Support for Siblings of Addicts: How to Deal with an Addicted Sibling

Addiction is often referred to as a family disease.

Therapist comforting brother of addicted individual

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Not only does the addicted individual suffer, but those around them are also often subjected to the negative consequences of addiction. This is especially true for siblings of addicts, who are often the closest people to an individual with a substance use disorder.

Sibling relationships are often complicated. While some siblings feel they are on the same team, others face rivalry that makes it difficult to connect or support each other. Even siblings with healthy relationships face a level of competition, jealousy, or resentment with one another at times. An addiction can amplify these complex emotions, leaving siblings of addicts unaware of how to help their struggling brother or sister.

Figuring out how to deal with a drug-addicted brother or sister is not easy. This guide is meant to provide you with information on how siblings of drug addicts are affected and how you can deal with a drug-addicted sibling.

How Addiction Affects the Family Unit

Before discussing how addiction affects siblings, it is important to understand how it affects the entire family unit.  When a family member suffers from addiction, it places an incredible amount of stress on the entire family. In many cases, the addict’s behavior and the consequences of that behavior (legal, financial, etc.) fall on the family.

In many cases, siblings are placed in the position of caregivers for their parents or other siblings. Further, the siblings of addicts often feel ignored and neglected as they deal with their pain and worry. They may also feel guilty for not being able to fix their brother or sister. Siblings need to understand that addiction is a disease and that they cannot cure their siblings. They can, however, provide support to help them get treatment.

How Addiction Affects Siblings

Siblings of addicts often experience a range of emotions, including anger, frustration, sadness, and shame. They may feel like they are walking on eggshells around their addicted brother or sister. They may also feel isolated and alone as they deal with this issue.

At times, the siblings of drug addicts have to take on a lot of responsibility for their families. They may become responsible for taking care of their siblings or parents, making sure the bills are paid, or dealing with the legal issues associated with addiction. This can be a lot for anyone to handle, especially people who are dealing with a sibling who is suffering from substance use disorder (SUD).

Common Feelings that Siblings of Addicts Experience

Some common feelings siblings of addicts experience include the following:

  • Guilt: They may feel guilty that they can’t fix their brother or sister. They may also feel guilty for things they have said or done in the past.
  • Anger: The siblings of addicts may feel angry at their brother or sister for putting them through this. They may also be angry at the addict’s friends, family members, or anyone else who is involved with the addiction.
  • Hopelessness: It can be very discouraging to see your brother or sister struggling with addiction and seem like there is no way to help them. This can lead to a feeling of hopelessness.
  • Shame: siblings of addicts often feel ashamed of their brother or sister’s behavior and what it is doing to the family name.

How Addiction Affects Sibling Relationships

Addiction can have a devastating effect on sibling relationships. The addict’s behavior can cause stress and tension within the family. Siblings of drug addicts often feel ignored and neglected by their parents as they deal with their pain and worry. They may also feel guilty for not being able to fix their brother or sister. Siblings need to understand that addiction is a disease and that they cannot cure their siblings.

The range of emotions that siblings of addicts go through are shared by others who are going through the same thing. A few of these shared experiences include the following:

Feeling as Though Your Sibling Chose Substance Abuse Over You

Siblings of addicts often feel as if their addicted sibling chose drugs or alcohol over them.  They may feel that they were not good enough or that they did something wrong to make their siblings turn to substance abuse. This is not the case, as addiction is a disease that affects the individual’s brain and choices.

Feeling Like You Have to Parent Your Sibling

When a sibling is struggling with addiction, it can often feel like they are a child who needs constant care. Siblings of addicts may begin to take on responsibilities that make them feel like a parent to their addicted sibling. This can be a lot of pressure and is not something that siblings should have to do.

Feeling as if Your Parents Enable Your Sibling

Many siblings of addicts feel alone in their struggles to help their sibling because of how their parents enable their sibling’s drug use. It can be hard to watch your parents enable your sibling’s destructive behavior and not feel like you have any power to change it. This can lead to arguments that put further strain on the family’s relationship.

Feeling Pressure to Keep the Family “Together”

Many siblings of addicts feel pressure to keep the family together. They may feel like they are the only ones who can help their addicted sibling. Further, they may feel that if they don’t help their sibling it will be their fault the family fell apart.

