Addiction Treatment Guide for Siblings of Addicts

3 min read · 5 sections
When your sibling struggles with drug or alcohol addiction, it can have a profound impact on your relationship with this person (and your entire family unit).1 Watching your brother or sister experience the negative effects of addiction might make you feel powerless and worried.2 You are not alone and there are ways that you can help your sibling or learn how to cope with the difficulties of loving someone with substance abuse issues.
What you will learn:
Identify warning signs that your brother or sister suffers from substance abuse issues.
Demonstrate how a sibling's addiction can impact your wellbeing.
What you can do to help your loved one recover (while making sure to care for yourself, too).

Signs of Substance Abuse in Siblings

If you are unsure whether your sibling is misusing substances, there are a few signs you can watch out for that may indicate the existence of substance abuse issues. For adolescents, some signs of substance abuse may include:3

  • A change in attitude or personality.
  • A change in social connections or peer group.
  • Isolation or secretive behavior.
  • Changes in grades or work performance.
  • Moodiness and irritability.
  • Loss of or increase in appetite.
  • Inability to sleep or a changes in sleeping behavior.
  • Bloodshot, red, or watery eyes.
  • Signs of sickness, such as nausea, sweating, and shaking.

However, these signs could arguably apply to siblings of all ages who are experiencing substance abuse issues.

Additionally, your brother or sister may experience financial or housing instability, which may cause them to reach out to you for a place to stay.4 Siblings of addicts also report an overall increase in family conflict and instability when their brother or sister is using drugs or alcohol.4

It can be frightening to realize that your brother or sister is experiencing the negative effects of addiction, especially when it is complicating their relationships with family members. It is important to remember that although your brother or sister may be showing these signs, that does not guarantee that they are struggling with addiction. Regardless of what is going on in their life, you can be a nonjudgmental source of support by encouraging them to be open-minded about the things you are noticing.

Why Do Siblings Abuse Drugs or Alcohol?

Though researchers aren’t entirely certain that there is one cause for addiction, there are a variety of risk factors that may place your sibling at risk for substance abuse issues. Biological factors and environmental cues are some of the most commonly identified risk factors in the development of addiction.5

If your brother or sister is dealing with a considerable amount of stress, whether due to work issues or family problems, they may use drugs or alcohol to cope with this stress.5

Similarly, if your sibling struggles with a co-occurring mental health condition (particularly one that has gone untreated), they may attempt to cope with uncomfortable feelings or symptoms by using substances.5

Genetics and family history can also contribute to the development of addiction. This risk can be increased if your sibling grew up in a household where drug use was normalized, or where they experienced chronic stress or trauma.6 If addiction to drugs or alcohol runs in your family, your brother or sister may be at risk for the development of addiction.

Even if your sibling has struggled with substance abuse for many years, it is important to remember that addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition that people can and do recover from with appropriate treatment and care.

Familial Impacts of Siblings Battling Addiction

A sibling’s addiction can negatively impact you and your family. As previously discussed, if your brother or sister is struggling with addiction, they may find themselves with financial or housing stability problems. This can prevent an economic burden.

Poor communication and worsening conflict within your family unit can create stress on the individuals involved in your sibling’s life. If your brother or sister continues misusing substances, it can lead to the deterioration of their relationships, mental health struggles for family members, and even an increased risk for family violence.7

Just as addiction has a major impact on the mental health of the individual who suffers from this disease, it can also impact their closest relationships as well. Trying to offer support to your sibling while they are in active addiction can damage your relationship and your own wellbeing.7 This is especially true if you have a pre-existing mental health condition like anxiety or depression, since coping with a sibling’s addiction can add additional stressors to your life and potentially trigger your symptoms.8

Some siblings of addicts struggle with feeling guilty for prioritizing their own mental or physical health when their brother or sister is suffering, but it is important to remember that their addiction is not your fault. You can still be a strong support for your sibling, but you must care for yourself first.

How to Deal with a Sibling’s Addiction

While you may want to help your brother or sister, it is important to remember that it is not your responsibility to make sure they get sober. In addiction treatment, many people find that they have issues with codependency, meaning that their ability to have healthy relationships with others has been complicated by an underlying issue, such as their addiction.7

If you are the sibling of a person struggling with addiction, you might behave in codependent ways to help care for them – sometimes to the detriment of your own needs or mental health.9 Your desire to help your sibling might be causing you to take on their emotions as your own, leading to further difficulties for both of you.9

So, one of the best things you can do for yourself to help cope with a sibling’s addiction is get help for yourself first. This might mean attending Codependents Anonymous meetings, going to therapy, and practicing diligent self-care.

If your sibling is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you may also want to help them find ways to stop that are effective. You may want to issue an ultimatum to influence them to quit, particularly if their behavior while using or drinking has caused significant hurt or distress to you or your family. In popular media, we often see interventions portrayed as a method for persuading loved ones to enter sobriety. This, too, has been disproven—research indicates that there is little support for the effectiveness of staging an intervention to confront an addict about their substance use.8

However, this doesn’t mean that having honest conversations with your loved one about their substance misuse and trying to help them find treatment won’t work. If you would like an intervention or conversation to be as effective as possible, make sure to lead with love and centeredness. Also try to assume a non-judgmental attitude and offer to provide support if your loved one is interested in finding treatment or support resources. Once your sibling is in treatment, their treatment program may offer integrative family therapy to help the entire family unit find peace and recovery, which you may wish to participate in.5

Drug & Alcohol Treatment Programs

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, making treatment for addiction readily available to someone who is struggling may increase the likelihood that it will be effective in maintaining sobriety.5 For someone seeking treatment for a substance use disorder, there are a number of treatment options ranging in intensity.

If someone is still actively using substances, their physician may recommend that they attend a drug detox center to safely withdraw from their drug (or drugs) of choice.5 They might opt for inpatient or residential treatment if they need access to medical and mental health care while in a supportive environment as they learn to maintain their sobriety.5 Inpatient treatment can also sometimes include medication for withdrawal symptoms or cravings to use, such as Medication-Assisted Treatment.5 Someone who wants to stay in their own home to have the support of family might prefer outpatient treatment.5 Treatment options also vary in length of stay: inpatient treatment can be as long as 6 to 12 months, while some programs may last only a few weeks.5

Health insurance often covers the full or partial cost of rehab. If you are not sure what your plan covers, contact American Addiction Centers. Our treatment locations accept most insurance carriers and can help you find addiction treatment that is right for you

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