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Today, I am officially older than my big brother. 

Ryan was 34 when he passed away, 5 years ago this November. If my family hadn’t gone through this, I would never have thought that a healthy looking 34-year-old man could die from being an alcoholic. I still can’t believe it happened.

With so many South Australian families affected by addiction, I hope my story is a reminder that you are not alone.


Ryan had an addictive personality. For as long as I remember, he was addicted to something –- sugar, exercise, marijuana and finally at age 27, vodka. 

Most people with an addiction are masking something. Ryan was masking sadness. He was teased and bullied for being “different”, all his life. Even at primary school, I remember him standing on the tennis court and being pelted with tennis balls, by a bunch of kids in his class. I also remember walking home from school, when two older boys bailed me up and laughed in my face as they said, “Ya brother’s a girl! He’s a big. Weird. Girl.” 

Ryan was different. But, I think he was different in an awesome way. Unfortunately, because Ryan was into Madonna and could recite every word from Anne of Green Gables 1, 2, 3 and 4, he was picked on. Kids can be so cruel.

He found it difficult to make friends — even in his twenties, he couldn’t hold down friendships, or a boyfriend. So, he drank. I remember him saying to me, “I drink because I’m lonely”.

That breaks my heart. 

Hayley Pearson

And so from the age of 27, he drank and he drank and he drank. Vodka became his life. As families of addicts know, he, like most addicts, would destroy anyone and anything that tried to get in the way of his next drink. Once, he even walked out of a drug and alcohol rehab centre, with a broken ankle, for 5km to the nearest bottle shop.

You see, addiction is a disease. It takes over the brain and the person we love is no longer in control. But when your loved one is going through this, it’s hard to remember that. Instead, you get angry. So. Incredibly. Angry. Why couldn’t he just “get sober?” 

At 32, he was told he had stage 3 cirrhosis of the liver and if he continued to drink at the rate he was, he would be dead in 6 months. 

As his sister (and I know on behalf of my parents) it was almost impossible to believe that he could actually die. He still looked so healthy and he’d only been drinking heavily for 7 years. Yet he had the liver of a 66-year-old alcoholic! 

My stomach is in knots when I look back at the final 2 years of Ryan’s life. He managed to stay sober for 8 months while living with my parents we all thought we had our happy, funny, caring old Ryan back again! He was doing so well, but then his heart was broken again and his downward spiral resumed, even more intensely than before.  

As the sibling of an addict, it’s tough.

The lying: He’d say, “I’m sober Hayley, I feel so good,” thinking he’d fooled me, as he slurred his words on the phone.

The worry: Every time my phone would ring, my heart would stop for a split second -– please don’t be the call saying he’s gone

The hurt: It was Ryan’s dream to be an uncle and I was about to have my first son. Wasn’t that enough for him to get help and get sober? 

The complete and utter sadness: Watching my parents’ hearts split in two as they tried to save my brother’s life. Then, watching them struggling to live after they lost their son.

To anyone going through this now,  there is nothing you can actually do to make them stop -– they won’t stop, unless they want to. And to make it even more difficult, there isn’t enough support here in South Australia for addicts and the families of addicts. 

As a family we tried everything to help Ryan, but he just needed to take that next step. About a year before he passed away, he was sober and said to me, “If I die, please tell my story to help others”. So that’s what I’m doing.

I hope Ryan’s story is a reminder of how serious addiction is and the unfathomable pain it causes those families affected.

I wish we could have saved him.

Hayley xx


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  • Buffy says:

    Hey Beauty, thank you for sharing. You are amazing and strong. Keep doing what you are doing – sharing this does make a difference. xxx

  • Kylie says:

    Wow Hayley, that took a lot of courage to post that. Thinking of you. x

  • Sandy says:

    Wow. To share this story. Love to you and your family. May he be resting peacefully without pain. If I could hug you I would. May someone, anyone learn from this story. I appreciate the pain and heartache it took for you to put these words together. xxx

  • Sue says:

    This is so meaningful to me at the moment. My daughter is struggling with bipolar not the same but just as hard.

