Ask Amy: Alcoholism and denial worry brother’s keeper

September 3, 2012

DEAR AMY: I live overseas but recently spent almost two weeks in my brother’s home with him and his family. He has become an alcoholic.

After work and before dinner he drinks alone, just to get drunk. It’s like a ritual. Then he becomes verbally abusive.

He has had two DUIs. His wife is strangely complacent. When I confronted her (on several occasions) she maintained that he drinks in moderation. He does not drink in moderation.

One night I measured that he drank more than 20 shots of scotch. What should I do? Talking to him is useless.

I love my brother and do not want to leave him in the hands of his wife, who ignores the problem. My other brother (who lives close by) is aware of this problem but also does nothing.

Should I tell his college-age sons from his first marriage, whom he adores? Should I tell my parents (who are now in their 80s)?

I think the more people in the family who can talk to him about his problem, the more likely he is to quit on his own or get help. The family could be a good support group for him. I worry that if we keep our heads in the sand I will lose him forever. -- My Brother’s Keeper

DEAR BROTHER: Alcohol addiction is fed by denial, but despite your frustration you should not hold your family responsible.

The person you should communicate with about your brother’s drinking is your brother. Tell him how much you care about him and urge him to get help.

He will not like it. He will either lash out or ignore you. After that, you can tell other family members, “I want you to know that I have expressed my concern to Bart about his drinking and I wish you would do the same.”

Unfortunately, you cannot save him. You also cannot force him to save himself. You can only express your concern, love and support. After that, the person responsible for your brother’s life will have to step up — and that is your brother.

DEAR AMY: I have been married to my husband for 10 years. When we take a drive anywhere I sometimes want to stop along the way. If I do, my husband makes faces, gives me excuses of why he absolutely does not want to stop and has a mini-tantrum.

I find this behavior thoughtless and it makes me enormously sad. His excuse is that his mother used to take him shopping when he was a child. Any suggestions on how to stop this sophomoric pattern? -- Sad in Sausalito

DEAR SAD: Many a little boy has been traumatized by the communal dressing room at Loehmann’s, causing late-onset PTSD, which in this context translates to Prepubescent Terror of Shopping Distraction.

If he is a reasonable person he should be able to see that you are not his mother. You should also understand that his tantrums are the result of real anxiety.

The way out of this is to build toward traveling triumph by having small successes.

Before you set out, agree in advance that any stop will be limited to a predetermined time. Keep your promise. You can assume that his mother disregarded his entreaties to leave when he was a child. As an adult he needs to prove to himself that he can handle a little diversion.

After all, the best adventures are to be found when you stray from the path.

DEAR AMY: To the pregnant lady whose mother-in-law insists on calling the baby “Skipper,” I had a similar situation with my father-in-law.

He absolutely refused to call my daughter by the lovely name my husband and I had chosen and instead came up with a European nickname that, if shortened, would translate to “Ham.” My husband’s brother had a nickname that, when translated, was “Egg.”

One day when my daughter was playing with her uncle I remarked to my father-in-law, “Oh look, isn’t it nice to see Ham and Egg playing together!”

No more “Ham.” -- Relieved

DEAR RELIEVED: One little nickname, and these two were yoked together for life!

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2012 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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