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Our Parents Keep Bailing My Brother Out!

old couple

worriedinwa is deeply concerned about the ways in which her parents may be enabling her brother's continued opiate and alcohol use. What can she do to shift the dynamic?

"My brother has been jailed for a few days at a time four times in the last several months because he has not taken the actions required by the judge for his DUI and for driving without a license. The first time my dad bailed him out and subsequently lost that bail when my brother did not comply with the judge's orders. The second time my brother spent several days in jail and then appeared before the judge promising action. The third time, he was released with a SCRAM anklet (which monitors blood alcohol) and told to work with a probation officer. My father is footing the bill for the monitoring to the tune of $600 a month. His most recent arrest was for driving without a license (and presumably for not working with his probation officer). My dad bailed him out under the condition that he go into a detox center. He did not last 24 hours and is now somewhere (we're not sure where). Now my parents risk losing a much larger bail sum.

My brother is primarily an opiate user, unemployed, squatting in the home of a deceased neighbor, and cobbling together money by pawning various things and selling scrap metal (my father helps him transport and sell scrap metal). He often comes to my parents for food, showers, etc. His divorce was recently finalized and he has permission to see his young daughter twice a week with supervised visits at my parents. He only does this sometimes.

I am struggling with how to talk to my parents about this. I would prefer that they begin cutting off some "rewards," like help with selling things or free access to their home (anytime/any day). But of course, I'm not the one making these decisions. I also wonder if there is a script I might be able to share with them to use if they begin setting these limits.

I think that we all default to thinking my brother is not capable of taking care of himself or taking responsibility for anything. But we have treated him that way for years, and it has not helped. I feel like he needs to decide that it is worth trying some kind of recovery program. Apparently, he is not there yet, and I feel that the support he receives from my parents is part of what has prevented him from making that calculation."

Over the years, we have worked with a number of families in which the adult son or daughter with a substance issue is taking advantage of the love and generosity of older parents. The siblings are the ones coming for help as you have done. The parents are in retirement or themselves limited in what they can take on and how much they can learn to change their behavior as it relates to their child.

It’s a difficult and sad situation. It’s not helpful for your brother to have this safety valve when he gets into trouble. It lifts the bottom, making the consequences of his actions lighter, more tolerable, and therefore more likely to happen again, whether it is driving without a license (and getting bailed out when arrested) or getting a shower and meal when hungover.

Your dad’s deal with your brother: bail for detox, can be seen as a step forward. It’s an attempt to get him into treatment.

For many people the thought of jail or legal problems sends the family scrambling to help. Families on this site will tell you that the criminal justice system is an unfortunate consequence for a medical issue such as substance abuse. We’d rather see them enter treatment, but it’s a consequence that can lead to critically needed behavior change. Jail or probation can force treatment and sobriety. Diversion to treatment is more common than ever. Courts are mandating people to treatment when the offence is substance-related and not violent.

Your brother is almost certainly now in bigger trouble, having disappeared and jumped bail. I hope the court system mandates him to a solid period of inpatient treatment.

The money your parents have spent to help with your brother’s legal issues is gone. The hope is that this doesn’t happen again.

We always suggest the parents watch (we also provide ebooks that can be printed) the modules on this site. Your mother and father need to be united in their approach, and more effective. It’s not always easy to get elderly parents to do this. Providing a meal or a shower is a good reward, when your brother is not under the influence or hung over. Can your parents tell the difference? Module 3 helps flesh this out. The same goes for trips to the scrap seller or to the pawn shop. It needs to be strategic. If your parents can’t tell the difference, then it is best to simply stop giving these rewards.

So, first, a possible script for you:

Mom and dad, I am really concerned that X is taking advantage of you and that your help is not working to get X the help he needs. Suggesting detox for bail was the right idea. X left jail because you paid his bail and his craving to drink won out. He needed a plan that extended far beyond detox. He needs to be mandated to treatment at this point. The courts can do this for us. I wonder if we can all stay out of it and let the legal system run its course. X is safer in jail at this point as he waits for his court dates.

X is seriously ill. You love him and want to help. I am worried your desire to provide him with even a shower and a ride to the scrap metal dealer isn’t helping. It maintains his way of life and his drinking.

I wonder if we can sit together and watch some videos that can help us as a family better deal with X. I think we all need to learn a different way of responding to X and getting him to agree to help. His drinking is dangerous. It is not going to get better on its own. X needs treatment.

Now for your parents to X (they will get this more organically when they’ve watched the modules):

We are at war with your drinking and drug use. We can’t keep helping you. We love you dearly but we are helping your addiction, not you. From here on, we will not bail you out. We would ask that you respect our house by coming over only when you are sober and not hungover. We are putting aside any money that remains for your treatment when you are ready. You can count on us to help you with the drinking and drug use. We will do everything we can to help you get sober. The rest though is now totally in your court. We are tired. We are scared. We are done.

The modules on this site lay out a framework for responding to your brother’s drinking and drug use. We have made the modules short and accessible. Your parents and siblings will be greatly helped by understanding the principles and applying them to what happens next.

Let us know if these suggestions for getting your parents on board works. There are others on this site dealing with the same dynamic. Thank you for writing in.



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. Hi,

    Just wanted to give you an update. I spoke with my father. I ended up focusing more on not giving him money or helping him sell things. I emphasized that my brother had two parts right now — one that wants to get clean and one that is in the throes of the addiction — and that money could go to either part. I suggested some other forms of support he might offer and how he might make them conditional on my brother seeking treatment. I even suggested some language. He said he had offered that kind of support to my brother already but admitted he had never made it conditional on my brother seeking treatment. When I suggested it probably needed to be conditional, he agreed while saying it is hard to stop helping him and that he (my dad) may not be ready yet to make this change. I felt he heard me, and we will see if he starts to change.

    In the meantime, my brother appears to have gotten off with the court by pleading guilty, having his license suspended, and presumably paying some sort of fine. I am frustrated that the court did not mandate some sort of treatment. But I think for a first-time DUI in WA state the judge may not have that authority.

    I have shared information about CRAFT with my mom and dad. My mom has even done a one-day training and has tried to apply some of the ideas. My dad remains resistant to learning more about it.

    On another note, my brother texted me asking that I help him get something out of pawn so that he could sell it. I gave it a little thought then wrote back saying I could not because the problems that caused him to pawn it instead of selling it at a fair price had not disappeared. Once he dealt with those by seeking treatment, I would be ready to talk about financial help. This is only the second time he’s asked me for money, and having to formulate a response and deal with those emotions myself did give me some empathy for my parents.

    Thank you