrassing him. I believe Steven is an enabler.
My parents recently visited my brothers and didn’t bring up the subject. I feel as if I’m living in a family of ostriches burying their heads in the sand, hoping the problem will go away. But I’m worried that Nathan will die of his disease if we don’t step up and intervene. How can I get my family to deal with this? – C.
Dear C.: The problem with addicts, whether it’s drugs, alcohol or anything else, is that they are often in denial about the extent of the problem and unwilling to be helped. Without their cooperation, there is little you can do. People also use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate – most often for depression – and those symptoms can be hidden because the focus is on the addiction. It does Nathan no good for his family to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. You and your parents can contact Al-Anon (al-anon.alateen.org) for information and support. And if you can convince Nathan to talk to a doctor to rule out other problems, that might help him get on the right track.