Book Review: Sober Siblings: How to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister – And Not Lose Yourself

hope If you have a sister or brother struggling with the disease of alcoholism, and need help, look no further. Sober Siblings, by Patricia Olsen and Petros Levounis, M.D., M.A., provides some of the best help out there on the subject. In fact, it is the only book I have encountered so far in my search on alcoholism that addresses the difficulty of the sibling relationship.

Through Patricia Olsen’s own personal experience, along with personal stories throughout the book of other siblings of alcoholics, as well as supplemented by the experience of Dr. Levounis, Sober Siblings offers practical tips and advice on several topics.

From the Introduction, “To love an alcoholic is to watch in despair as that person sinks to a level he would never willingly choose.” (p. 1) To me it’s like Patricia Olsen really gets it, and I sensed that more from her personal knowledge than anything else. I mean, no one wakes up and thinks, “Gee, I think I’d like to be an alcoholic when I grow up.” But some people still believe it’s within one’s control and willpower to choose. In this book, Olsen and Levounis make it clearer than ever that alcoholism is a disease that robs one of willpower, self-respect and many other things before it’s through.

But what’s also clear is it’s important to take care of ourselves if we are a sibling of an alcoholic. It’s important to know what is our responsibility and what is theirs; to decide what sort of relationship we would like to have; creating and maintaining appropriate boundaries (even to know what a proper boundary looks like); to honor our feelings; and find help and support for ourselves.

There are wonderful examples of how to communicate effectively with our alcoholic sibling. Real examples, with actual scripts to practice. I found this very useful.

Family interventions are no longer thought of as a useful tool, as they are too confrontational to the alcoholic. It’s considered more helpful to confront the alcoholic on a one-to-one basis, one family member at a time.

It’s not an easy read. There’s even a section which discusses cutting off all ties with the alcoholic if it’s too difficult to maintain a relationship. This is as a last resort sort of effort. The authors are not at all judgmental, and provide stories of people in the book who had to do just that. It’s all very individual, as all alcoholics are different and all sibling relationships are unique.

All-in-all, I highly recommend this book. Professional expertise interwoven with personal experience and stories from other siblings make for a very well done work.

Lay it on me!

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