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A sister comforts her brother suffering from substance abuse disorder

How To Help A Sibling with Addiction: 5 Things To Know

Addiction doesn’t just affect the individual experiencing substance abuse. It affects those around them as well, including their families.

Siblings of people with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) are especially affected because they tend to struggle with various conflicting emotions: shame, resentment, guilt, confusion, and hurt all at the same time. They also tend to feel frustrated about not knowing how to help a sibling with addiction.

In this blog, we’ll discuss five things you should keep in mind if your sibling is struggling with substance abuse and how reminding yourself of these five things can make you a strong support for your sibling.

Let’s get started.

1. Your Feelings Are Valid

Siblings of someone battling substance or alcohol abuse usually find themselves conflicted and struggling with being:

  • Powerless about the situation;
  • Clueless as to how to support their sibling without getting hurt;
  • Anxious about becoming addicted themselves;
  • Ashamed of having thoughts of running away from it all;
  • Resentful that their own needs are neglected; and
  • Pressured to be the opposite of their sibling to appease parents or “save” the family’s name from disgrace.

If you find yourself burdened with a mix of these emotions, know that these are rational and normal human reactions. They don’t make you an immoral person or a heartless family member.

While your sibling is struggling to cope with their addiction, you’re struggling in your own way too. It’s important to voice your feelings to ensure that your needs are being met.

2. Addiction Is a Disease, Not Bad Behaviour

The first step to fully understanding your sibling’s situation is by accepting the fact that addiction is a medical condition. It’s not bad behaviour or a series of bad choices that someone can simply stop making. 

People struggling with SUD compulsively exhibit harmful behaviours which is why others mistakenly think it’s a behavioural issue. But according to experts, addiction, at its core, is a brain disease that affects the brain’s neurology. 

The disease expresses itself through compulsive behaviour—but it’s not a social, moral, or criminal problem in itself. 

Can it be cured?

Treatment involves complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and the individual’s life experiences. But like heart disease and cancer, it’s a treatable condition that a person can go into remission for or recover from.

a brother consoles their sibling

3. Educating Yourself About Addiction Is Key

Dealing with a sibling suffering from SUD can be physically and emotionally consuming. It can get to a point where your sibling’s behaviour and its consequences can become frustrating.

While it may seem like there’s nothing you can do about it, you can control how you react and respond by becoming well-informed about addiction as a disease. The more you educate yourself about your sibling’s addiction—its traits, triggers, red flags, and possible addiction treatment options—the more objective, strategic, and effective you will be in handling these difficult situations.

  • Pay attention to your loved one’s addiction. What is he/she specifically addicted to? Do your research by reading reputable addiction resources online. There are countless published scientific articles and other informative materials detailing the efficacy of various addiction treatment methods and why quitting alcohol or substance abuse takes more than willpower.
  • Separate facts from opinion. Steer clear from reading random personal accounts online or stories shared by friends while you’re in the early stages of educating yourself about addiction. Despite their good intentions, exposing yourself to these channels pose a risk of misinformation, which can potentially cloud your judgement and your ability to help your family member.

If you have specific questions surrounding your sibling’s addiction, you can always ask a therapist.

4. Don’t Keep It a Secret

Who else knows about your sibling’s addiction aside from you? Keeping it a secret isn’t going to help. 

Whether you’re doing it as a favour or to protect them from your parents, not telling anyone can do more harm than good. The longer you cover for them, the more they could succumb to substance abuse, and the farther they are from getting the help they need.

Often, it’s younger siblings who have second thoughts about speaking out about their older brother or sister’s substance use disorder. They tend to feel scared about making their older sibling angry. Alternatively, they may be dealing with being gaslighted, ignored, or dismissed as someone who’s making a big deal out of nothing.

You don’t have to carry this burden alone. Confide in an adult you can trust. It could be your parents, teachers, close relative, school guidance counsellor, or church pastors.

If you’re the older sibling who notices your brother or sister struggling with substance abuse, don’t shrug it off as them just “having fun.” Encourage them to open up. Ask questions about their social life, friends they’re hanging out with, or if they’re dealing with any personal problems.  

Don’t immediately accuse them of anything. Listening without prejudice and gaining your sibling’s trust is essential in making them consider the possibility of treatment.

 two sisters on a couch discuss addiction treatment

5. Don’t Lose Yourself in the Process

Figuring out how to help a sibling with addiction isn’t easy. But it’s important that you take care of yourself as well as your sibling during their rehabilitation and recovery journey. Here are some ways you can help yourself throughout this process:

Set Clear Boundaries

Don’t tolerate abuse in any way, shape, or form. Avoid making excuses and enabling your sibling’s behaviour by setting boundaries. Don’t feel obligated to listen to topics you find too graphic or sensitive. Don’t follow them to unsafe places or attempt to rescue them from risky situations that could put you in harm’s way. If this happens, call for medical help instead. Remember, your safety and well-being are important too. 

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Your Health

Don’t feel guilty about making your health a priority. You won’t be able to give your sibling the support they need if you’re not taking care of yourself first. 

Stick to a healthy and active lifestyle. Eat nutritious food, exercise, or play sports. Strive to get enough sleep every night. Believe it or not, when we make it a point to care for ourselves physically, we also reap the benefits emotionally and mentally.


Watching a loved one battle substance abuse every single day can be overwhelming at times. If you find yourself feeling depressed, drained, or close to giving up because of all the chaos at home, reach out and open up to someone you can trust. 

Talk to a close friend. See the guidance counsellor in school. If you don’t have access to these people or you feel uncomfortable sharing something so personal, keep a daily journal where you can let out all the feelings inside you.

Don’t Stop Doing the Things You Love

You can’t hit pause on your own life and dedicate everything you’ve got to your sibling’s recovery. That’s not how it works. 

The results of substance abuse treatment are not immediate—it’s usually a continuous work in progress. So keep going to school, keep working, go out and see your friends, watch a movie, read a book, and live your own life. You have to know how to maintain the right balance between caring for yourself and looking out for your loved ones. 

Four siblings help each other get through substance abuse together

Help Yourself So You Can Help Your Sibling Conquer Addiction

If you want to know how to help a sibling with addiction, you have to understand that you can’t single-handedly save them on your own.

You can listen, show compassion, and encourage them to consider seeking professional helpBut most importantly, helping yourself is one of the best ways of being a strong, capable supporter of your sibling.

You can also sign up for therapy as a family to pave the way for healing, not only for the person with addiction but for their loved ones, too.

Freedom From Addiction renders quality care, medical drug and alcohol detox, and a serene atmosphere for achieving freedom from drugs and alcohol in the GTA. Reach out to us to know more about family addiction support groups and therapy sessions.


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