When Do You Walk Away From An Alcoholic Sister

I am a caregiver for my sister – who is an alcoholic. She just went through hospitalization and rehabilitation. It’s been almost two months since she drank and just the other day I walked in to discover that she was drinking again. This really upset me and I told her that if she drank again… that I would walk away and not be her caregiver. She turned it on me and said; You don’t forgive me or trust me.

I am taking this problem home with me and I can’t sleep well. It’s causing my sense of well-being and health to take a toll. When do you decide to walk away? I know that what I am asking…. or should say- demanding; is very hard. How do you try to help someone who undoes what you do for them? I will not love my sister to death, nor watch her self destruct. I’ve told her how painful it was to see her lying on a hospital bed- totally out of it and the doctor saying – he didn’t know if she would ever come back.

I’m desperate for help. It’s almost driven me to drinking, and I haven’t drank for many years. It’s so painful and ironically – this is the reason she uses as an excuse to drink – numbing her emotional/physical pain.


Gayle M.


Loving an alcoholic is very difficult. The decision of whether to walk away or not is something that only you can make. No one can tell you to do that. However, it is something that you have permission to do if you feel that you need to do it. You are not trapped in a relationship with her just because she is your sister, your blood. You need to take care of yourself too.

You cannot make her quit drinking. That is a decision that she has to be committed to every single day. Many people find that tough love and boundaries help them deal with the situation and keep them from enabling the alcoholic. This would involve you making some statements to her such as, “If you drink, then I will/will not _______________________.” This way, there are consequences for her behavior. It is important that you stick to what you say when you make these statements.

When she told you that you don’t forgive her or trust her, this may have just been a defense mechanism. Alcoholics often get defensive to protect their addiction and try to put the focus on someone else, turning the conversation into a conversation about you rather than about the topic at hand, her drinking. It is very hard not to take these statements personally and to see them as defense mechanisms.

Counseling could be very helpful for you as you try to navigate this situation. This will help you by giving you a place to vent your frustrations, process your feelings, and get support for setting boundaries. Be sure to have self-care routines in place if you continue to engage in a relationship with her.

Here is more information on life with an alcoholic, and enabling an alcoholic.

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