Life

Ask Fiona: What can I do about my brother's heavy drinking?

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective to a concerned sister, and a woman who is struggling to conceive

It's very difficult for families to watch a loved one who is drinking excessively

MY brother has always been a good man, but over the past few years, he's become a very heavy drinker. It's changed his whole personality and now he drinks nearly all the time, which makes him aggressive and intolerant.

My sister-in-law has been patient with him and says that he's tried to give up, but that it never lasts long; when he starts again, he is often worse than before he stopped.

He runs his own building company and I'm sure the pressure is part of the problem, but it's not winning him any friends or customers. The more he drinks, the more he puts people off and the less customers he gets. This means that he worries about money, so he drinks more – It's a vicious circle.

My sister-in-law says that, although he hasn't actually threatened her or their children yet, the kids don't like being around him anymore. I've tried to speak to him so many times but, just as when we were younger, he thinks he is always right and won't listen to what I have to say.

I'm at my wits end and so is his wife, but what can we do?

WW

FIONA SAYS: This is not an easy situation and I'm afraid there is no simple solution unless your brother wants to stop drinking. The sad fact is that people with drink problems often refuse to acknowledge that they have a real problem. They fool themselves into believing they are in control and once this pattern of behaviour sets in, it is very hard for others – especially loved ones – to break through.

You and your sister-in-law are probably struggling with a range of emotions, including shame, anger and guilt that you're not able to help him. Please don't, as you're not responsible for your brother's problems; while you are probably on an emotional roller coaster, please try and take a step back.

You and she need to take care of yourselves and of the children, while getting the support you need. Your sister-in-law needs to be able to talk openly and honestly about what she's going through, so I suggest she starts by joining Al-Anon, the support group for families of people with drink problems.

Al-Anon (al-anonuk.org.uk) has over 800 support groups across the UK, so I'm sure there'll have something local to you. I would encourage you to join as well; although she is having to live with this problem, it is clearly taking its toll on you too.

There is also a sub-section for the children of problem drinkers that might be of interest to your nephews and nieces, if they're of an age to understand. As for how you deal with your brother, don't preach at him about his drinking, but don't shield him from the consequences of what he's doing.

Don't try and argue with him when he's under the influence either, as this won't get you anywhere. As much as may feel you want to, you cannot force someone you love to stop abusing alcohol; the choice to do so is up to them. When he eventually admits he has a problem, he is going to need help - possibly even treatment - to overcome his problems, and it won't happen overnight.

In addition to coping skills, he will have to face up to the problems that led to him abusing alcohol in the first place and, for that, I'm sure he'll appreciate your help. Finally, remember you're not alone as, sadly, alcoholism and alcohol abuse affects millions of people.

WHY AM I STILL NOT PREGNANT?

AFTER my third child, I was sterilised but, sadly, my marriage broke up a few years later. I have since remarried and my new husband and I would like to start a family together, so I had the sterilisation reversed. The problem is that, two years later, I'm still not pregnant.

Nobody can explain to me why I'm still not pregnant - neither my doctor or the surgeon seem to know what to do next. I'm 36 now, and I feel time is running out for us, but what should I do? We want children together so badly.

SR

FIONA SAYS: As you're being advised by medical professionals who know your case, it's difficult for me to make any suggestions that they probably haven't already thought of. I assume, for example, that your husband's fertility has been checked?

Have the doctors discussed the possibility of you being fertilised by your husband's sperm artificially? That's where your egg is fertilised outside the uterus by your husband's sperm and then re-implanted in your womb.

Similarly, has anyone broached the subject of adoption with you? You can get online support from others in the same position through Fertility Friends (fertilityfriends.co.uk) which is an online forum for people who are struggling to conceive.

Do talk to your doctor about counselling as well, as this will help you to cope with the pressures of what you're going through.

WHY DO MY BOYFRIEND'S PARENTS EXCLUDE ME?

MY BOYFRIEND and I have been together for more than a year and we're saving up to get a place together. Meanwhile, we're both still living with our parents, but while he sleeps with me when we're at my parent's house, when I stay at his, I'm given a room on my own.

His parents know that we're sleeping together, so why do they do this? My family make him feel welcome and accepted, but I'm often excluded from any social occasions his family organises.

I hate being left out like this and wonder if I should say something to them?

CL

FIONA SAYS: You see this relationship as serious, but I suspect your boyfriend's family don't – and they may not until either you're physically together or your boyfriend convinces them that he's serious about you. This makes me wonder if your boyfriend has had that conversation with them and if not, why?

Having said that, as he lives with his parents, it's quite natural that they will have some ideas that may be different to yours. For them, sleeping together before marriage may not be acceptable, so it's possible that – even when you're living together – you'll be given a separate room.

If you want things to change though, I think you need to talk to your boyfriend, not his parents. It's up to him to explain just how important you are to him.

WHY DID HE EMBARRASS ME?

I got friendly with a guy I met at a party recently and I fell for him big time. He gave strong signals he felt the same way, and although we didn't have sex, we got fairly intimate and arranged to meet a couple of days later.

I was very hurt when he didn't show up but, as we'd got on so well, I thought I'd got the date or the place wrong or something, so I went to see him at his local pub after work.

Instead of being glad to see me, he pretended that he didn't know me and, in the face of teasing from his mates, said that he 'would have to be blind' to go out with me. I left feeling hurt and humiliated and can't understand how he could do this to me? Or how I could be so stupid...

DH

FIONA SAYS: You haven't been stupid at all – he has. He's clearly very immature and unable to handle a bit of teasing from his mates. Surprising him as you did, you probably shocked him, but there's no excuse for the cruel way he treated you.

You really are better off without someone like this; whilst I know it's easier said than done, try to forget about this incident and move on. In future, try and spend a bit more time getting to know someone before you fall for them!

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