Wednesday 17 July 2019

Dear Mary: Her concerned children say their mother is an alcoholic

File photo
File photo

Mary O’Conor

My adult nephew and niece came to see me recently to seek my help. They informed me that they believe their mother, my sister, who is in her fifties, has a drinking problem and has had for the last number of years. This has come to a head, because my niece has a new baby and says she is afraid to leave the baby alone with her mother.

I don't know how to go about this, as my sister displays no signs of alcoholism. She has a steady job, goes to the gym, has lots of friends and looks after herself very well. Any advice would be welcome.

Mary replies: Your relatives must have felt very strongly about all of this to have consulted you. Presumably their father is not around and perhaps you are the closest to them in the family.

Some people can be high-functioning alcoholics, able to hold down a good job and look after themselves well. But it is unfair to label your sister as an alcoholic, until you know what her problem drinking involves. Do they want you to speak with your sister on their behalf, and if so, have they given you permission to do so? Or do they want to stage some sort of intervention with your blessing? You are being put in a very difficult position, because whatever you say will forever alter your relationship with your sister. At the same time, you want to do the right thing by them all. So you need to clarify what it is they want from you, and if you are comfortable in doing what they ask.

It goes without saying that your niece should not leave the baby in your sister's care while there is the smallest chance that she would have been drinking.

You will undoubtedly know of the existence of Al-Anon (, which is for the families of those affected by alcohol, and this can be a very good resource for your sister's children.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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