A Guide for Siblings of Addicts

Addiction doesn’t just affect the person suffering from addiction; it also affects those closest to the addict. This can include parents, spouses, relatives, close friends, and even siblings. In fact, it is often the siblings of addicts who tend to get the least attention, with most of the attention being given to the addict and the spouse or parents. This can be particularly true when the sibling might not be living in the same house as the addict or when there is a significant age gap. 

However, the dynamic and relationship between siblings when one is suffering from addiction is just as important as it is for the addict and their spouse or the addict and their parents. Sibling relationships can already be complicated, so adding an addiction to the mix can create a complex and wide-ranging set of emotions including resentment, anger, and frustration. 

This page will be a guide to help siblings of addicts deal with related trauma. We will address the issues that can arise when a sibling is suffering from addiction, as well as discuss ways in which the non-addicted sibling or siblings can also get the help they need to process what is going on. 

Addiction Can Have Long-Lasting and Serious Effects

Addiction affects every part of a person’s life. It can strain relationships, cause financial problems, and even lead the addict to do unsavory things like lie, cheat, and steal to get their next fix. Addiction can also lead to legal trouble either directly or indirectly related to their substance of abuse. 

All these things can have long-lasting and serious effects, not just on the addict but on those closest to the addict. If the addict has a particularly close relationship with their sibling or siblings, they might turn to them for help (e.g., financial help, legal help, or even help to cover for them). This can lead to added stress in the relationship, as well as both a financial and mental strain. 

What Are the Family Dynamics When It Comes to Addiction?

Whether knowingly doing it or doing it subconsciously, siblings of addicts (and other family members) tend to assume dysfunctional roles to cope with addiction in their family. They also might do things they think are helping their addicted family member but, in reality, are just making the situation worse. 

Some of the common roles that siblings and other family members take on when dealing with an addict in the family include:

  • The Enabler – The enabler is the person who minimizes or overlooks the addiction. This person may provide the addict with financial support or do other things like cover for them if they miss work or school or clean up after them if they had a rough night. Oftentimes, the enabler sibling or family member has good intentions and thinks they are doing the right thing when, in reality, they are not.
  • The Scapegoat – The scapegoat is the person in the family who is blamed for everything when it comes to the addicted family member. Whether warranted or not, the scapegoat might feel like they are being blamed for something they didn’t do, which can lead to resentment. 
  • The Lost Child – When a sibling is suffering from addiction, the other siblings often get neglected or forgotten about. Sometimes, the other siblings might do this by design, choosing to lay low knowing that their parents are dealing with enough. Other times, though, they get neglected as all the attention is focused on the addict.
  • The Hero – The hero is the family member who takes it upon him or herself to try to bring peace to the family. This person might be the one who sets up the intervention or who finally convinces their family member to go to treatment and get help. 

What Emotions Do Siblings of Addicts Typically Experience?

Siblings of an addict can experience a wide range of emotions, particularly upon first learning that their sibling is suffering from addiction

Let’s take a look at some of the common emotions that they might experience. 

Feelings of Betrayal   

When someone is suffering from addiction, they turn into a completely different person. Their hobbies and interests change, they start to hang around different people, and they might even lie, cheat, or steal to get their next fix. 

When lying, cheating, or stealing occurs with a sibling, the sibling can feel a sense of betrayal. They begin to lose trust in their brother or sister and feel hurt by the fact that they have been lied to so the addict can advance his or her agenda. 

This feeling of betrayal can oftentimes be the toughest thing to repair after the addicted sibling gets clean.

Feeling Like Your Sibling Chose Their Addiction Over You and Your Family

Siblings who watch their brother or sister go deeper and deeper down the path of addiction often feel like their sibling chose their addiction over both them and their family without realizing that addiction isn’t a choice but a debilitating disease. 

This is one of the most valuable lessons taught during therapy for siblings of addicts. No matter how devastating it might feel in the moment, it’s important to remember that their addiction isn’t anyone else’s fault.

Not Knowing How to Act

There’s no “training manual” on how to behave and act in certain situations. Everyone thinks and reacts differently to certain things going on in their lives. As a result, the sibling might not know how to really act upon first learning that their brother or sister is suffering from addiction. Their initial thought or reaction might be to make light of the situation or they might go the complete opposite way and block everything out and put themselves into their own little bubble. 

In some cases, they might even go down a destructive path to regain the attention of their parents. That’s why seeking out help and talking to someone is so important if you are the sibling of an addict. 

As a Sibling, What Can You Do to Help Both Yourself and Your Addicted Sibling?

While everyone’s focus and attention might be on your addicted sibling, there are things that you can do to help both yourself and your sibling. After all, while it is important to make sure your brother or sister gets the help that they need, it is also important to make sure you dedicate time and attention to yourself and your needs. 

Practice Self-Care

The most important thing you can do when dealing with a sibling who is suffering from addiction is to take care of yourself first. Many people want to do everything to take care of and help their addicted sibling that they neglect their own needs. This is what can lead to those feelings of frustration and resentment that we touched on earlier. 

No matter what is going on, it is important to do things that are good for you and your well-being, such as eating healthy, meditating, exercising, and doing anything that makes you happy. 

Talk to Someone

Just like there are treatment and therapy options for those suffering from addiction, there are also therapy options and support groups available for those who are a sibling of an addict, as well. 

As we talked about above, chances are the sibling(s) of the addict are experiencing a lot of new thoughts and emotions. Talking about it with a professional can not only benefit the sibling directly but can also help in getting their addicted sibling(s) the help they need, as well. 

Create a Plan to Help the Addicted Sibling

After making sure you are in a good place mentally, you can turn your focus to your addicted sibling. If you are going to try to get help for your addicted sibling, it is important to have a plan in place. This could include arranging an intervention or even researching different treatment options for your addicted sibling. 

When having a conversation about addiction with your sibling, it is important to remain calm, speak honestly, and let them know that you support their recovery efforts. 

Want to Know More About Being the Sibling of an Addict?

At Harmony Place, we know that it’s not just the addict who needs help but the family of the addict, as well, and that includes siblings. We offer a variety of therapies, programs, and resources for family members of those who are suffering from addiction so they can better understand what their loved one is going through and can process it all in a healthy way. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, contact us today.