Annie Lane: Brother has become a burden

Published 6:30 am Saturday, November 28, 2020

Dear Annie: I’ve hit a dead end and am not sure what to do. My family has become dysfunctional to the point of my wanting to take my husband and kids and move far away from them all.

I am grown, married and have two sons. I have an adult brother, “Joey,” who has become a complete burden to all of us. Up until recently, Joey was pretty self-sufficient and had a good-paying, steady job and his own house. Joey’s “taste” in women has never been good, but his current girlfriend takes the cake. She is an alcoholic, and she is ruining his life. He’s lost his job and barely leaves the house. They fight and call the cops on each other, break up, get back together, shack up at her mom’s apartment for days on end …  No one can get a hold of him and he won’t return calls or texts. He has a 1-year-old daughter with an ex-girlfriend. My parents are attached to this child and can’t get Joey to step up and do what needs to be done so that they can see her.

My mom is so sad and worried sick most of the time. We suspect drug use, but he vehemently denies it. He has this sick loyalty to this awful girlfriend. He gets mean and defensive when talked to or questioned about his recent life choices. He shuts down and shuts everyone out. He refuses help and won’t stick to any plans to improve anything. He only contacts people when he needs something.

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It has completely taken over everything in my parents’ lives to the point that it is all I even hear about when I talk to them. I need to walk away from this mess for my own sanity so that I can focus on my own family. I want nothing to do with him until he gets his life together and walks away from his trainwreck of a girlfriend. I told my mom that, and she is now giving me the silent treatment. I feel guilty. What should I do?

— Feeling Guilty in Minnesota

Dear Feeling Guilty: As much as we’d like to, we can’t rescue our family members from pits of dysfunction and addiction. The most helpful thing we can do is stand by with an arm outstretched for when they’re ready to grab hold.

Though Joey’s girlfriend is not your friend or relative, her apparent alcoholism (and Joey’s potential substance use) has had ripple effects throughout your family. To learn how to live more calmly despite the chaos around you, I encourage you to consider attending a virtual support group through an organization such as Al-Anon ( or SMART Recovery Family and Friends ( The only criterion for participation in such groups is that someone else’s drinking bothers you.

• • •

Dear Annie: I am a retired Naval officer who suffered a head injury 20 years ago this month. This injury caused me to go in to rages, and though I never physically hurt anyone, I was controlling and verbally abusive to my wife and children.

Your encouragement for “Worn-Down Wife” to have her husband go to his doctor is good, but they need to ask for a referral to a specialist for head injuries. I was very fortunate that my primary care referred me to a behavioral science unit, and a neurologist put me on medication (Concerta), and required me to go to therapy with a psychologist who had experience with head trauma.

I realize that in some areas specialists are few and far between, but the travel for this help is well worth it.

— Lonnie

in Spangle, WA

Dear Lonnie: Thanks so much for these helpful insights, and I’m glad that you found the help you needed.

“Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now! Annie Lane’s debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to