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5 Things to Know as the Sibling of an Addict

5 Things to Know as the Sibling of an Addict

Addiction does not only affect one person; it impacts a string of relationships, including those in the addict’s family. Seeing a sibling fall prey to addiction can seem surreal. Suddenly, you may realize that you no longer recognize your brother or sister as they have become a different person.

Addiction’s effect on siblings is a niche aspect of addiction that is often overlooked, but is equally vital in addiction treatment approaches. These approaches include family addiction support and therapy, which can pave the way for healing, not only for the person with addiction but for the loved ones, too.

In this blog, we’ll discuss five important things to keep in mind if your sibling is struggling with substance abuse. 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
  • Resentment if they feel that their own needs were neglected
  • 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 human reactions. They do not necessarily make you an immoral person or a heartless family member. While your sibling is struggling to cope with their addiction, you are too. It’s important to voice your feelings to ensure that your needs are being met.

Family addiction

2. Addiction Is a Disease, Not Bad Behaviour

The first step to truly and fully understanding your sibling’s situation is 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 or snap out of after getting reprimanded or punished.

“At its core, addiction isn’t just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem. It’s a brain problem whose behaviours manifest in all these other areas. Many behaviours driven by addiction are real problems and sometimes criminal acts. But the disease is about brains, not drugs. It’s about underlying neurology, not outward actions,” Dr. Michael Miller, the former president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), explains.

Addiction is a treatable, chronic or long-term medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People struggling turn to excessive consumption of alcohol and illicit drugs or compulsively engage in harmful behaviours. Like heart disease and cancer, a sibling struggling with addiction can recover and go to remission, and family addiction support plays a pivotal role in that.

3. Educating Yourself About Addiction Is Key

Dealing with an addict in the family can be physically and emotionally consuming. It can get to a point where your sibling’s behaviour and the cascading consequences can become frustrating.

While it may seem like there is nothing you can do about it, you can control how you are going to 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 will power.

Separate facts from opinion. As much as possible, steer clear from reading random personal accounts online or from stories shared by friends while you are 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 Ask a Therapist.

Alcohol addiction treatment Toronto

4. Do Not Keep It a Secret

Who else knows about your sibling’s addiction aside from you?

Keeping it a secret is not going to help them at all. Whether you are doing it as a favour or to protect them from the wrath of your parents and the repercussions of their actions, not telling anyone can do more harm than good. The longer you cover for them, the more they can succumb to addiction and the further they are from getting the addiction treatment that they need.

Frequently, it’s younger siblings who have second thoughts about speaking out about their older brother or sister’s drug or alcohol abuse. They feel scared about making their older sibling angry and getting into trouble. Alternatively, they may be dealing with being gaslighted, ignored, and dismissed as making a big deal out of nothing.

You do not have to carry this burden alone, especially if you are only a child or teenager. Confide to an adult that you can trust. Who can you tell if you are concerned that your sibling is abusing drugs or alcohol? There are a lot of people that you can talk to if you find yourself in this situation. These include your parents, teachers, school guidance counsellor, or a church pastor.

If you’re the older sibling who notices your brother or sister might be struggling with addiction, don’t shrug it off as them just “having fun.” Spark conversations that will encourage your sibling to open up. Ask questions about their social life, friends they’re hanging out with, or if there are any problems, he or she may be having. Do not accuse or assume anything yet. Listening without prejudice and gaining your brother’s or sister’s trust is essential in making them consider the possibility of addiction treatment.

5. Don’t Lose Yourself in the Process

Helping your sibling through the rehabilitation and recovery process of addiction can take its toll. It’s important that you take care of yourself as well as your sibling during this time. Here are some ways you can help yourself throughout this process:

Set Clear Boundaries

Do not tolerate abuse in any way, shape, or form. Avoid making excuses and enabling your sibling’s behaviour by setting boundaries. Do not feel obligated to listen to topics that you find too graphic or sensitive. Do not follow them to unsafe places or rescue them from situations that put you in harm’s way. Your safety and wellbeing is important too.

Do Not 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 foods, exercise, or play sports. Strive to get a good 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 win and lose a battle against addiction every single day can be overwhelming at times. If you find yourself feeling depressed, drained, and 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 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 on your sibling’s recovery. That’s not how it works. The results of addiction treatment are not immediate; it’s more often than not a continuous work in progress. Continue school, keep working, go out and see your friends, watch a movie, read a great book. Live your own life.

Family Addiction Support

Remember, you cannot single-handedly save your sibling from addiction. All you can do is to show compassion and support. You can encourage them to think about seeking professional help and addiction treatment. Initiate the idea to sign up for therapy as a family or to join family addiction support groups. Doing so might make it feel less isolating for them and might also help unpack bottled up emotions and address underlying triggers in the family.

For more information about family addiction support groups and our family therapy sessions, please reach out to Freedom from Addiction.


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