    • Hayley Pearson says:

      Oh I am so sorry, it’s so hard to see a loved one struggLing with anything isn’t it! Even harder that it’s your daughter, lots of love xx

  • Ann Starke says:

    So beautifully told Hayley. Ryan would have been proud of you honouring his wish to tell his story. Special love to Rosalie, Wayne, you and Jimmy and boys during this time of reflection. Ann xx

  • E says:

    I feel your pain. I’m sorry you lost your brother. Addiction is an awful thing. It beats so many people. I too have been affected personally, but so far things are good. But you never forget. It’s always in the back of my mind…what if he goes back to that shit. Be strong and love life. It’s too short. x

    • Hayley Pearson says:

      Oh you know what it’s like – it is actual hell isn’t it. Glad your loved one is in a good place now though, thanks for reading Ryan’s story xx

  • Donna-Jayne Samofal says:

    Thank you for sharing Hayley and I’m so sorry to learn of this loss. You are so right when you say, you can’t make them stop unless they want to. Alcoholism is a nasty disease that I do not wish upon any family. <3

  • Karina says:

    Tears reading this Hayley.
    I’m also the sister of an addict, thankfully though my brother is now 3 years clean.
    It’s incredibly hard to watch someone you love literally killing themselves and so crushing hearing all the lies they will tell to get what they think they need.
    Sending you so much love, I’m sure your heart aches remembering your big brother. xxx

    • Hayley Pearson says:

      Oh thank you Karina! That’s such great news that he has been clean for 3 years, hopefully that’s long enough for him to realise life is worth living and to never go back to his addiction again. It’s so shit but nice to know we are not alone, thanks for messaging xx

  • Anon says:

    This brought me to tears, it sounds exactly like my older brother’s story. His poison was injectable drugs, and he finally passed away 2 years ago. Like you, I thought I had my old brother back in the months leading up to his death, and was blind-sided when I received the news. I am dreading my upcoming birthday, when I will officially become the eldest child as well 🙁
    Thank you for sharing, it makes me feel less alone in my grief x

    • Hayley Pearson says:

      Wow, it’s scary how common this is. I am so sorry that you are going through this and for the loss of your brother. I’ve had so many messages tonight saying the same story – there obviously isn’t enough help and support here in SA. You are not alone, I’m with you too x

  • Nilanthi says:

    Hi Hayley, you are a loving and amazing sister. It was so sad to read this story and thanks for sharing with everyone.highly appreciate you share your brother’s story as it gives a important and it gives a very important message to everyone.lots of love to you and your family!!????

    • Hayley Pearson says:

      Thanks so much Nilanthi, thank you for reading my story. I hope it helps some people reading it, lots of love xxx

  • Jane says:

    That is really beautifully written. I’m so sorry for you and your brother and family. A timely reminder of the terrible toll of hatred and intolerance.

  • Helen says:

    Hayley my heart breaks for your beautiful family ,Ryàn was such a beautiful soul I used to look after him when he was about 3 your dad would be riding his dirt bike with the boys and I would look after Ryan we had such a good time he kept us entertained .My thoughts are with you hugs to all .x

    • Hayley Pearson says:

      Oh that’s so nice! I’ll tell mum and dad that you messaged, he was a very cute and slightly naughty child xx

  • Velly says:

    Hayley thank you so much for sharing. As a child of a drug abuser and growing up not knowing what the next thing he would sell to get his next hit. We would come home to no fridge, washing machine, etc. He had hocked them all. I can totally understand your pain. Fortunately my father has been clean for 10 years and was able to walk my sisters and I down the aisle and enjoy his grandchildren.

    • Hayley Pearson says:

      Oh I am so sorry you had to go through that as a child but so happy that he managed to save himself and now get’s to live a life that he may not have had! Thanks for reading and taking the time to message xx

  • Charmaine says:

    Hey lovely, I remember when you first told your story about Ryan on SAFM. Broke my heart then and still breaks my heart now. Keep sharing your story xxxx

    • Hayley Pearson says:

      Oh that was 5 months after he died, probably too soon because I couldn’t hold it together but thank you for listening then and reading my story now, xx

  • Hayley says:

    This story breaks my heart, but I’m glad you shared it. It’s important and it’s what he wanted. He would be so proud of what you have achieved Hayley. Xoxoxo

  • Ros says:

    Hi Hayley, I feel your pain. Your story is identical to mine except my brothers choice was heroin. He also died, at the age of 39! As you said it was weird when I turned 40 and was older than my big bro! My life changed forever that day when I got that phone call I also was dreading but knew one day it would be coming, doesn’t make it any easier thou. Drugs and addictions have ripped our family apart. We tried and tried to save him but the addiction was stronger than all of us. All that gives me peace is hoping he is now free of the disease. Stay strong xx

  • Kerri says:

    I lost my brother to codeine addiction. Understand the pain

  • Cara says:

    Thanks so much for sharing Hayley. I am sorry to hear about your brother. As a daughter of an alcoholic I can relate to what you went through. Not many people who are affected by addiction actually speak out about it because of the shame surrounding it. If you or anyone else is looking for support as a loved one of an alcoholic there is a support group called Al-Anon and meetings almost every day. It is a great place to talk to other people who have been through similar things and learn more about alcoholism and understanding your loved ones.

