What Should I Do About A Problem Sibling?

Dear Neil: I cut my alcoholic sister off because of her drinking and abusive behavior. She had been arrested several times, and it’s painful to keep watching someone make the same mistakes over and over again. Recently, she texted me and said that she went to a treatment program for a month. Her boyfriend never retrieved her when she was released, so she’s been homeless for 8 months now, living in a tent. She told me she had a job interview, so I got her a hotel room for 2 nights. Now she wants me to pay her rent until she gets on her feet.

I love my sister, and I know she has a disease. I want to help her, but I am not sure if bailing her out is the right thing to do—and I can’t say she’s being truthful about her recovery. She says she is not involved with AA, and I don’t want to enable her or be taken advantage of.

What Should I Do?

Dear Neil: I have a brother, 52, who has never worked for a paycheck. He lives mortgage and tax free in a family member’s house who passed away. He will not clean the place, and even threatens those who attempt to get rid of the trash, mow the yard or ask him for his help. My mother and I pay for his existence, but he has stopped speaking to our mother, who needs her meds and someone to eat with her. What a child. What entitlement!

Fed Up With My Brother

Dear What Should I Do and Fed Up: You could offer to pay your sister’s rent for a set period of time—say 3 months—with certain stipulations. First, require her to get an assessment in a community mental health center, and require that she sign a release so they can legally communicate with you. You would know with greater certainty what’s actually going on. If your sister refuses to sign a release, she is likely not being honest with you about her recovery.

But if she signs a release, and is in compliance with her treatment program, then you could, in good conscience, continue supporting her until she gets on her feet. It sounds like she would qualify for Medicaid or community health services, which should pay for her treatment.

Concerning the brother, you are indeed enabling his behavior by paying expenses he could not pay on his own. If you can get your brother to also go to a community health center and get assessed (with a release) you will know with greater certainty what mental health issues you’re dealing with. If he refuses to go, community health can mandate a home visit to access his mental health—not to mention the health department could pay him a visit. If he is unwilling to cooperate, you may need a family law attorney to help you with what your legal options are. Larry Weckbaugh, an addictions counselor, helped me with these answers.

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