Verbal abuse is never acceptable.

How to Handle a Sibling Who Drinks & Is Verbally Abusive

by Norra MacReady

Alcohol lowers inhibitions and loosens tongues, making it all too easy to open old wounds and excavate long-festering resentments. It’s bad enough when your sister or brother lashes out at you, but what’s worse is when your kids are included in the harangue. Setting and enforcing strict boundaries puts your sibling on notice that you will no longer tolerate their behavior.

1. State Your Position

A talk when she is sober, not hung over, and when both of you are feeling reasonably calm and relaxed may be helpful. Direct and specific statements are most forceful, such as: "When you drink too much, you become belligerent and insult me in front of my children. I refuse to be around you when you act like that." The more you can keep your tone friendly or at least neutral, hard as that might be, the more likely it is that your sibling may be willing to hear what you have to say. However, don’t be surprised if she argues or becomes defensive; just continue to make it clear that her abuse cannot continue.

2. Enforce Boundaries

Verbal abuse is largely about the need to control and belittle other people. Enforcing the boundaries you’ve set through assertive actions such as hanging up the phone, stopping a text, leaving the room or asking your sibling to leave, shows that you’re the one in control of your own and your children’s lives. It may be tempting to argue back, but this usually just recreates old, dysfunctional family patterns. Besides, they probably won’t listen to what you have to say, especially if they've been drinking.

3. Remain Firm

Changes don’t happen overnight and chances are this scenario will be played out several times before your sibling gets the message that her abuse and her problem drinking are not acceptable to you. It may be even harder if other family members try to defend her though comments such as, “It isn’t that bad” or “You’re being too hard on her.” Should you find your resolve wavering, ask yourself if you want your children to witness this behavior. It may also help to remember the simple truth that everyone is entitled to live free of abuse.

4. Recognizing Alcoholism

If your brother or sister's drinking and verbal abuse persist, you may want to consider suspending contact until the behavior changes. Someone who keeps drinking despite signs of harm to their own health or relationships may be an alcoholic. They may try to blame others, perhaps even you, for their drinking, saying things like “I drink because you’re always on my case!” Don’t buy into it. He is the only one responsible for his behavior. Your responsibility lies in how you respond to that behavior.

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