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by Abigail Van Buren

Sister Fears for Young Niece Being Raised in Toxic Home

DEAR ABBY: After many years, my sister and I finally have a decent relationship. I feel I can tell her about almost anything.

My brother-in-law, "Aaron," is an alcoholic, and my sister enables him. When he drinks, his already quick temper becomes worse and he "knows everything." To make things worse, they have a 3-year-old child I'll call "Casey." It infuriates me when I see Aaron's crude, foul-mouthed, "omnipotent" behavior in front of Casey.

There have been times he has used my presence (because I babysit Casey) to drink to the point of impairment. When Casey has a tantrum or is overtired and acts her age, Aaron loses patience with her. He yells at her, slams things down in front of her and storms out of the room.

I'm well aware that children watch and learn behavior from their parents. Daughters will seek out boys, then men who behave like their father, thinking it is normal behavior. How do I approach my sister, who buys Aaron whiskey when he's feeling down, that there's a serious problem here?

My husband and I have a stable home and successfully raised five children. We would be willing to take in Casey until Aaron is truly well. My comments to my sister will be met with fury or maybe hatred, but I will do whatever is best for Casey. I love that little girl too much to see her raised in such a toxic environment. -- BETWEEN A DRUNK AND A HARD PLACE

DEAR BETWEEN: You say your sister slips her husband alcohol when he's down. To me that says he may be using it to self-medicate depression.

You do need to talk with your sister. When you do, explain you are concerned about Aaron's change of behavior when he drinks and the effect it has -- and will continue to have -- on little Casey. Aaron does need help, but so does your sister. Enabling someone, as well-intentioned as it may be, is not helping the person.

Aaron needs to talk to a doctor about his episodes of depression, and your sister could gain a great deal of insight by attending some Al-Anon meetings. You can find one nearby by visiting al-anon.org. Offer to go with her if she's reluctant.

Read more in: Family & Parenting | Addiction | Mental Health