The Struggles of Siblings of Addicts

Substance use disorder typically wreaks chaos on families. However, siblings of addicts may endure the most neglect and emotional pain. Whether dealing with an alcoholic sibling as an adult or a child, the damage may be healed with addiction treatment

The Sibling Bond

The bond between siblings can be powerful when a family has healthy dynamics. Siblings have a special relationship. They depend on each other as friends and confidants because they understand each other’s lives and experiences.

When dealing with an alcoholic sibling, the relationship changes and can be confusing. Additionally, being siblings of addicts is like riding a rollercoaster. For instance, the person you once idolized is angry one moment and their fun-loving self another minute.

On the other hand, sometimes siblings don’t have a strong bond. And, adding addiction to the mix further damages the relationship. In either case, dealing with an alcoholic sibling is exhausting and painful. 

Addiction creates a ripple effect within the family. But siblings of addicts feel the pain in unique ways. As a result, they may be resistant to talking about their thoughts and feelings.

The Effects of Being Siblings of Addicts

Substance use disorder causes siblings to experience changes in their own lives and their relationships. The trust has been broken by addiction. And, the tight-knit relationship is now falling apart. 

Siblings of addicts may express anger and blame toward their sibling. This behavior can be a result of their addicted sibling pulling away from them. Additionally, the sibling with addiction may shut their other siblings out wholly. 

As siblings of addicts, you may feel down or scared of your sibling’s addiction. These feelings can be challenging to process. For example, you understand that addiction is a chronic disease, and you should be there for them. However, you also know your sibling’s actions and behaviors have created the problem.

siblings with addiction

Your Sibling Chooses Addiction Over You

Over time, it can feel like siblings of addicts are the second choice to drugs and alcohol. However, your sibling doesn’t care more about drugs. By learning about and understanding addiction, you will discover it has nothing to do with you. 

Broken Trust

When dealing with an alcoholic sibling, you may believe their promises the first dozen times. But, eventually, their lack of commitment and broken promises leads to broken trust. Even after recovery, it can be hard to trust them. 

Enabling Parents

Parents of children with substance use disorder may enable the addiction leading to dysfunctional parent/child relationships. As a result, the siblings of addicts can become angry. Furthermore, a parent’s focus is typically on the addicted sibling. This neglect can lead to siblings of addicts feeling invisible and abandoned.

Unsure of How to Act

Dealing with an alcoholic sibling can leave you choosing which path to take. Some siblings of addicts become the “family clown,” making light of everything. At the same time, others may become perfectionists to block out the hurt and shame. But, some siblings begin using drugs or alcohol in hopes of receiving some of the attention.

It is normal for siblings of addicts to feel scared, hurt, and uncertain. And although it won’t be easy, there are ways to support your sibling and family healthily.

Impact on Adult Siblings of Addicts

Adult siblings have spent a lifetime making memories together. When one sibling struggles with addiction, the others struggle with coping with the changes. They may feel betrayed because the drugs or alcohol is causing their sibling to withdraw from them. 

Siblings of addicts may feel guilty if they introduced drugs or alcohol to their addicted sibling. In addition, siblings of addicts may feel angry for not being there to stop the downward spiral. As a result, siblings of addicts may pill away to take care of themselves.

siblings in rehab

Impact on Younger Siblings of Addicts

Younger siblings of addicts often do not understand addiction. But, they worry about their older sibling. When they hear talk about treatment, they may be scared you won’t come back, or it’s their fault. Because they don’t fully understand addiction, they may worry you will die, or they will also struggle with addiction.

Younger siblings may look up to older siblings and try to mimic them. When older siblings use drugs or alcohol, they see it as “cool” and want to do it. The use of drugs or alcohol limits the ability to make wise choices, so young siblings shouldn’t be exposed. 

Recognizing Substance Use Disorder in a Sibling

A sibling struggling with substance use disorder become a shell of who they were. And although they try to hide it, siblings can typically spot the changes. When addiction continues, the problems in the family become apparent. 

Signs you are dealing with an alcoholic sibling include:

As scary and challenging as it may be, confronting your sibling is the best way to handle it. Additionally. It can be the moment they see they need addiction treatment. But, this must be done with fragile hands. Attacking or blaming a sibling may make things worse and push them further away.

Approach with Care and Understanding

A difficult part of dealing with an alcoholic sibling is getting them to admit they have a problem. Most people who struggle with substance use disorder try hard to hide their problems. Furthermore, denial is a significant part of addiction.

Because of the denial, they’re not seeing the damage being caused. For example, the oldest sibling may cause the most damage. In comparison, younger siblings of addicts may have permanent damage from dealing with an alcoholic sibling. Younger siblings may also struggle with addiction.


Tips on approaching a sibling with substance use disorder include:

Stop Enabling

When you are siblings of addicts, you often question if you are helping or enabling. Enabling is doing things for people with an addiction that they would otherwise do for themselves if they were sober. In contrast, helping is doing something for someone they could not or would not do for themself if sober. 

In addition, enabling protects users from the consequences of addiction. While helping a loved one means letting them face the consequences. It is always best to stop enabling if you are because it does more harm than good.

Time for an Intervention

If approaching a sibling about their addiction is unsuccessful, it may require an intervention. With a 90 percent success rate in seeking treatment, an intervention is a great choice when dealing with an alcoholic sibling. Treatment centers such as Sana Lake Recovery offer interventions and family support. 

An intervention is a planned conversation between someone struggling with substance use disorder and their loved ones. Interventions can help users understand how their addiction affects loved ones. Although no one can force someone to change their mind, the focus is to bring it to their attention. 

Interventions are not easy. They can be emotionally draining and challenging. For this reason, the setting should be comfortable for all involved. Along with a professional, loved ones communicate the negative ways addiction impacts them—all of this in hopes that a loved one seeks treatment.

The Role of Siblings of Addicts in Seeking Recovery

After a successful intervention, the fight for a better life is on. For siblings of addicts, this means you will be needed more than ever. Siblings of addicts may have the most influence on recovery. Besides showing love, compassion, and understanding, there are other things a sibling can do to help. 

Tips to helping your sibling include:

When siblings of addicts support their loved ones, it gives them the strength to continue their recovery journey. But, remember to set boundaries and not enable them. Addiction treatment can rebuild sibling bonds and build healthier lives. 

Get Help For Yourself when Dealing with an Alcoholic Sibling

Siblings of addicts aren’t the only ones struggling with a loved one fighting addiction. There are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and friends affected by addiction. For every person, this can be difficult to cope with. 

The Sibling Bond

Dealing with an alcoholic sibling means dealing with lies, mood swings, and terrible decision making. It can also result in violence, theft, or other crimes. Addiction convinces users nothing is more important than the addiction. As a result, siblings of addicts can benefit from various therapies and support groups.

Support Groups for Siblings of Addicts

Beyond family therapies at treatment centers, there are organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). These support groups are focused on healing and supporting the family and friends of those struggling with substance use disorder. 

Meeting other people with the same struggles can be eye-opening. Above all, you gain a sense of community when you felt so alone. Similarly, some members have been dealing with addiction for years and may have great coping options. 

Help Is Waiting at Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center

Being siblings of addicts can be confusing, painful, and overwhelming. However, the situation is not hopeless. Sana Lake BWC offers holistic and traditional treatment of substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health disorders. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, we are waiting to help. Contact us today to find out more.