Family & Education

Dear June: ‘What Can I Do About My Brother, a Drunk Who Gets Angry and Is Very Difficult to Deal With?’

BY June Kellum TIMESeptember 13, 2022 PRINT

Dear June,

What can I do about my brother, a drunk who gets angry and is very difficult to deal with? He does not live in the same state as myself, so is easily ignored.

Would-be Helpful Brother

Dear Would-be Helpful Brother,

As to whether to ignore your brother or not, it might be helpful to consider first whether you think you have a responsibility or duty to help him.

Secondly, if there is no responsibility or duty, does your conscience tell you to help him anyway?

It’s important to answer these questions first, because it would certainly be easier to ignore him and you will face significant difficulty in helping him. Helping a loved one recover from addiction can be very painful and will take grit and determination to see it through; reminding yourself why you’ve taken on this burden will help you carry it.

If you do choose to help him, I would start by psychologically preparing yourself. There are, of course, many resources for this. Alcoholics Anonymous is a well-known one, and on my shelf, I also have a book called, “The Addiction Spectrum,” co-authored by Dr. Paul Thomas, who is himself a recovering alcoholic and offers a 13-point plan and holistic approach to recovery.

I would like to offer a few thoughts on the nature of addiction and recovery. I am not an expert on this topic, so consider these as thoughts for reflection.

The first thing to understand about recovery is that the desire and strength to carry through with it comes from within the person who is addicted. Friends and family can help create a supportive environment, but the person themselves must be willing to do the hard healing work. So be realistic about what you can achieve.

I personally know three men who have struggled or still struggle with alcohol. One had to hit rock bottom, where he realized that if he didn’t turn his life around, he would die. He first sought out AA, where he took the spiritual messages from the group to heart and made spirituality the center of his life. In his later years, he dedicated himself to creating a healing center and tried to help others as much as he could. One of the great lessons I take from his story is how powerful helping others is. It truly is a great healer.

The second man doesn’t seem to be winning the battle with alcohol. He has been in and out of rehab and his pattern of regressing and lying about it has left his life in shambles, divorced and distant from his children. For the third man, one of his sons is a frequent drinker and does not yet seem to recognize this as the beginning of a possible problem. I hope he can keep it in check, but, given his family history, I see a great risk.

So as regards your brother, he may not be ready to turn his life around, and the best thing you can do is wait, watch, and let him know you are there for him. You don’t have to say this outright, but staying connected via email, social media, or phone calls, or going to visit him periodically just to hang out, will let him know you care.

Depending on your situation, it might be advantageous for you to move closer to him.

The way I see addiction is like a cartoon devil that sits on a character’s shoulder, whispering bad ideas into their ear. The character goes along with the bad ideas, putting the little devil in control. But fundamentally, the character and the devil are two different entities.

So my advice when dealing with a loved one with a drinking problem is to see them as separate from the addiction. The goal is for them to find the strength to cast off the devil. Hold fiercely to your belief in their self-worth. They may not be able to distinguish between the ideas coming from the little devil (addiction) and their own thoughts, but you can.

In order to really help them, I think you need not only to distinguish between them and the addiction, but also learn not to become angry or upset by the addiction. This doesn’t mean that you ignore or condone bad behaviors; it simply means that your emotions are not involved, which is much less stressful for you. I realize this is easier said than done, but if you can stay calm when your brother becomes angry, you will have much more bandwidth to help him.

Try this, even if you can only do so in your heart. You may choose to have no contact with him, but do so without anger, contempt, or disgust for who he is. Only sadness and pity, perhaps, for the life he is wasting.

Another reason behind the importance of believing in the worth of a person who is addicted to alcohol: Often, these people don’t see their own inherent value. It may be that this is the reason they have a habit of drinking in the first place. Alcohol gives people a glimpse of who they could be, allowing them to feel strong and powerful, right, relaxed, and at peace. These are states of mind that we can all attain through inner work, but which come easily through alcohol—at least, at their most basic level. But unlike inner work, which over time increases our capacities and solidifies our self-worth, these states become harder to attain through alcohol as the addiction only creates a desire for itself.

Eventually, alcohol causes some people to lose all bearing on the rest of their life, taking over their emotions and thoughts and making them angry and intolerable, like your brother.

All this is again to say that it is important not to see addiction as the sum total of a loved one, even if that is who they are on the surface. Why? Because then you can still hold them dear, even respect certain things about them, and your believing in them may help them eventually believe in themselves.

Of course, someone who is addicted may do things that are disgusting, contemptible, and pretty intolerable, and I don’t suggest you make light of these. Certainly, don’t try to mitigate social consequences they might face; for example, by giving them money. Consequences may be what wakes your brother up and gives him strength to fight his addiction, like the man I knew who had to hit rock bottom before addressing his addiction.

If and when your brother is ready to turn his life around, then I would make an effort to be there for him, expecting to weather ups and downs.

You have not mentioned a wife or children, but I feel compelled to say that if there are children in the picture, I think they should be protected as much as possible from their father in his drunk, angry state, which can be very unsafe both physically and emotionally. So if your brother has children, I would first see what you can do make sure that they are not unduly affected by their father. If there are boys, you might consider doing activities with them and showing them a better model of manhood than their father.

Sincerely,

June

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Do you have a family or relationship question for our advice columnist, Dear June? Send it to DearJune@EpochTimes.com or Attn: Dear June, The Epoch Times, 229 W. 28th St., Floor 7, New York, NY, 10001

June Kellum
June Kellum is a married mother of three and longtime Epoch Times journalist covering family, relationships, and health topics.
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