    Keep sharing xx

  • Nikki says:

    Thank you for sharing yours & Ryan’s story. I am so sorry to hear he lost the battle. You must miss him terribly.
    My ex husband is an addict too. I tried so hard to save him and I was losing myself. I would give anything for him “to want to stop”. Some times I think this world is just to harsh for these gentle souls. Take care of you xo

  • Michelle says:

    Much love and hugs to you and your family Hayley. Thank you for sharing your story xxx

  • Mel says:

    Thank you for telling your story Hayley. I’m currently trying everything possible for my sister and my brother who are both alcohol dependent. Both suicididal and lost souls. Adelaide is in desperate need of more facilities and support. A bout in detox for 5 days does nothing. A 4 month wait to get into Woolshed is devastating. I’ve cried many tears from trying to be the rock for my family and feeling like I’m getting nowhere. I feel so angry that both continue to do this to themselves and their family. I’ve said to myself and everyone else who likes to lend their opinion “only they can help themselves”. I can ring every hotline, every doctor, every councelor , every detox and rehab place and they all say the same thing….. “It’s voluntary to want to take part, we can’t force them”.
    Alcohol truly is an evil drug and what makes it worse is that it’s so acceptable in our society. It tears apart families and individuals every day and it’s heartbreaking knowing there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
    Sorry to hear about your brother, I’m sure he would be super proud of you speaking out on his behalf xx

  • Kerry says:

    Hayley, this is me.
    I relate to everything your brother did.
    I’m still doing it & don’t know how to stop.
    I hide my alcoholism from everyone.
    I still function every day.
    I drink morning, noon & night.
    The worst thing is that I’m reading & writing this post while drunk.
    I wish someone would step in & stop me but because I’ve mastered the art of deception,no one actually knows the depth of my problem.
    Thank you for bringing this issue to light.

    Maybe someone can help me one day

  • Claire says:

    Hayley you’re so awesome and so brave to share your families story, a tear jerking read. I’m sure it will help so many xx Claire

  • Alison says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Hayley. I am deeply sorry for your loss. You have brought me to tears because I know the devastation and heartbreak addiction – in particular alcoholism – can cause. No one can understand unless they have experienced themselves how much it hurts to watch a loved one self destruct, and how confusing it is to love the person but hate the addiction. We are surrounded by jokes and memes and ‘funny’ stories about drinking, rarely do we hear the truth about the damage and heartbreak alcohol can cause. Thank you for your honesty in sharing your brother’s story – I am sure he would be proud of you today.

  • Anne says:

    I remember the first time you shared your story on the radio, I think the first anniversary of his death. My heart broke for you then and it breaks now. You are very brace and should be very proud to share your brothers story to help others and bring awareness.
    May you find peace visiting your family rock xx

  • Mariana mezic says:

    As a wife of an alcoholic Hayley I hear . I am so so so sorry for your loss . What a BEAUTIFUL soul he sounded like – any one who can recite an of green gables is a special egg . Thinking of you and your family ??????❤️️

  • Molly says:

    Hi Hayley .. I am so sorry for your loss! It is the most difficult thing to watch someone killing themselves, and the effect is has on all those around them. For me, it was my sister’s son .. he passed away in 2008 from drug addiction. For years we saw the devastation it caused .. we watched my sister and her husband age practically overnight, we watched his sister going through absolute shite as her parents were consumed by trying to save their son, her being abused by him when he was desperate for drugs, and watching her get pushed to the side because she was the good child and didn’t need them to save her .. but still needed to know she mattered. So much misery. And yes, they all tried everything to try to get him the help he so desperately needed; but was sadly nowhere to be found. And all the time knowing what was going to happen .. it was inevitable. And then there are those who blame the addict “oh well, he shouldn’t be taking drugs . it’s his own fault”!!!!! That one p****s me off no end .. do they not see that these are the fragile people who need our support ??? The strong ones don’t need the drugs, the alcohol etc. People are so judgemental nowadays. I am so sorry for the bullying your brother endured .. I hope those kids have grown up to know how much damage they caused, and maybe teach their children to behave in a much better manner. Much love to you and your family .. xxxx

    • Tami says:

