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Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring quite often the hard way. ~ Pamela Dugdale

Siblings suffer greatly when their brother or sister is using substances.

They can face a variety of situations when trying to deal with their family’s addiction problem. Here are two examples. I’ve changed the names.

Jason had been in and out of treatment programs, doing well for a time and then relapsing. He had two sisters and a brother. One of the sisters was supportive.

Yet Jason’s brother and sister were resentful and angry about the situation. On several occasions, Jason’s brother got into loud arguments with his parents about the way they were handling the problem. He felt his parents were wasting money and resented how much pain Jason had put their parents through. Jason is now working on his recovery and reestablishing his relationship with his siblings.

Marc also had a rough road to recovery. He moved to a city to be closer to his brother but continued to relapse. Marc often wouldn’t answer his brother’s phone calls or his texts. His family had hoped that this move would be a better situation for Marc, but he continued to use drugs and withdraw from his brother.

Marc’s brother’s wedding day was near. Invitations were sent out. Marc did not receive one. His brother wasn’t sure if he could count on his brother to attend the wedding and remain sober. Also, he felt that some recent family trips had ended up being all about Marc and his problems. Marc’s brother did not want his wedding overshadowed by addiction issues.

You can imagine the pain involved in that decision. Time has passed since that day. Now, Marc continues to work toward building a healthier life.

S.C. Megale describes a scene with her brother, Matt, in her book, American Boy: The Opioid Crisis and the Sister Left Behind.

“He looked at me, stuffing clothes into a bag. His voice was sad.”

“Hi, Birdie.”

Tears filled my eyes. I moved to him.

I still remember how soft his lint covered wool hoodie was as I hugged him. He held me.

“Just promise you’ll never leave me,” I said.

He breathed shakily. But he sounded unsure.

“I won’t.”

Matt overdosed and passed away on March 4, 2017.

Siblings face many challenging scenarios when confronted with the substance use of their sibling. There can be much anger, shame, frustration, and resentment. Some endure the painful loss of their beloved sister or brother.

They feel the despair of the situation, but do not have any control.

Also, siblings can influence each other when it comes to substance use, which complicates the issue.

Siblings can also find themselves in a position of having to cover up for their brother or sister. Or, they may feel the need to tell mom or dad about what their sibling is doing because it seems dangerous. Then, they are left feeling like they’ve lost their siblings’ trust.

Neither of these scenarios is a healthy place to be.

Dealing with substance use can be an extremely turbulent time. Siblings often caught in the crossfire.

A newsletter from Family Drug Help states,  “We often refer to siblings as the ‘forgotten victims’ as they feel the impact of their brother or sister’s drug use just as much as other family members but often don’t have an outlet to express their hurt. Similarly, siblings of drug users are usually overshadowed by the using sibling. The focus rests solely on the problematic child, and the remaining kids are often left wondering, “what about me?”

A sibling can become resentful because of the lack of time and attention they receive while their parents are focused on their child with the drug or alcohol issue.

Another issue that may come up is that a sibling may get frustrated with how a parent is handling the situation. They may feel that their parents are enabling their brother or sister. They may even want different rules put into place. At the same time, they may not understand addiction and the approaches that work best. Siblings do need to work with their parents to help their struggling brother or sister in a healthy way.

As you seek support for the family, don’t leave out siblings. Your other children may put on a brave face because they don’ want to cause you any more pain. But they need help as much as you do. The more everyone understands substance use disorder, the easier it is to be a strong and healthy family.

Common Feelings

An article from the Gateway Foundation states that some common feelings that siblings express are:

  • Helplessness and confusion as to how to best support their sibling
  • Fear that this addiction may run in the family
  • Bitterness if they feel that the addiction and need for attention has diminished attention they themselves receive
  • Shame or guilt if they decide it’s healthiest to cut the addict out of their life
  • The pressure to perform or be perfect in order to mitigate their parent’s disappointment or familial tension


Here are five ways you can help everyone involved get through family substance use disorder.

1. Be clear with your child’s siblings

There may be a temptation to hide the truth of what your child is going through. Depending on the age of the children,  this might be a wise approach to take. In most cases, being transparent and honest with your child is the kindest way to approach the problem.

According to Brené Brown in her book, Dare to Lead, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”

She goes on to say, “Most of us avoid clarity because we tell ourselves we are being kind when actually we are being unkind and unfair. Giving people half-truths or bullshit to make people feel better is almost always about us making ourselves feel more comfortable. That’s unkind.”

Siblings need the problem addressed so that everyone is clear. You can then move forward on getting family support.

2. Address the shame and stigma

One family I talked to was concerned because their younger child was not invited to her friend’s homes any longer. Her friends also were not allowed to visit her house. While this may be considered a safety concern, there is also still plenty of stigma around drug use.

For any child, this can be a heartbreaking, cruel, and traumatic experience to go through because of their sibling’s substance use. For the safety and emotional protection of all concerned, set clear boundaries for what is and is not acceptable behavior. Be sure that all family members understand that recovery is a long-term process. Keep lines of communication open, so that everyone feels as informed as needed.

3. Get family support

The more open you are in discussing the issue, the better. Address the stigma surrounding addiction. Get your child the help they need so that they can better deal with the fallout. Family support is crucial.

For siblings, Alateen holds meetings in many major cities. You can find a meeting in your area here.

SMART Recovery also has meetings for family and friends. Family counseling, together or individually, gives siblings a chance to express their feelings. Outside support can go a long way in reducing resentment around substance use.

4. Pay attention to all your children

Substance use can leave all family members overwhelmed. It is normal to be worried about your child and try to do everything you can to help them change. However, that can leave you little time to focus on your other children. They can then feel shortchanged and resentful. They may be trying to do the right thing, and no one has time to give them their full attention.

Carve out time during your day to focus on your child with substance use issues. Then do your best to put that aside so that you are available to encourage and support your other children. They need you now more than ever.

5. Practice self-care

It will be impossible to help your struggling child and your other children if your cup is not full. Practice self-care so that you can be resilient during the hard times. You will be more able to bounce back so that you are present for your other children.

Acknowledge what your other children are doing well. Spend quality time with them as well as your partner, so that everyone is feeling supported.

Exercise, do fun things by yourself, or with your other children. Find other outlets so that you feel replenished.

Addiction impacts everyone in the family. With a little conscious effort, your child’s siblings can feel part of the solution and have their needs met as well.

regain your hope

By: Cathy Taughinbaugh
Title: 5 Ways to Support Your Struggling Child’s Siblings
Sourced From: cathytaughinbaugh.com/5-ways-to-support-your-struggling-childs-siblings/
Published Date: Sat, 18 Jan 2020 15:09:42 +0000