Surviving a sibling’s addiction can be overwhelming and disastrous. Generally, people are closer to and more competitive with, their siblings than any other relative. They usually share DNA, upbringing, and family culture as well as a relational bond that is unique to siblings.

When an addiction overtakes a sibling, others may: 

  • feel responsible for handling the problem and make up for it by giving in to dysfunctional behaviors to keep up the impression that everything is fine
  • feel invisible and have resentment about being overshadowed
  • feel guilty for being the lucky one who didn’t get addicted and may even experience a form of “survivor syndrome”

Surviving Your Sibling’s Substance Abuse History

Here are some ways to make your own health and well-being a priority:

  • Set your boundaries.

Just saying “no” can help encourage the addict to also make changes. You may tell your sibling “I love you but I will no longer be there to bail you out.” Stop paying their bills, giving them cash, or lying to cover for them. Offer assistance in getting into rehab, but set limits on phone calls and text messages to get yourself off the emotional roller coaster.

  • Rely on self-care

Overpowering emotions can take over your life. It may be a call from the police during the night or finding your credit card missing. Every incident adds to your anxiety. You need to find ways to bring peace into your life, even if for short periods of time.  Walks, movies, exercise, or dinner out with friends can all help so your nervous system is not constantly on edge.

  • Own your grief. It’s real.

The relationship with your sibling is not what you expected it to be. Additionally, some of your own plans and hopes might have been destroyed by the disease. By allowing yourself to grieve, you can begin to accept the loss, let go of unhealthy attachments, and move on. Then you can create something for yourself, and maybe someday with your sibling.

  • Save yourself first.

You have probably spent a lot of time worrying, watching, and trying to help your sibling. It’s now time to redirect that energy to yourself. This could include attending a support group like Al-Anon, talking to a friend, or seeing a therapist. Some siblings find that they need to limit contact with their addicted loved ones while they work on their own recovery.

  • Use hope as a resource.

It’s important for your own healing to hold on to the hope that someday you’ll be able to repair the break that addiction has caused between you and your sibling. Whether they get help or not, you can stay hopeful while still making sure you’re as healthy as you can be. 

Your brother or sister may have broken your heart. Intense feelings of anger, distrust, and many other sensations may cloud your judgment. Therefore, it might take a while to get past the pain but you can keep it from taking you over. This puts you in the best place to get what you want for your life and also the relationship you’ve hoped for with your sibling.

Signs of Codependency in Siblings of Addicts

If your sibling had cancer, you wouldn’t even consider deserting them. The same is true of a sibling with the disease of addiction. It’s normal to want to help a drug addict sibling.  But the wish to help can change into an inability to turn away from the turmoil. In your attempt to regain peace and order, you might actually end up enabling them and become entangled in their constant life disasters. 

Some of the signs of codependency are:

  • An overwhelming need to take care of other people
  • The desire to be in control
  • People-pleasing
  • Problems with setting healthy boundaries
  • Depending on others, including the addict
  • Paralyzing emotions such as sadness, anger, fear, nervousness, and irritability
  • Low self-esteem

The Trap of Control

For someone who loves an addict, one of the biggest traps is having to constantly do damage control. Making excuses for your sibling, calling the boss when they can’t make it to work, and giving financial support only enable the disease to go forward. 

Until the addict has to deal with the consequences of their actions, they will continue their behavior. Although you love your brother or sister, you have to let go of the fantasy that you can control their situation. You need to focus on what you can control–your own life.

How to Support a Sibling with Addiction

You have a special relationship with your sibling that no one else has. This relationship has some disadvantages, but it also has some advantages. This may be challenging for individuals If you have already tried to help them get off drugs or alcohol.

Disadvantages

  • “I don’t have to listen to you. You’re my sibling.” Classic sibling rivalry. Try to stay calm and collected. It’s the addiction talking, not them.
  • At times, the addicted siblings will shut themselves off from the outside world and refuse to get involved with anyone.  They know their loved ones will try to convince them to get clean, so they stay isolated.
  • They might not see you as an opinion leader. An easy way to get through to an addict is to be an opinion leader for them. An opinion leader might be a teacher, a church leader, a grandparent, a parent, etc. If you aren’t one, they might not listen to you.
  • Your sibling might hold you responsible for some of their problem. In an effort to get you off their back, they may put the blame on you for their drug habit.
  • Your brother or sister may feel that they can’t compete with you. Because they believe that they “didn’t turn out as well as you did,” they might dissociate from you. Sibling rivalry is not new and if they believe they have failed because of their addiction problem, they may not want to talk to you.