      Dear Hayley. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to have read your story this morning. I believe in universal spiritual energy connectedness and that’s what I believe occurred. You see, I am the mother of. a son who is severely addicted to alcohol. Chad, 36. Is the most incredible person with a compassion and loving heart. I know that is the true Chad just like your brother Ryan. He has an addictive personality too, like nearly everyone in our family. His struggles became clear when he was 15. The anger, the woundedness, the insecurities. The abuse at the hands of a mentally ill step father and the sadness from the absence of his severely alcoholic father. As a mother and nurse I knew the high risk genetic predisposition for Chad to carry the genetic makeup of addiction. I tried. His sister tried. His wife and family tried. He tried. That’s the difference with addiction as a disease. Trying and will power will NEVER work. If it did, there would be no addiction, legal prison terms, manslaughter, and suicide of the desperately wounded addict. This morning my son is having his first baby, s girl. This is something he has wanted for years. We all hoped as the months of a very challenging pregnancy continued to unfold that this baby would be the one thing that would finally motivate Chad to get the help he needs to save his life. As of last night the nightmare of his violent and abusive behavior toward his 9 month pregnant wife, his two step daughters 21 and 8, his loving sister, and me, continues. I have no idea what to expect today when we are all at the hospital. A huge scene? The police? Another horrible situation like hundreds of the others over the last 20 years? Who knows. Certainly not me. I was comforted when reading how you are honoring Ryan by sharing his story. Such a beautiful person and tragic loss of our world. I realize the purpose of sharing our pain in the rawest and most authentic way is to bring hope to the hopeless. We pray. We let go. We work 12 step programs. We seek treatment. Medications. Desperate measures for desperate people who are physically, emotionally, and spiritually bankrupt. A higher power and the power of the universal spiritual energy is our hope. Thank you Haley for sharing your heart, pain, and loving memory of Ryan. It made all the difference in the world for me today as I meet my first grandchild abs the miracle and hope for her future.

      • Tami says:

        Well baby Taylor Mae arrived into this crazy world on 11/17 weighing in at 8# 7 ounces. She is beautiful and although the night before was a horrible alcoholic scene, Chad was able to be sober the day she was born and the next two. Less than 12 hours after they were released I received a text from my daughter in law stating, I kicked Chad out. Call me when you get up. This was at 4:45 AM. I had just awoke anyways and saw the text. She tells me that the three of them came home at 7 PM and within 1 hour Chad was showered and gone to meet his friends (not!) to celebrate. 5 hours later he returns completely wasted abusive and volatile. After yelling and screaming at her when she was holding the baby she kicked him out. He called her shortly after and I told her yo tell him to call me. The secrets from the shame and humiliation make everything so much worse and powerful. He did call me and we had a very long and authentic conversation. He is telling me he wants to get the help he needs to stop drinking. I pray he does. I love him and ask God to be with him to keep him safe and his heart open to the twelve steps, medication, and the willingness to do what he needs to do to recovery from this life-threatening disease.
        In tribute to Ryan.

  • Michelle says:

    Tomorrow I will probably have to say goodbye to by brother. He’s not dead. He’s an addict.

    I have knowingly walked on eggshells with him for over 23 years. I have had to consciously pick my words, my actions. I have had to endure abuse, anger and bullshit.

    I have been his go-to when he needed someone to save him from himself – when he was about to be sent back to jail for dirty urines, or about to be evicted due to ‘criminal activity’, ie drug use in his public housing rental property. My writing skills have been put to the test many times in helping him to stay housed or free.

    I have defended him, fed him, furnished his house, cleaned it out and looked after it while he was in jail, looked after his dog, paid the hundreds of dollars in vet fees because I couldn’t watch an animal suffer from infections…the list is endless.

    My mother has endured even more – having her belongings stolen, having her car damaged and/or abandoned, having to endure abuse and death threats, laying in bed being terrified that he would return and kill her…the list is long and horrible.

    The other day I went to pick up a piece of my belongings that I had left at his house. He had refused to answer my calls or texts for almost a week. When I arrived – worried that he might be dead – the abuse I copped was out of control. I am guessing that’s he sold my belongings for drugs, hence the violent response, but I do not deserve one ounce of bullshit from him and I won’t tolerate it anymore.

    I’ve read the online advice – don’t name call, don’t do this, don’t do that. It’s not helpful. It simply requires that everyone but the addict change their behaviour…everyone but the addict has to put the effort in to keep the peace.

    So after two and a half decades of ‘keeping the peace’, I’m done. It feels so horrible to say, but my life will be so much more peaceful, I will have more money, I will not spend days and weeks drafting affidavits and letters to help him. I will no longer have to put so much effort into choosing every single work I say, or ‘giving him space’, or driving his daughter over to his place to see him as he can’t get his act together to get his licence back.

    Perhaps I’m the fool for doing so much from him, but being the big sister, looking out for your little brother seems inbuilt.

    So, tomorrow, when I will have to have the police attend with me to collect my belongings, I will be both terrified and devastated. I know that having the police attend will effectively end our relationship, but I cannot ride this rollercoaster anymore. I cannot have my kids’ Uncle in and out of their lives, or risk him having gone of his terrifying rants in front of them.

    Yes, he has an addiction – and that’s his fault. He needs to grow the fuck up and deal with it, or choose to live the rest of his days without his family. I know what he’ll choose – he’s chosen it since he was 22 years old.

    So, I choose to be free from his addiction. Probably the toughest decision in a long time, but I cannot do this anymore. He’s on his own.

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