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How Your Addiction Can Affect Siblings

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

Medically reviewed by

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

March 1, 2019

Siblings to an addicted individual may experience resentment, blame, shame, confusion, and fear, due to the effects of the addiction, and the strain it places on the sibling bond. These negative mindsets can hinder the addicted person’s recovery and create an immense emotional strain on the sibling.

Addiction puts blinders on you. If you’re suffering from an addiction or currently seeking or receiving treatment, you might be very consumed with your thoughts and emotions. Sometimes this can make it very difficult to see the impact of addiction on others.

The toll of addiction goes far beyond the life of the person struggling with it. Families are hit especially hard, and siblings of all ages can struggle heavily during this period. During this time, the sibling relationship can be deeply challenged, tested, and with the right help, strengthened.

Siblings Have A Unique Bond Which Can Become Strained By Addiction

The relationship between many siblings has its own special language. Together, you’ve experienced a shared history, for better and for worse. On the other hand, some siblings don’t see eye to eye, and substance abuse and addiction only serve to make this disconnect more pronounced. In either case, it can be exhausting, confusing, and painful for your brother or sister to watch your life be consumed by drugs or alcohol.

At this time, you’re both experiencing immense changes in your own lives, and likely within your relationship. Trust may have been broken. What may have once been a tight-knit relationship, may now seem to be falling apart.

If you have a close relationship with your brother or sister, there’s a good chance the relationship is suffering under the addiction. Perhaps your sibling has expressed anger or blame to you. Sometimes siblings may take a step back and not have such an active role in your life. Or maybe they’ve completely shut you out.

When you’re already feeling down, out of sorts, or scared because of your addiction, this can be very hard to process. On one hand, part of you may realize that your actions and behaviors created some of this tension. But on the other, the ways in which you are suffering from the addiction can be so intense, that part of you feels like they should be there for you regardless.

The truth is, you both are hurting. You both deserve a healthy space, support, and love to help you grow and heal during this time. But you must realize that this is hard on your siblings too. Recognizing this fact, and these needs, will help you to maintain these important relationships at a time when you need all the support you can get.

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Understanding Why They Feel Like Their Needs Are Overlooked

In times of crisis, many families come together. But sometimes, the focus on the problem can be so intense that it disregards other issues, or people, who need attention.

If you’re struggling with an addiction, your parents and other loved one’s may be spending a lot of time and energy on helping you. While this is of great benefit to you, and a critical part of the recovery process, it can often leave a sibling feeling adrift and overlooked.

Watching a sibling live within an addicted state can be confusing. Your sibling may have questions which aren’t being answered, fears they don’t understand, or needs which aren’t being met. Because of this, your sibling may withdraw, exhibit anger or other intense emotions, or not support you in the way you think you deserve/need.

First, it isn’t selfish of your brother or sister to feel as if they need support or help during this time. Family members and caregivers (which siblings are sometimes) often suffer physically, mentally, and emotionally when their loved one is struggling with addiction. It’s important you recognize and respect this. If you’re both adults the dynamics of this are different than if your sibling is young.

Adult Siblings: Maybe your adult sibling is going through struggles of their own (such as divorce or the loss of a job), and they need people to support and offer them guidance. Perhaps they’re going through positive life changes (like marriage or the birth of a child) and they feel like they’re not getting the recognition they deserve. All of these circumstances can be made more difficult, or less joyous when you don’t have loved ones to adequately share them with.

Younger Siblings: Sometimes siblings may still be children or teenagers. At these ages, it can be hard to process and understand what is truly going on. Kids have a tendency to blame themselves, even when they have no measure of responsibility for a situation. Everyday moments of life which are important at these ages (homework, playing, school extracurricular activities, etc.) may be set aside while family members are consumed with your addiction. This can leave younger siblings confused and angry.

The Impact Of Addiction On Adult Siblings

Adult siblings have a lifetime of memories and shared experiences with you. When you’re addicted, they might struggle to cope as they realize all they have to lose, should you not recover.  They may even feel betrayed, as you don’t talk or act like the person they remember, or because you’ve withdrawn from them. Your brother or sister might be worried about how their life will change once you go to treatment (e.g. will they have more responsibilities, such as with your parents?).

Perhaps your sibling introduced you to drugs or alcohol, or maybe they weren’t there for you during a large part of your addiction. If either of these things is the case, they might be very angry with themselves.

Sometimes they might take a step back, either out of anger or self-preservation. Both of these circumstances can be confusing. But if it’s the latter you need to realize that your siblings need to take care of themselves, even when it means setting boundaries. By doing so, they’ll be better able to offer you the love and support you need.

The Impact Of Addiction On Younger Siblings

Younger siblings may not fully understand drug abuse and addiction. They may worry about what will happen to you. If they hear you talking about treatment they might fear that you’re going away forever, or that they did something to make you leave. If they have a limited understanding of how addiction affects your health, they may even worry that you’ll die, or that they’ll end up addicted like you.

Younger siblings have a unique risk to consider: they likely look up to you and seek to mimic your behaviors. If you’re using drugs or alcohol, this might glamorize it to them, which can be very dangerous. Addiction can take away the ability to think rationally and make wise decisions but strive to never use or reference drugs or alcohol around siblings at this age.

Depending on your state, it may be helpful to talk to them and offer reassurance. If you don’t feel up to this, or if your physical and mental states are so severe that they would be upsetting, enlist the help of another loved one. Your parents, grandparents, or even an aunt or uncle may be better equipped to sit down and explain things in simpler, more easily digestible terms. They can also offer love, support, encouragement, or a diversion in this trying time.

