monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking


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Have I got energy to spare?

The little bits of research that I’ve read suggest that addiction often runs in families. I’ve also read that a lot of this could be due to genetics as well as upbringing and life experiences. It sort of makes sense – if anxiety or depression has a biological component, then addiction could just be a likely outcome from that. In the same way that a history of abuse or marginalisation affects someone’s chances of developing addiction.

I read some articles about how we could be born with brain receptors which are more or less sensitive to alcohol and other drugs – which can affect our susceptibility to addiction. I can’t remember which way it works, but it’s something like: someone who is really sensitive to alcohol often doesn’t like the strong effects they get, so they never drink a lot.  As opposed to someone who has to drink quite a lot to get the effect – so they drink more which leads to addiction.

Anyway – why am I rambling about this?  It’s about my younger brother. My Mum just visited my brother and his drinking is concerning both of us. My brother and I are VERY different people – but we share genetics, upbringing and I think we share the same vulnerability to alcohol. Having said that, it’s playing out in slightly different ways because of our social circumstances and personalities.

I’m more academic and so are my friends – I was always the good, sensible and high achieving son. Heavy drinking was common in my social group, particularly when we were all younger, but it’s generally not really acceptable to be really messily drunk. I think those social norms helped to drive my drinking underground and contributed to my sneaky drinking as I got older (have a socially acceptable amount in public and then top up my buzz in private).

My brother is not as academic and he’s grown up with literacy and behavioural problems. He’s very blue-collar and works underground in a mine. Heavy drinking is normal in his social group – so there’s nothing secretive about his drinking. He usually doesn’t drink for a few days during the week (he’s breathalysed at work) but when he does, he drinks so much it really amazes me. Then he is sick for 2 days afterwards and continues drinking each night. It’s not exactly a new situation, my Mum and I have spoken about his drinking for years.

So anyway, he just started a new job 3 weeks ago – it’s his ‘ideal job’. He started drinking last Thursday evening and continued all night – and then was too sick to go to work on Friday. This happened while my elderly (and fairly ‘proper’) mother was visiting. To me that indicates that he is having trouble controlling his drinking – he’s jeopardising his brand new job with my mother present just before he’s about to get his first mortgage.

We’re both fond of each other, although I wouldn’t say we’re super close. The age difference meant that I was moving out of home when he was just starting high school – and then I lived 2000km away and was pretty self-absorbed in my early 20s. I’m gay, he’s straight. I drive a hatchback car – he drives trucks. I live in a city and he lives in a rural mining town. But all things considered, we get on really well.

I’m worried about him. I think he’s even more vulnerable to alcohol than I am:

  • He’s in a very heavy drinking culture
  • He doesn’t have a lot of emotional support or a supportive partner
  • He is very blokey and has a very fixed view of masculinity (don’t be vulnerable, don’t ask for help etc)
  • He’s not very academically smart and won’t think things through clearly, research or analyse his situation
  • He’s very impulsive in all areas of his life and often makes very unwise decisions

Recently I told some of my friends about my drinking because I wanted their support. Now, I feel like I should talk to my brother about my drinking – as possible support for him. I want him to know that he can talk to me if there’s something going on.

My question for myself is “do I have enough spare energy at this early stage of my sobriety to help someone else?”. Ethically, I think I have to talk to him although I might wait a few weeks. If he was someone else, I’d probably avoid the situation and prioritise myself – but he’s my little brother which makes the equation a bit different.

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