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What To Do With a Relative with Severe Alcoholism and Liver Damage?

by Dee
(Las Vegas, NV)

My mother-in-law has been an alcoholic for most of the time I've known her. My husband and I have tried to help her out since we were in our mid 20's - taking a financial burden on us. We are now in our mid 40's.

Approximately 4 years ago; she started acting very strange at work/during the day. She couldn't carry on a conversation and walking strangely. She seemed drunk during the day, not just at night. She got a DUI around this time, spent 1 or 2 nights in jail and shortly after that, she lost her job.

She was at the point that when we saw her, she wasn't able to carry on a conversation, stumbled and fell a lot and we couldn't stand to be around her anymore. She was acting like a little kid besides all the other things.

We found out at that time that her boyfriend was also giving her his antidepressant claiming she needed it. She was a mess, drinking and taking medications that were not prescribed to her. We tried to tell her to get help, but I'm sure you know the answer.

We thought that she had hit rock bottom after getting a DUI, jail and losing her job - that would straighten her out but instead she felt sorry for herself and claimed drinking and the drugs were the only things helping her. She also used the excuse that drinking helped with the ringing in her ears she had been experiencing for years.

She experienced constant diarrhoea and couldn't keep any food down about 6 months after all this stuff happened. She was down to probably 100 pounds and she is 5'9". Her bones were showing and it was horrible! She threatened to commit suicide throughout the years because nobody loved her.

At this time, she had called me one night to say "goodbye" but when she did, I called the police and they went to her place and talked with her. My husband and his sister went to her house one day shortly after this to get her in a hospital, because we knew that she was killing herself slowly with the alcohol.

They ended up getting the police involved because she wouldn't go with them and said again she was going to kill herself and just wanted to die. Because of this, the police were able to do something - she refused to go with them (an ambulance was waiting outside for her) and they ended up having to hand cuff her as she fought them.

She was in the hospital for 2 days to sober up (she was well over the limit at 12 noon when they picked her up). She then went to a state run facility for 3-4 days and a judge let her out. We then put her in a Christian run program for 2 months.

She got out of the program after 2 months. She looked healthy and actually could carry on a conversation. She thanked us for supporting her during this time - but I made it clear to her that I will not go through this again and that if she started drinking again, I would not be there for her. Within 2 weeks, she started drinking again and we started seeing all the signs again.

My husband and I wrote her a letter together about 3 years ago and told her that until she joins an alcohol/drug program, we will not see her anymore and we will not be a part of her family anymore (and she would not be allowed to see our daughter - her only grandchild).

She was an adult and had to take responsibility for all the choices she makes and that if she chooses to drink alcohol, she is then choosing it over her family. We have not seen her since.

So here's the question: my mother-in-law has continued to drink and I don't know what else. My sister-in-law has been helping her with money here and there and sees her for only short periods - like for lunch. Although my husband told her not to see her, she feels guilty but only does it out of obligation.

She isn't taking care of herself and we have found out she has liver disease which we think is advanced. She told her daughter she was terminal and not going to take any treatment. Her skin and eyes are yellow. She apparently is having constant diarrhoea and urinating all over her condo - my sister-in-law saw stains throughout her carpet in her condo last week.

Her legs are bloated and stomach extended (from what my sister-in-law says) and she has purple discolouring all over her body. (By the way, she got another job after the program we put her in a few years ago but was laid off and hasn't worked in almost 3 years).

None of us know what to do. None of us want to take care of her in our homes (I know that sounds mean). What are our options? We don't have much money and don't want to spend thousands of dollars to put her in a rehab. I am guessing she needs medical care since her liver is failing. What do you do when they need alcoholism and medical care together? She is 65 years old.


Hi Dee

The approach you and your husband have so far taken is spot on - you did everything you can, but if someone doesn't want to help themselves, there really is nothing further you could have done.

Your mother-in-law needs to get to hospital because her liver damage is so advanced that it seems she needs some urgent and serious medical attention. Chronic liver damage can end in Cirhossis, from which death becomes a real possibility. Then, if/once her condition has been stabilized - she would need to go to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program to try and help her deal with her alcoholism.

But again - everything comes back to your mother-in-law wanting help and to get better. If she doesn't want help, you can't force it on her.

Has she at least got insurance to cover her medical expenses if she gets booked into hospital? Because if a period of hospitalization could get her to a functional level of health, there are government sponsored addiction treatment programs available to which she could be sent so it wouldn't cost you/your husband anything. Refer to the SAMHSA website.

In your mother-in-laws current condition she seems too ill to go straight into a rehab program. She first needs urgent medical attention. And if her health remains that bad that she won't be able to take care of herself - she might have to move into some kind of nursing home, which would mean her having to sell her condo to fund that.

So I don't think you can do anything further until your mother-in-law has received medical attention and a prognosis has been given as to what her state of health will allow going forward. It seems that her condition is so advanced that she may not have much longer to live - so having received proper medical advice may help you decide what steps to take from there, e.g. rehab, nursing home etc.

God Bless and Good Luck

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Jul 12, 2010
Reply to Dee
by: Dee

Hi Dee:
I agree that we should take her to the hospital but from what I understand, she was in the hospital two weeks ago for about 8 days. My mother in law did not tell us this, we heard it from her neighbor. We tried to take her to a hospital a few years ago when she had lost a lot of weight, shaky, etc. and it resulted in the police going to her house to help us force her. They arranged for an ambulance outside and ended up handcuffing her because she was fighting the police refusing to leave her home. She really resented all of us for this, especially since she was billed for the ambulance. I know that it will end up that way again - she gets very aggressive. My mother in law has told her daughter that she has liver disease and she is refusing any treatment her doctor offered. I will discuss this with her son and daughter if they want to do this again. Thank you for your advice! God bless you too!

Jul 12, 2010
take her to hospital
by: Anonymous

this is serious and she could be on the verge of liver failure and death. she needs urgent medical attention. once she's been treated, the hospital will be able to recommend what options there are locally in terms of rehab programs etc. don't wait, at the very least get her a doctor and see what he says. so sad how much damage alcoholism can do and how badly it can all end. my prayers are with you.

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