My big sister: Amy's story

January 2018 | 7 minutes

My sister was a 21-year-old university graduate when she first became ill. Seven years later, aged 28, Carys passed away as a result of the irreparable damage alcohol had caused to her body.

We grew up in a busy and loving household with an older and younger brother. We attended the local Catholic High School and had a very happy upbringing. Carys was painfully shy growing up and while she was older than me – though only by 13 months – I was always the outgoing one and I adopted the role of big sister.

Shortly after completing her accountancy degree in 2009, Carys' long-term relationship came to an end and her life began to fall apart. As a family, we started to notice worrying changes in Carys' behaviour. I returned home from University for the summer holidays and I was shocked to see the change in my sister. Within a few weeks, it was apparent that Carys was drinking daily. After much persuasion, Carys agreed to attend the GP but once there, she denied that she had a problem with alcohol and just explained that she was upset following her break up. The GP reassured my mum that it was most likely a 'phase' and Carys was simply sent away with leaflets and advice.

For seven years we battled as a family to get Carys the help she needed to beat her addiction. Many people, including medical professionals, found it difficult to accept that Carys was an alcoholic and often assumed that we were exaggerating the extent of her addiction. Carys didn't 'look' like an alcoholic. She was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman in her early twenties. She had a degree, she had a home and she had a loving and supportive family – she didn't fit the bill.

After almost three years of tirelessly dealing with Carys' illness on our own, Carys was offered her first detox programme. However, by this stage, Carys' addiction was too strong and she was not willing to engage with the treatment. Over the seven-year battle, Carys attended several residential detox programmes and three residential rehabilitation clinics. Visiting hospitals became part of our family routine.

Dealing with a loved one who has an addiction is all consuming. I was constantly waiting for the phone to ring to be told that Carys had fallen, or had gone missing or had been admitted to hospital all while trying to lead a normal life.


What made things harder still was the stigma that surrounds people addicted to alcohol, which followed Carys and our family throughout her illness. Though my sister was desperately ill, I didn't feel that I was able to share her illness with the people around me. I quickly learnt that if I opened up about it, people were eager to judge, which only made an already difficult time harder. Even close friends failed to appreciate the severity of the situation and I felt very alone. I wish that we had been able to seek support, and be confident that we would not be judged. That would have made the hardest time in our lives just a little easier.

I have come to accept that many people view alcohol dependency as a 'self-inflicted' illness. This is drastically inaccurate, and ultimately the cause of an illness is irrelevant when considering the impact it has on family members. We were still the family members of a person with a terminal illness. We still had to witness our daughter, sister, loved one, deteriorating in front of our eyes. The only difference for us was that we were going through that process without any sympathy or support.

Alcohol is the leading cause of death for people aged 15–49 in the UK. Thousands of people like Amy have family photos with a cherished loved one missing. But this is avoidable and you can stop it happening.

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