April 29, 2010 — -- Grace Carricarte and her brother Brian know better than most just how devastating the disease of alcoholism can be.
They describe their mother, also named Grace, as a woman who always loved tending to her family. "My mom was an incredible mother and motherhood was really what her life revolved around," Grace told "20/20."
According to her children, she made sure every detail, from their home to their meals to their birthday parties, was perfect.
But after Grace divorced their father, something in her seemed to change.
"The one thing that she had put a hundred percent of her energy into, which was being a mother, being a part of that family, it was completely gone and completely disrupted," said Brian. "So I just feel she looked for something else to kind of fill that in."
Though Grace, 29, and Brian, 26, say they never actually saw their mother drinking while they were growing up, her behavior began to seem puzzling when they were teens.
"I remember, I was probably 13 at the time," said Grace. "And my mom was really late to pick up a friend and I from a party. And we get in the car, and my mom is kind of exaggeratedly swerving. First she was swerving, but then she started to swerve for fun. I was so mad. And... I go, 'Mom, stop it.' I was almost a little bit afraid in the car, because she was weird, but I never thought she was drunk."
Years later, when Grace and Brian were young adults, it finally became clear to them that their mother was struggling with alcoholism. Like so many women, Grace Carricarte succeeded in hiding her drinking from loved ones for a long time. Eventually, however, her addiction became unmanageable.
The family insisted she get help. Grace entered two rehab programs, but failed each time to stay sober.
"She didn't feel that she could relate to what was going on in a lot of the rehab centers," said Brian. "And because a lot of people were there for drug issues, for heroine, crack, cocaine, so she's like, 'This isn't me. I don't have that problem.'"
Grace's family pleaded with her to give rehab one more try, but she refused. Then Brian made a horrifying discovery when he visited his mom at her home.
"The house was just oddly quiet, the TV was on, very loud," said Brian. "And here I am thinking she's asleep or something, and you know, I'm calling her name, and nothing. Then finally, I went over to her, went over to shake her, and I realized she was stiff. And the real reality of what was in front of me... she's gone."
Just 50 years old, with a bottle of vodka at her bedside, Grace Carricarte lost her battle with alcoholism. The official cause of death was chronic ethanolism, a term coroners often use on the death certificates of people who have drunk themselves to death.
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A Mother's Alcoholism, Her Children's Pain
"There was a lot of shock in our family," said Grace. "A lot of shock, because most people didn't believe that she was an alcoholic, let alone to believe that it would kill her."
Since the death of their mother, Grace and Brian say they have struggled with the question of what more they could have done to save her. They say they have learned some hard lessons about addiction.
"The addiction wants to protect itself, so the addiction will tell you whatever it needs to, to keep itself alive," said Grace. "And my mom, she didn't identify with being an alcoholic, and by all means, she didn't look like an alcoholic. I still have that feeling that I couldn't help my mom. My head tells myself, 'No, really, we did everything we could.'
"But in my heart, in the heart of anyone who loves someone, it never feels OK to see somebody that you care about not able to get better."