The Importance of Sibling Support

Siblings can provide important support to one another. They can offer understanding, compassion, and lend a listening ear. They can also provide practical support, such as helping with groceries or rides to treatment.

For a person suffering from a SUD, it may be hard to let others help them. They may also have hesitancy when it comes to letting others see them at their lowest. The close relationship siblings share helps an addict accept help from their brothers and sisters.

While supporting an addicted sibling, it is vital to remember to take care of yourself as well. Siblings of addicts should seek out support groups specifically for siblings. These groups can offer much-needed support and validation. siblings of addicts should also look for individual therapy, which can help them deal with the range of emotions they are experiencing.

How to Deal With a Drug Addict Brother

If your brother is addicted to drugs, you may be wondering how to deal with a drug addict brother. The first step is to realize that you cannot control your brother’s addiction. You can only control your reaction to it. You must also remember that your brother is not the only one with a drug addiction. Many people experience drug addiction.

While there are many actions one should avoid when it comes to dealing with a drug addict brother, these are the most important guidelines:

  • Support them, don’t shame them: There is a lot of shame surrounding addiction. Adding more shame may only work to push your sibling away from you.
  • Ignoring the problem will only make it worse: Addiction is a progressive disorder, which means it gets worse over time. Ignoring the problem will cause it to get worse without intervention.
  • Do not force them to quit cold turkey: Having your sibling stop using drugs out of nowhere, or quit cold turkey, may seem like a good idea, but withdrawal often leads to relapse. This is because many addicts turn back to drugs or alcohol to cease the uncomfortable symptoms that withdrawal causes.

Research shows that men are more likely to abuse illicit drugs than women. Further, within most age groups, men have a higher misuse rate for prescription drugs. This leads to a higher rate of overdose and emergency department visits for men. Therefore, your brother’s recovery from drug addiction is imperative for his safety.

How to Deal With a Drug Addict Sister

While some people struggle to help a brother who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, others are dealing with a sister who is addicted to drugs. It can be difficult to cope with the knowledge that your sister is abusing drugs, and even harder when you see the impact drug addiction is having on her life. If your sister is suffering from a SUD, the following tips can help you navigate her addiction:

  • Address the addiction and how it affects you: Confrontation is not easy for everyone. However, addiction does not disappear on its own. You must acknowledge that your sister has a problem and that it affects you.
  • Set boundaries with your sibling: Your mental wellbeing may be at stake when dealing with a sibling who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Refusing to lend your sibling money, asking them not to do drugs around you, and sticking to consequences when they cross your boundaries are essential for your peace of mind and spirit.
  • Practice self-care: You may be feeling stressed from constant worry for your sister. Practicing self-care can put you in a better place to help your sibling.

Overall, women are just as likely to abuse drugs as men are. However, women are more susceptible to relapse as they are reported to feel the effects of withdrawal stronger than men do. Therefore, your sister’s recovery from drugs is imperative for her wellbeing.

Getting Treatment for Siblings

At the end of the day, your sibling will need treatment to overcome their addiction. It is very difficult to stop using drugs or alcohol on your own without the help of an addiction specialist. Therefore, your sibling may need some convincing to get them to commit to sobriety and an addiction treatment program.

Luckily, there are interventionists whose job is to help families confront their addicted loved ones. Interventionists are trained professionals who know how to talk to addicts and get them the help they need. If you feel like you cannot get your sibling to agree to treatment, then an intervention may be the best option for getting your sibling into rehab. Once a sibling has agreed to commit to recovery, the steps in the admission process go as follows:

  1. Admissions
  2. Detox (if needed)
  3. Treatment programs
  4. Aftercare or sober living

No matter what course of action you decide to take, making a plan and following it through might be the difference between your sibling receiving the help they need or succumbing to their addiction.

Help for Siblings of Addicts at Lifetime Recovery

Being the sibling of an addict can be difficult and confusing. You may feel like you are walking on eggshells, not knowing what mood your sibling will be in from one day to the next. You may also feel a range of emotions, including anger, frustration, sadness, and betrayal. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and that help is available.

Here at Lifetime Recovery, we offer addiction resources and comprehensive addiction treatment for those who are ready to end the hold that drugs have on their life. If you or your sibling requires addiction treatment, contact us today. We can help with every step of the way. From intervention to choosing an addiction treatment program for your sibling, we are here to help.

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