Advantages

  • Your sibling might be more comfortable confiding in you rather than your mom or dad. It’s likely that they know what they’re doing is wrong and will feel worse if a parent confronts them about it.
  • They may be able to relate to a sibling better because they know that you have made mistakes in your life too. Be honest and open about your mistakes.
  • Because you are their peer, they may be more in tune with your message rather than an elder who might make them feel embarrassed.  You and your sibling are closer in age and have more common ground.
  • Even after the parents have passed on, siblings still have each other. This unique bond can be a benefit in helping them overcome an addiction issue.

The Age Issue

Another issue is the age difference from one sibling to the next. Closeness in age can help in getting your brother or sister to get help for a substance abuse problem. On the other hand, if your sibling is older than you, they may see themselves as your protector, your senior, your big brother or sister.

Unfortunately, having a younger sibling with a substance abuse problem can have problems too. They may be more rebellious and demand that you back off. They could feel that you are trying to be a mom or dad and treating them like a child. The important thing to remember is that there will always be challenges, whether your sibling is older or younger than you. The important factor is to be persistent.

Helping a Sister

If you need to deal with a drug addict sister, there are a few factors to consider:

  • Pregnancy –You will need to find certain expert resources specially designed for pregnant women. The use of alcohol or drugs can slow the development of the fetus and cause other health issues.
  • Nutrition and weight –These are also important factors for women who use drugs and alcohol. Certain drugs interfere with an appetite so your sister might not be getting the nutrition she needs.
  • Your own relationships — If you have a significant other or children of your own, you need to consider how helping your sister can affect them. Dealing with a drug addict sister can hurt those relationships.

What to Avoid When Talking to an Addicted Sibling

  • Do not confront them.

Instead of blaming them, try to steer the conversation to your feelings and how their addiction affects you. You may be able to get them to go to a therapist with you.

  • Ask for an immediate decision.

Don’t let them stall you to think it over. Be prepared to consult with a treatment program as soon as they see that dysfunction is occurring. This is critical because recovery starts as soon as they decide to accept treatment.

  • Don’t use threats.

Threats to someone addicted to drugs or alcohol can be dangerous. They may feel fear and panic and become aggressive. Support and suggestions for help won’t have any effect if the relationship turns negative.

  • Don’t talk to them when they’re under the influence.

A non-starter. Just don’t bother. Plan to talk early in the day or whenever you know they are less likely to be using.

  • Don’t ever offer drugs or alcohol.

Addiction is a serious disease and you should treat it that way.

Roots of Addiction in Families 

Childhood Trauma

Unsettled childhood trauma is often at the top of the list of factors that influence addiction. It can affect siblings differently and occur at different stages of life. Examples are an older sibling who may have had more exposure to an addicted or abusive parent, or the younger sibling who didn’t have the ability to cope with it and ended up being more traumatized. This can make one sibling more likely to use drugs or alcohol to deal with the pain of the trauma.

Genetic Roots

Some studies have discovered that impulsivity is passed along through genes. Impulsivity is an emotional or behavioral self-control problem. In fact, sensation-seeking can run in families. Recent studies of brain scans of cocaine addicts and their non-addicted siblings found that both had a tendency to have a lack of self-control. 

Researchers are still looking for the answers as to why one got addicted and not the other. However, it does appear that the non-addicted sibling is less likely to struggle with cravings and to have the ability to recover from difficulties not shared by their addicted sibling.

Be Determined

The final lesson for siblings of addicts or alcoholics is to never give up on helping your brother or sister overcome their struggle with addiction. This is very important because you only lose when you give up and you don’t want to lose this struggle. 

Even though your first attempt at helping them might fail, you need to understand that most addicts do actually want help but they are too involved in their addiction to realize it. 

The fact is, using drugs or alcohol is a way to solve a problem. They don’t have the skills or ability to deal with it and drugs solve the problem for them. Even if it’s only temporary.

As a sibling, you are in a position to show them that there is hope and a way to deal with problems without drugs or alcohol and free from addiction. The main point is to always remember to never stop trying

Help for Your Sibling at Harmony Ridge

If you have a sibling with a drug or alcohol addiction, you don’t need to look any further than Harmony Ridge in West Virginia. Harmony Ridge has several levels of care including a sober living facility. This means that we help our clients every step of the way. 

Our therapists are Master’s Level Certified Addiction Specialists, some with real-life personal experience with addiction. We have the knowledge, experience, and compassion to help people turn their lives around. We can help your family member too. Contact us today. You have questions and we are happy to answer.