Siblings of Addiction: How to Deal with a Sibling Suffering from Addiction

siblings of addicts

Drug addiction and alcoholism can have terrible effects on the user’s life. However, it also takes a toll on those around you, especially siblings of addicts. Figuring out how to deal with an alcoholic brother or a drug addict sister can be overwhelming. 

There are many things to consider when trying to understand what siblings of addicts go through. Sibling dynamics are complex. For instance, they can involve competition, jealousy, love, resentment, and other emotions. Coupled with addiction, the siblings may even drift apart.

Typically, siblings help each other grow and are on the same team. So, when siblings are at war, the entire family dynamic is off. And as difficult as it may be, the only way to manage these emotions is by confronting the addiction. 

Siblings of addicts can be lost at how to deal with an alcoholic brother. And others may not understand how to deal with a drug addict sister. To bring to light the struggles of siblings of addicts, we are providing a brief overview of what it’s like being siblings of addicts. While also explaining how you can help your sibling seek help.

The Effects of Addiction on Siblings

Addiction can have various effects on your sibling. For example, addiction causes people to lie and steal in order to obtain drugs or alcohol. The results of these behaviors can be devastating on families, especially siblings of addicts. 

People who struggle with addiction also lie about their whereabouts. For example, when you deal with a drug addict sister, she may say she is going to a friend’s house. However, she is really going to her dealer. 

As the addiction worsens, your sibling may spend all their money and time feeding their addiction. As a result, they stop doing things they once enjoyed, such as family time and sports. Siblings with addiction also commonly steal from their brothers and sisters to buy more drugs. Family members are most often the first people a sibling with addiction steals from.

As an addiction pulls your sibling further down, their behavior becomes riskier. As a result, they get into legal trouble. For example, they may get arrested while buying drugs. Frequently, family members like siblings of addicts feel obligated to pay legal fees to minimize the family’s shame. 

What is the Family Dynamics in Addiction?

Family members often assume dysfunctional roles to cope with a sibling’s addiction. Unfortunately, these roles can continue throughout life, which prevents family members from healing. For this reason, support groups and family therapy are extremely important for recovery. 

Dysfunctional family roles include:

  • Addict – the one who is struggling with a substance use disorder
  • Enabler – the person who tries to minimize the consequences of addiction
  • Hero – the child who works hard to bring peace to the family
  • Scapegoat – the one who is often blamed for everything
  • Clown – often the youngest child, makes light of the situation
  • Lost child – a child who avoids rocking the boat and is often neglected

The Effects of Learning How to Deal with a Drug Addict Sister

Many people hear about an addiction problem and immediately think about the parents and children but not the siblings of addicts. Similarly, they believe it affects siblings less than other family members. However, this is absolutely not the case. Siblings can experience affects other family members don’t.

What Emotions Do Siblings of Addicts Experience?

Siblings of addicts go through a range of emotions when learning how to deal with a drug addict sister. Some of the shared experiences include:

You feel as if your sibling chose addiction over you. 

Many siblings of addicts feel like their sibling doesn’t care anymore. The hurt from being less important than drugs or alcohol can be devastating. But, in learning how to deal with a drug addict sister, you also learn addiction has nothing to do with you. 

Feeling like all trust has been broken.

The disease of addiction can turn the most honest person into a liar. You may believe their promises the first dozen times, such as seeking help. However, you learn they are all lies, and as a result, you lose all trust. It can be difficult to think whether the trust will ever be rebuilt. Especially when they say they are free of drugs and alcohol.

Your parents enable your sibling’s addiction. 

When your parents’ behaviors enable your sibling’s addiction, it can be frustrating and lead to arguments. It also creates dysfunctional parental relationships. For example, siblings of addicts may feel abandoned or invisible because their parents are focused on the sibling with addiction. 

You don’t know how to act. 

When figuring out how to deal with an alcoholic brother or drug addict sister, siblings of addicts often go one of three directions. First, they may become the family clown making light of the situation. Secondly, they become perfectionists in pursuit of blocking out the shame and pain of substance use. Lastly, in an effort to either receive attention from their parents or take the attention off their siblings, siblings of addicts can also take a negative path. 

It’s essential to know as siblings of addicts that you are not alone and the feelings you experience are normal when struggling with how to deal with a drug addict sister or alcoholic brother. While it won’t be easy, there are coping strategies to help support your sibling and yourself healthily. 

How to Deal With an Alcoholic Brother

The way siblings of addicts deal with an alcoholic brother or sister is different than how they deal with a drug addict sister or brother. The way siblings deal with an alcoholic sibling also differs based on whether your sibling is male or female. This is because males and females typically use substances for different reasons. 

In addition, alcohol can affect people differently depending on their sex. Generally, males can physically handle higher levels of alcohol than women. As a result, a male may not feel the effects of two beers, while a female may feel quite tipsy. 

How to Deal With an Alcoholic Brother Who Needs Treatment

Although it may not be easy, the best way to help your sibling struggling with addiction is to convince them to seek treatment. It can often be helpful to research and pick the best high-quality treatment center for them to look at. If you have tried and failed or don’t know how to talk to your sibling, it may be time to seek help from an interventionist. 

How to Deal With a Drug Addict Sister

When your sister struggles with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, they need to be handled differently than your brother. For one, females can’t handle the same amount of substances as males. This is because women have less body water but more body fat. 

