There is a unique pain that comes with an addicted sibling in the family. They are more likely to be a close-up witness to the odd behavior and reckless actions of the individual. They may feel more social shame because of their sibling’s behavior. Sometimes they may not want to acknowledge the situation at all.
The Ripple Effect of Addiction
Addiction is now understood as a brain disease, and it is also a disease that impacts everyone around the affected person. Parents, siblings, other family members, and friends may all feel the effects of the addiction. They may be lied to, stolen from, manipulated and treated with anger and even resentment.
Siblings, because of their relationship as a peer of the affected individual, may have particular difficulty dealing with their own emotions as the individual delves deeper into substance abuse and when they go through treatment.
There is no playbook for siblings to follow. They must find their own way by attending support groups or they may need to get counseling themselves. It’s important to recognize that non-using siblings will have a variety of emotions as the situation unfolds.
Handling the Addicted Sibling Relationship
Addiction experts offer a number of suggestions for siblings:
- Don’t cover for the addicted sibling
- Avoid being set up as the go-between with parents
- Focus on yourself
- Be honest with the addicted sibling
- Create boundaries
Knowing What to Say and When
Many siblings of individuals with substance abuse problems are scared and don’t know how to handle the problem. They do not know what to say or how to encourage the sibling, without getting into a trap of co-dependence and enablement. Getting some counseling may be the best way to put the situation in perspective while the addicted individual finds their own path to get the help they need. Some common suggestions are:
- Tell the sibling you can see they need help. Don’t be diverted by claims of being about to quit or being able to quit at any time.
- Be frank with other family members about the problem. In some cases, parents or other siblings may not want to know the severity of the drug or alcohol problem. That doesn’t mean you should try to trivialize the situation, and it won’t help the addicted sibling to do so.
- Try to get family members on the same page to push for treatment. Point out any examples of out-of-control behavior and what it really means.
- Be available when your sibling is in treatment. Changing your life after addiction is extremely difficult, on many levels. Knowing loved ones are there for support can be critical. Be encouraging and stay realistic about the difficulties of maintaining sobriety.
- After treatment, hold your sibling accountable. If you see them starting to weaken or hang out with substance-using friends, raise the alarm. They may not respond well immediately, but what they need is your honest reaction.
- If you have a sibling with an alcohol or drug abuse problem, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Find a support group that deals with family members of individuals with substance abuse problems. Encourage your sibling to contact a professional treatment center that can provide the therapy they need to return to a healthy, productive life.