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family member with hiv

May 27, 2004

My sister has been infected with HIV since 1990, I think. She has a son who is now 14. She is a very heavy drinker and very emotional. She also has grande mal seizure. She depends upon her son to help her when she is sick. I worry about him. She wanted to come visit me and I told her no alcohol. She also is inclined to pick up men--I told her none of that here. Consequently, she did not come to visit. She does not do anything but watch tv and live off of her son's social security. I think she gets some disability but may have been cut off from that because she was playing fast and loose with the system. I have tried to help her and her son but it is very difficult. I have had to back away. She tried to get involved with another man and wanted me to give her positive reinforcement--I couldnt do it. She doesnt talk to me anymore. This is frustrating and most importantly, the little boy gets caught up in the mix--Mary is not careful about her blood products. I have called social services but it doesnt really do any good.

Is it bad that I have backed away? I cannot give reinforcement to her behavior because she is ill nor do I really understand it either. She was always like this, even prior to the illness, however the illness, has given her an excuse.

Thank you for allowing me to share my frustrations.

Response from Dr. Horwath

Your sister is ill. She suffers from alcohol dependence, HIV infection, a seizure disorder and a psychiatric disorder. Her psychiatric problem contributes to her self-destructive behavior. I don't know if she ever sought psychiatric treatment or if she believes she has a psychiatric problem. A psychiatric evaluation would be helpful if she was willing.

As for your backing away, you need to do what you are able to tolerate. You cannot control her behavior, but you can put limits on what she does in your home or around you. If that makes her angry, then that may be unavoidable. Backing away has the down side that you cannot see what is happening with her and her son. If you want to be able to keep an eye on her and her son, then you might keep some contact with her, but explain the reasons for the limits that you have set.

You might also try getting help from Al Anon. This is an organization that provides help to family members of alcoholics, including how to deal with the difficulties that it causes in your life.

This is a painful situation. You are not being bad.

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