Positive Ways To Address Issues Caused By Addiction

Communicate Your Needs: Your sibling might be at a loss when it comes to the best way to help you. Try to communicate how they can best help you as you look for treatment, work through a program, or continue within your recovery after treatment ends.

Don’t Offer Them Drugs Or Alcohol: This is especially important with younger siblings, but it holds true with adult siblings as well. Don’t put them in a position to compromise their own health or yours. If they use with you the guilt and blame can rise to crippling extremes.

Establish Boundaries: Boundaries can become blurred during an addiction, especially if your sibling is enabling you. To live more balanced lives, and to maintain a healthier relationship, you both need to vocalize, create, and adhere to healthy boundaries.

Express Your Hurts: To heal you need to be able to express to your siblings how their actions or behaviors hurt you, both in the past and currently, and vice versa.

Listen With An Open Heart: If you’re reeling under blame, shame, anger, or any number of other negative mindsets, it can be difficult to hear what your sibling is saying, either by their words or actions. Try to listen with empathy, and remember that they too are struggling. While some of what they say may be hurtful at first, remember, if done constructively, these conversations can help you heal and build a stronger relationship.

Work Through Your Emotions: Don’t let your emotions spiral out of control, but at the same time don’t bury them inside of you. When you feel upset or sad, try to accept the emotion, understand it, and work through how it makes you feel. Try to develop a positive mindset and make proactive changes in its place.

Consider Family Counseling And Peer Support

A good inpatient treatment program should offer family therapy and support to its clients. While this may be an option, typically the individual in treatment has to accept it. We strongly urge you to consider this option.

During these sessions, you’ll work to develop better coping and communication skills, as well as establishing common, healthy recovery goals. Therapy will help you to work through the negative emotions and hurts you’re both experiencing at this time. It will give you a chance to express your thoughts to them in a constructive way, including ways they may have hurt you.

If your sibling was a negative influence in your life, or if they enabled your addiction, these sessions will help you to heal and create healthier boundaries. Through all of these things, the therapist will be a helpful moderator and direct you towards ways you can change your thoughts or behaviors for the better.

Therapy can also integrate your parents or other loved ones. This way, if there are unhealthy or dysfunctional dynamics involving you all, you can begin to work towards positive changes.

Beyond therapy, a variety of peer support groups exist which can help both you and your siblings. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are two of the most well-known programs, however many others exist. Their counterparts for family members, Al-anon, Nar-Anon, and Ala-Teen, can be great resources for your siblings.

Don’t Take Advantage Of Their Emotional State

Your brother or sister might wonder if they had a hand in causing your addiction or feel overwhelmed, as if it’s their responsibility to fix things. They might suffer from conflicting emotions as they feel the urge to help you, but also find in moments that they want to cover for you. These feelings are not ones you should take advantage of or feed into.

When a person is addicted, they typically have a very narrow focus, centered primarily on drug seeking and using. It can be hard to clearly see what’s going on around you, and also within. It can be doubly hard to accept responsibility for your actions, and easy to blame other people close to you, especially when they blame themselves. Your sibling can be very vulnerable at this time, and it could be easy to take advantage of this, even without realizing it.

Your sibling might go to great lengths to help and support you, at cost to their own health and well-being. The pain and confusion caused from the addiction can make you very vulnerable too. While you might hurt physically from the substance abuse, the pain can extend deep into your mental and emotional states. And when someone is holding a hand out to you, even when it hurts them, it can be far too easy to take more than they have to offer.

Don’t Use Your Siblings As Excuses For Your Behavior

As humans, we have an innate desire to try to rationalize and explain things. When someone has a person they love fade away to addiction, it can be easy to accept whatever answers come your way, even if they’re negative ones.

And you, as the addicted person, in anger, shame, denial, or a different negative mindset, may lash out and blame your sibling for contributing to your addiction. This isn’t fair, and it can be very detrimental to both your well-being and that of your siblings.

If your sibling is trying to help you, this might only serve to alienate you from them. This can effectively cut you off from the love and support you so desperately need. And don’t forget, while you’re confused and hurting, so are they.

Trying to shift the blame their way can make this hurt run even deeper. An addictive lifestyle can color the way you look at yourself and deplete your self-love. In the long run, blaming your sibling without cause will only give you more reasons to be angry with yourself.

Blaming Other People Prevents You From Making A Full Recovery

Even though in the short term, placing blame on someone else may seem easier, in the long term it only serves to worsen the state of your life. A large part of recovery comes from a person accepting their addiction, the state of their life caused by it, and then developing motivation for change.

At the height of addiction, during treatment, or after, blaming other people can quickly poison your recovery and spirit. We can be our own worst enemy, yes, but inversely we can become our strongest asset in the fight for a drug-free life. Addiction pollutes and damages your life, relationships, career, and education.

It can be very difficult to look at these things and accept responsibility for your role in their downfall, let alone stay optimistic. Treatment can be tough, but eventually, you begin to heal and replace the negatives within your life with positives. The sooner you accept addiction and the need for a drug-free life, the sooner your physical, mental, and emotional states will become more healthy.

Reach Out For Help Today

If you’re addicted to any type of drug, including alcohol, our treatment specialists can offer you a confidential assessment today. At, we care, and we want to share more resources for both you and your family members so that you can conquer addiction together. Contact us now.

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