When females drink, for example, they reach high blood alcohol levels quicker than males. This is because of the difference in body makeup. But, it also occurs because females have fewer enzymes in their stomach that metabolize alcohol.

Who Struggles with Addiction More? Brothers or Sisters?

Women are more likely to struggle with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety than men. As a result, a dual diagnosis of co-occurring disorders is generally seen more in females. Trying to understand how to deal with a drug addict sister also means looking for underlying conditions. 

Siblings of Addicts: How to Help Your Struggling Sibling

Knowing how to deal with an alcoholic brother can be challenging. If the interaction goes wrong, it can further alienate the sibling with addiction and, above all, worsen the substance use disorder. So, hold to your boundaries but work hard to convince them to accept help. 

5 Tips in How Not To Deal With An Alcoholic Brother 

Are you one of the many siblings of addicts wondering how to help your brother or sister? What do you say? What if they won’t get help? While there aren’t set guidelines for what to say or do, there are definite “do not.”

Do Not Look Down on Them

It is normal for siblings of addicts to be upset and angry. But, it’s also important to understand that addiction is a chronic disease. Your brother or sister didn’t wake up one day and decide to develop a substance use disorder. So, do not blame them or look down on them for using drugs or alcohol. There are enough shame and stigma surrounding addiction – they just need support from you.

Do Not Ignore the Problem

Growing up, you never imagine you will be learning how to deal with an alcoholic brother. For this reason, it can be hard to accept. It can be easy, though, to ignore the signs, make excuses for your sibling, and downplay the severity of the addiction. Remember, substance use disorder is a progressive disorder that will only worsen if ignored. 

Do Not Force Them to Quit

Tough love and ultimatums hardly ever work when trying to get a sibling to seek treatment. Even if they go to treatment after being forced, they typically leave after the cravings become unbearable. Remember, no one can have a successful recovery until they are ready. 

Do Not Enable Them

It is easy to want to fix everything when addiction starts unraveling your sibling’s life. But, with any addiction, there’s a fine line between helping and enabling. Pay attention to your actions and ask yourself, am I helping them get better or enabling them to continue using drugs or alcohol. Common enabling behaviors include:

  • Giving them money
  • Paying their bills
  • Lying for them
  • Bailing them out of trouble
  • Excusing their behavior

Do Not Give Up

It is common for siblings of addicts to get frustrated when their sibling refuses to accept help. But, do not give up on them if they relapse or refuse help. Often, when siblings of addicts give up on their brother or sister, they will likely give up on themselves. The journey to recovery is challenging, but it is not impossible with a strong support system.

5 Tips on How to Deal With a Drug Addict Sister

Now that you know some things not to do as siblings of addicts, it’s time to learn a few things you can do. 

Educate Yourself About Substance Use Disorder

If you have never been exposed to anyone with an addiction, you may have some misinformation about what it is and how it affects users. While learning how to deal with a drug addict sister, it’s crucial to inform yourself of its effects and how to help positively. At Sana Lake, we can answer all your addiction questions and provide information on helping your sibling achieve recovery. 

Address Your Sibling About Their Addiction

The addiction issue will not go away by simply ignoring it. Although confronting your sibling about their drug or alcohol use can be intimidating, it’s an essential conversation that needs to be had sooner rather than later. A few ways to prepare for this talk include speaking to a professional, choosing the right time, and writing down what you want to say. Remain calm, be honest, and let them know you will always support their recovery.

Research Treatment Options

There are still things you can do even if your sibling isn’t ready to accept help. For instance, you can research different treatment programs such as evidence-based, research-based, and holistic therapies. Explore all the options to helping your sibling. The more you learn, the more equipped you are when your sibling is ready to accept help.

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries or lines that can not be crossed is essential in protecting your mental and spiritual wellbeing. Siblings of addicts typically set boundaries such as not using drugs or alcohol around them, imposing curfews, and refusing to help them with financial or legal troubles. If you do set boundaries, it is crucial to stick to the consequences if lines are crossed. If you don’t, your sibling doesn’t have a reason to change. 

Practice Self-Care

Siblings of addicts often forget to take care of themselves because they are always worried about their siblings. It is vital to practice self-care daily, or your sibling’s addiction will take a toll on you as well.  Self-care can include eating healthy, exercising, reading a book, and meditating. The happier you are, the more you can help your sibling.

Using an Interventionist to Help with How to Deal With a Drug Addict Sister or Alcoholic Brother

Hiring an interventionist and holding an intervention may help to get your sibling into treatment. An interventionist will guide you through a successful intervention and arrange treatment. The main steps to an intervention generally include:

  • Making a plan
  • Gather information
  • Build the intervention team
  • Choose specific consequences
  • Take notes
  • Hold an intervention
  • Follow up with the intervention team

Hopefully, with the help of an intervention team, your brother or sister will accept help and successfully complete treatment. 

Let Sana Lake Recovery Help Your Family Heal

Whether you are siblings of addicts or the sibling who needs addiction treatment, we can help. At Sana Lake Recovery, we offer residential and outpatient dual diagnosis treatment programs. We also offer detox, relapse-prevention, and transitional housing to ensure Recovery for Life. Find out more about our wide range of treatment programs by contacting us today. 

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.