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Dr. Robert,

I am having a dilemma on what to do about my brother in law. He has been drinking for years and he used to be a fun easy going guy. He used to be full of confidence and people used to like being around him. Now he has become mean and angry and spiteful. He says mean things to his wife , his daughters and his friends. He has gotten into fights and most of the time nobody wants to be around him when he drinks he has become such a mean drunk. I know he is a nice guy somewhere deep down but I don't see it much anymore.

This week my son lost his girlfriend and he said "well its all her fault for pulling on the highway at night." He didn't have any facts and he made it sound like to talk like that was normal . This pissed my husband off and he told him to get out of our house, they called each other names and then he left. I don't know what to do. He doesn't seem to have a heart left and he is becoming so cruel with everyone around him.

Christmas around their place has become a big fight and full of vicious things said to his wife and to his kids. He drinks everyday now, but not to the excess of passing out. He just gets verbally abusive. He was nice at one time. His kids are worried and now he wants to go to parties with them (they are 16 and 18 years old.) They don't want him to come but don't have the heart to say no. They have been humiliated quite a few times in the past couple of years from watching things that he has done. I know it is none of my business but I also know that at Christmas time he gets worse and I am afraid he is going to snap. Is there anything that any of us can do?

(Concerned) Anita

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Hello, Anita--

Judging from what you have written, your brother-in-law is an alcoholic. (I define alcoholism as any habitual use of alcohol which produces obvious and serious negative effects in the daily life of the drinker.)

Usually, alcoholics continue to drink, and continue to suffer the effects of their drinking at least until it becomes clear to them that their addiction is out of control, and is costing them too severely. Sometimes this happens in a dramatic way, such as an automobile accident, a spouse leaving, or being fired from work. Occasionally, but not very often, the drinker will simply tire of all the hang-overs, missed opportunities, and other hassles, and then will seek help on his or her own. A third path to the drinker's seeking help for the alcohol addiction is an intervention organized by the friends and family of the drinker.

An intervention is a confrontational meeting used to help an alcoholic overcome his or her denial of alcoholism and begin treatment. Before the intervention, the alcoholic's family, friends and possibly his or her employer must overcome their own denial. They must acknowledge that there is a serious alcohol problem. They must be ready to stop making it easy for the alcoholic to continue with his or her behavior. They must decide it is time to get serious and practice "tough love."

It was formerly thought that an alcoholic had to "hit bottom" before he or she would accept treatment. As I said, this might mean losing a job, having a spouse leave, going bankrupt, getting arrested, or experiencing some other catastrophe. But sometimes, by intervening early, such losses may be forstalled. The planning for an intervention begins with a series of meetings with the "team." The team consists of the counselor, family members, friends, and concerned persons. Team members must attend all counseling sessions. During these sessions, a careful strategy of confrontation is planned. The alcoholic will be invited to attend only the final meeting.

The first step to helping someone with alcoholism is to learn as much as possible about the disease. You will want to know how alcohol affects the body and why alcoholism is a disease. You will begin to understand why the alcoholic continues to drink. By understanding, you will be able to approach the alcoholic without judgment. This will make it more likely that he does not get defensive and refuse to accept treatment.

Before the alcoholic meets the team, a specific treatment program is selected. The counselor will assess the severity of the alcoholism and will make recommendations for a treatment program. Even alcoholics who deny their problem can be helped with intervention. Be sure to find a counselor who is experienced with intervention.

Apart from this tactic, there is little more that I can suggest, and there really is not much to lose, so perhaps you will decide to stage an intervention for your brother-in-law. If so, I wish you good luck.

Be well.

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page last modified February 28, 2006

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