Dear Annie: I’m writing because I hope the person this will help most will read it. My brother-in-law is an alcoholic and won’t see that he has a problem. His youngest brother died of alcoholic hepatitis, and he is headed down the same path. He is also emotionally abusive to anyone in his family (though not friends or acquaintances) that comes in contact with him when he is drunk, and he’s drunk more often than not. He has passed out on his dinner plate, fallen down in our driveway into the bushes, routinely passes out right after dinner and has driven while drunk (much to our chagrin). It is especially disturbing when he drunkenly screams at his own wife and his mother. It is typically a tirade of expletives. My husband has tried to get him to see that he has an issue. I have started attending Al-Anon, and I invited his wife and my mother-in-law, who both refuse to go.
I’m saddened that we have lost this person who once was good to be around. No one stops him when he gets abusive; no one corrects him or otherwise exposes him to any consequences for his actions. So, he continues to drink and to become emotionally abusive. He somehow maintains his friendships with his neighbors, who also don’t discourage him from drinking, which is why he prefers being around them.
When I suggest that someone try to explain to him when he is sober what he does (he blacks out and claims to be unaware that he did these things), they say that it would only make it worse. I know we can’t fix an alcoholic until he desires to change himself, but I want my mother-in-law to show him that there are consequences for his actions. When he gets this way, I want her or his wife to leave the dinner table, leave his house or otherwise let him know immediately that this behavior is unacceptable. They do not, and we all just sit there shaking, hearts racing, wondering if he will strike out physically next.
I can’t stop going to dinners with my husband. We do limit time spent with my in-laws, but I am stumped as to what to say next time he gets belligerently drunk and starts in with his abusive tirades. Do we walk out leaving dinner on the table? Do we tell him we won’t spend any time with him unless he gets help? Any suggestions from you or your readers would be appreciated. – Frustrated and Frazzled
Dear Frustrated and Frazzled: I’m so sorry to hear that the disease of alcoholism has your beloved brother-in-law in its grip, and I hope he’ll find his way toward recovery eventually. In the meantime, excusing yourselves from social situations in which he begins getting drunk is a fine idea, and you should feel empowered to do that. As for telling him you won’t spend any time with him unless he gets help: That, too, is a fine idea, provided the following: 1) You are making the ultimatum for yourselves, not because you hope to influence his behavior; 2) You are 100% sure that you and your husband both mean it; and 3) You and your husband are both willing to see it through.
You’re absolutely right that family should stop shielding him from the consequences of his actions, as this only further enables his alcoholism. But you can’t force your sister-in-law and mother-in-law to understand this; it’s a conclusion they have to reach for themselves. I encourage you to continue to attend Al-Anon (or another program, such as Families Anonymous, and/or therapy) and to work with your husband to set boundaries between his brother and you two.
Lastly, when you know that he’s getting behind the wheel of a car after drinking, take his keys (all sets), if possible; call 911 if not.
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