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He Got Drunk and Set Fire to His Bedroom

boy sweating on chair police in window
Illustration © Eleanor Davis

AiR member Kate wrote in to ask about safety concerns relating to her alcoholic brother and their elderly parents:

"A question about safety and about the ability of people to go through with this program.

I can see the reasonableness of this program. However, I am not the principal person in contact with my alcoholic brother. My elderly parents (mother nearly 90, with impaired mobility, and my dad nearly 95 and losing his memory) have taken in my alcoholic brother. He has been living there for 18 months. My parents took him in with the understanding that he would not drink when residing at their house and that there would be no smoking inside the house. Just the other night, he got drunk and set fire to his bedroom.

As a daughter, my principal concern is for the safety of my parents.

Even after the fire, my parents are unwilling to turn him out of the house. They also brought up treatment, at a particular facility, which he refused.

I would like to share these videos chiefly the last module with my parents, since the entire set of modules may be too much for them. However, my concern is for their safety. Since most of the talk of safety is about the potential for violence from the loved one, I'm not sure how to present the emphasis on safety from these videos to them.

Any guidance on whether or not my parents (and, due to some memory loss on my father's part, really my mother would have to do all the work at a time she is rather busy looking after my father) could benefit from these videos at all or is this just too much for them to try to take on.

Also: when it comes to their safety, I am concerned not about violence, but instead about two people with hearing loss, impaired mobility, and impaired cognition continuing to reside with someone who has demonstrated that their substance abuse can lead to a house fire.

Any direction or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you."

You raise several important issues regarding your brother who suffers from alcoholism and whom your elderly parents have taken into their home:

  1.  The limits of your reach when a third party steps in to “help”
  2.  Safety issues beyond that of interpersonal violence
  3.  The use of the AiR modules by those who may not be able to watch or take it all in

Your reach is mostly limited to your own actions and words, when it comes to your Loved One. What others say and do, often well intentioned, is largely outside your influence. How infuriating it is when you work hard to adhere to the basic principles set out on this site, just to watch your Loved One get enabled by someone else. How common this is (whether it’s a grandparent, parent, spouse, girlfriend or other): someone steps in and basically un-does what you are working hard to maintain. Once you see how CRAFT works, you see more clearly how drug use and danger are prolonged when it is not employed.

The answer is to get these other players to align with CRAFT. Easy to say, I know.

Get the rest of the family on board with CRAFT

Over the years, I’ve worked with many families in which one person had a fundamentally different approach to addressing the substance problem.

In one case, the fact that dad continues to this day to open his house to his daughter, regardless of her drug use, giving her the needed hiding place to continue using and saving her the cost of finding a bed elsewhere, the savings of which she can then use on drugs. The dad refuses to look at CRAFT or to work with mom to provide a united front. 

You fear for your parents’ physical safety because your brother is actively using and smoking in their house. It is not uncommon for an addicted loved one to steal from, trick or pressure elderly family members to fork over money and valuables in order to maintain a habit. As many of you on this site know, people in active addiction will go to extremes to get what they need.

Your parents made your brother promise he wouldn’t drink or smoke in their house. Yet he did, and he did again, and your parents were too frail and/or unwilling to help him leave their house. When a promised consequence doesn’t occur, it emboldens the person to repeat the behavior.

In the short run, since your brother refuses to seek help and continues to be a danger in your parents’ home, he needs to leave.

Given the nature of your circumstances, focus on getting him to leave.

Module 8 describes how to intervene.  It works better when you’ve laid the foundation by altering your communication style, and improving your behavior in response to whether or not there is use in the moment. But neither of your parents is strong enough and can be expected to take in all of these changes.

So, you’re going to have to do the groundwork. Where can your brother go? Is there any money to help him with rent for a few months? (The list should include treatment AND shelters, homeless programs, and a few reasonably priced rooms to rent from craigslist). We recently wrote a post that describes the steps a mother could take in response to her son’s need to leave the home.

Can you work with your parents (or, if more appropriate, only with your mother) to set up a planned conversation with you and your brother in which they agree to hold their ground? If it doesn’t work, could they be convinced to bring in legal help? The modules are jam-packed with information. We also provide the eBook to each module, which you can print out.

Perhaps your mom could read Module 8 out loud to your dad. The secondary goal of the conversation is to offer treatment as an alternative to homelessness, but the primary goal is to get your brother out of the house. Focus on this. As you have pointed out, there are risks to your parents’ safety as long as your brother continues to be active in their house.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. Dear Dominique and others who have commented:

    I would like to say a huge thank-you! Last year at this time (January 2017) I had made it my New Year’s resolution to get the rest of my family on board with CRAFT and find a way to convince my alcoholic brother to move out of my parents’ house and get treatment.

    As the entire situation was largely out of my hands, I used as much of Module 8 as I could. But in fact, everything was more out of my hands than I knew–my brother nearly died due to an underlying medical condition that was exacerbated by his alcoholism. He moved out of my parents’ home and into a hospital in February 2017, and there he has remained ever since.

    In this horrific situation, I can look to one blessing–his deteriorating medical condition removed him from my vulnerable parents’ home and his continuing illness has kept him out and hospitalized. He is finally getting some therapy. We found a family friend who was (we are so grateful) able to become his health care proxy to whom he will listen.

    While nearly everything in this situation is beyond my power to change, I have benefited from CRAFT and from Allies in Recovery by helping me understand the mechanisms at work, understanding my own role, and being able to recognize concrete steps to help preserve my own emotional health and that of the rest of my family.

    Reflecting on the year since my resolution, my lesson is that anything can happen. I learned to let go of some of the things that were beyond my control, and try to identify what I *could* do that would help.

    Sincere thanks. You have been invaluable.


    1. Dear Kate: I am sorry to hear your brother suffered a serious medical condition due to his drinking but that this became a turning point for change, relieving your parents of the burden of caring for a loved and actively addicted son living in their home.

      I have a dear friend whose son was in prison for being the accessory to a gang style killing. He was addicted to drugs at the time and had fallen in with some very bad people.

      The young man was deeply ashamed by his behavior and had asked to see the prison pastor. The pastor told him that God did what had been needed to get his attention, nothing less had worked. The young man had to be convicted of a crime and spend this time in jail for God to get his attention and for the young man’s eyes to be opened.

      This story has stayed with me. Crises can become opportunities. Natural consequences are important. While I hope no one has to go down the road and become incarcerated to gain insight, insight is gained from adverse consequences as well as rewards and positive reinforcement of non-using moments.

      Change is almost constant with active addiction. With CRAFT, you raise your awareness and look for these moments. There are crises, or your Loved One gets fed up, speaks of despair or nascent motivation.

      You have paid us the ultimate compliment with your comment. The framework of CRAFT teaches families what their role is, how to draw the line, how not to personalize, and how to be effective in interactions with their Loved One. This transforms the relationship and can lead to a calmer clearer approach to addiction in your life.

      May this new year bring calm and peace to your family.