Addiction is a family disease, but people often focus on the addict's parents when they talk about the impacts of substance abuse. But siblings often feel neglected, forgotten, or even dismissed throughout this process. As much as you may love your brother or sister, you might also be angry or upset about the state of their addiction. You might also feel helpless about your role in being a source of support. These are normal reactions, and here are some ways to cope.
The Effect of Addiction On Siblings
There's no doubt that addiction can have a significant impact on siblings. You may have grown up witnessing the destructive behavior associated with drug or alcohol abuse. At the same time, you might also feel trapped in a storm of emotional distress that permeates throughout your family.
Less focus and attention: If your sibling began struggling with addiction early in life, you may have grown up in an unstable or chaotic home environment. Your parents may have been so preoccupied with your sibling that they didn't have much time for you. This effect can move into adulthood.
Expectations to be strong or perfect: Some families place their children in rigid roles, and the addict can take on the scapegoat part, whereas a sibling might step into the golden child or family hero. For example, you may have felt the need to receive excellent grades to compensate for your sibling's behavior.
Shame and guilt: It's common for all family members to feel guilty about the presence of addiction. You may blame yourself or feel like you should be "doing more" to help your brother or sister.
Codependency: Some people unintentionally engage in enabling behaviors because they don't want to see their siblings struggle. If you struggle with codependency, you may have had to neglect your own needs or lie about your sibling's behavior in an attempt to avoid problems.
Secret addiction problems: Siblings can also struggle with alcohol or drug abuse, but they might be more covert about their problems. This is because you may be reacting to how your parents or other family members dealt with your sibling's addiction.
How to Understand and Support Your Sibling's Addiction Treatment
Having a drug-addicted or alcoholic sibling can take a toll on everyone. Your feelings about your situation are valid. You don't want to see your sibling suffering. On the other hand, it's important to avoid making the situation worse or jeopardizing your own emotional well-being.
Educate yourself on addiction: Take time to learn about addiction as a chronic disease, including its symptoms, impact, and treatment options. While having this education doesn't minimize your emotions or necessarily change the situation, it can help you separate your sibling from their behavior. This also positions you to provide support.
Offer emotional support (if appropriate): Let your addicted sibling know that you care about them and want to be on the same team. Try to listen to their feelings with an open mind and express your concern for their well-being. Remember that denial and defensiveness are common, so try to not take those themes personally.
Discuss meeting with a professional interventionist: Sometimes addicted siblings don't respond well to their family's efforts to help them. However, an interventionist may guide your brother or sister's receptiveness to seek treatment. An intervention team is well-versed in the intersection between substance use disorders and mental illness, and they are also connected to treatment programs that can help your sibling recover.
Set boundaries: It's essential to have limits in your relationships, especially when there is a substance use disorder present. Your boundaries may be physical, emotional, financial, or psychological, and they can change over time. The most important part of boundaries is implementation. People with a drug or alcohol addiction may lie, cheat, or exploit others- it's essential that you stand your ground even if your sibling gets upset with you.
Focus on your own self-care: Addiction affects the entire family system, but no matter how much you care about your sibling's well-being, you also need to focus on your own life. Spend time nurturing your own relationships and hobbies. Consider meeting with a therapist if it's hard for you to prioritize your needs. You can also get connected with support groups intended for loved ones, like Al-Anon.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment at Resurface Group
The reality is that each addiction issue affects each family member differently. Identifying and processing your own emotions is an important part of taking care of yourself and supporting your loved ones.
At Resurface Group, we provide comprehensive mental health treatment for mental illnesses, addictions, and other emotional concerns. Our dynamic treatment program is intended to support the entire family system, and we believe recovery is one of the best gifts you can offer both yourself and your family today. Contact us to learn more.