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How to Help A Sibling Struggling With Addiction

Having a sibling with addiction is one of the most heart-rendering things you can go through. In fact, watching any loved one go through addiction is unspeakably difficult. You can see the problem, you know something has to be done, but you feel powerless to actually help. This is something of a mirror image to the way an addicted person feels about their own situation. They know something isn’t quite right, and they’d really like to make the necessary changes to get themselves back on track, but there’s something there that simply won’t allow that to happen. A mental block of sorts is there. Most people aren’t able to overcome that mental block on their own. It’s never as simple as just quitting because you want to. And usually the addict themselves knows there is a problem. They’re just unable to take care of it on their own Their brains won’t allow them to simply “kick the habit.” That’s why it is important for the friends, family and loved ones of an addict to get involved and help. And that’s especially true for a sibling. Siblings have a unique relationship with one another. Siblings keep secrets for one another. There’s a good chance that you’ve probably covered for your sibling at one point in the past, keeping a secret to keep them out of trouble or giving them advice about things they can’t talk to other people about. That’s a close, and important, bond of trust. And it may be all-important if your brother or sister has become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Any family member can find addiction support for the person in their life that struggles from addiction, but siblings have something special about them.

How Siblings Are Different As Addiction Support

Addiction is a disease and a particularly pervasive one that has a strong defense mechanism. Diseases know when you’re trying to kill them, and they do everything in their power to keep themselves going. Addiction is no different. Addiction’s defense mechanism is denial. That’s why more often than not, addicted people don’t actually identify as addicted. In fact, they tend to assume they don’t have a problem at all. That’s because their brain has been altered to the point that their addicted state feels like their normal state. They feel like “themselves” when they’re high, and they feel like something’s missing when they’re not. That’s the trap – the feeling that everything is okay as long as they keep their supply going. That’s a trap people have a hard time pulling out of themselves. They need someone they trust to help them see what they can’t see for themselves. That’s where a good sibling comes into play.

What You Can Do As a Sibling in Support

Now, brothers and sisters are all different, and they maintain different sorts of relationships with each other. Furthermore, your relationship with your brother or sister is likely far different as an adult than it was when you were growing up. It’s entirely possible you don’t know them as well as you used to, and they hold other people (like a spouse or children) much closer than you at this point in their lives. That’s okay. This isn’t about you being the closest person to them, this is about you being there for them when they need it. Your position as a sibling is unique because it is often one of trust without consequences. An addict may hide their addiction from a spouse or significant other, for fear of hurting them. They don’t want their children to know, either. And you both know how your mother or father will react. But a sibling? Maybe your relationship is different, but lots of people don’t feel as much pressure to keep up appearances with a sibling. Siblings can confide in each other with fewer consequences – less judgment, less risk of it damaging the relationship. Siblings tend to tell each other things they’d never share with their parents – although mothers often know these things anyway. This puts you, as a sibling, in a unique position. You have familial ties already, and it’s not like you’ve never fought before, so you can actually get them talking and help them break down their problem. Now, that doesn’t mean you can do it all by yourself, but you might be able to get things started. Here’s how you do that.

The Don’ts of Getting Your Sibling Help With Addiction

There are undoubtedly some effective ways to approach an addicted sibling that are more effective than others. Needless to say, your ultimate goal, if you’re going to confront your sibling about their substance abuse, is to convince them to seek help. Don’t lose sight of that goal. Depending on how long you’ve been dealing with this sibling, you may be just about at the end of your patience with them. If that’s the case, you’re probably ready to explode with frustration. That’s totally normal, and it’s totally understandable. This is why we say that addiction affects everyone, not just the person using. Addiction is a difficult thing for everybody to deal with, and it leaves a very wide trail of damage – one which you are most likely caught in. That’s why it’s important to keep your eyes on the prize here. Your goal isn’t to vent on your sibling for everything they’ve done to you. It’s to get them help. Here are some things to NOT do when you’re talking with your brother or sister about their addiction:

  • lecture them
  • yell or berate them
  • criticize
  • use guilt
  • name call
  • blame them
  • throw the past in their face

These are all things that might make you feel better, but they won’t improve the situation. You may think you’re just giving them a dose of tough love, but “tough love” is proven time and again to be not only unhelpful but directly harmful to recovery. All you do by taking the “tough love” approach is drive your loved one into anxiety and depression – two of the strongest risk factors for substance abuse and addiction. Remember that your sibling probably got addicted to their substance of choice because they were trying to escape stress. If you add to their stress, what do you think will happen?

The Dos of Getting Your Sibling Help With Addiction

Rather than trying to guilt them or berate them into getting help, use compassion and understanding. Express your concern for what they’re doing to themselves. Try to understand where they’re coming from. Many addicts have the origins of their addiction rooted in some deep issues from their past. You may be closer to those issues than most, especially considering how teenage drug usage raises the risk of addiction later in life. That doesn’t mean you should blindly pry into a sore subject, but remember that the issues you’re seeing go far beyond “won’t stop using drugs.” No matter how frustrated or fed up you may be, keep your goal clear – you want your sibling to get help. Express your love, support, and compassion for their situation, and never give up on them until they get the help they need. It may not happen the first time, but with persistence, they will listen. Even if the best thing you can do is convince them to take an addiction assessment, that’s a good start. There’s a good chance they’re in denial about their addiction. Convince them to take an assessment, by daring them to “prove you wrong.” They may agree just to settle the argument, and they may be shocked by what they find.

Getting Support For Yourself as the Sibling of an Addict

You are not the only one suffering through the pain of having a loved one struggling with addiction or in recovery. Siblings, spouses, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, and anyone else that has been affected by addiction, it can be a difficult thing to cope with. You’ve probably been affected by their mood swings, lies, and questionable decision making at best. At worst, you may have been on the receiving end of acts of violence, theft, or other crimes, as their addiction convinced them to ignore consequences in favor of feeding the beast. For the people closest to those in recovery, family support is available. In fact, maintaining and repairing personal connections during recovery is an incredibly important part of the process, as is developing new ones. As a result, many evidence-based rehab centers will design their recovery plans with families in mind. In many cases, there will even be special family-related events and family counseling. These can be the times when you discuss all the grievances you may have wanted to unload on them when you were convincing them to seek help. It is, after all, important for a recovering addict to confront the reality of what they’ve done during their addiction. Addiction doesn’t just hurt the addict, it hurts the people around them. But counseling provides a place to discuss that damage and begin to reconcile and heal it, without turning it into a counter-productive confrontation.

Other Support Groups For the Recovering Addict’s Loved Ones

Beyond the rehab clinic itself, there are other organizations, like Al-Anon, Alateen, and Nar-Anon, which are branches of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. These organizations are geared specifically to family members of recovering alcoholics and drugs addicts. Getting to know others who understand and share in your pain can be an eye-opening experience, and can help you gain a sense of community, where you may have felt alone before. More tangibly, people in these groups have been dealing with addiction for a long time, and they often have strategies for coping with a bad situation that can help others going through the same thing. These options may not all work for you, but it’s important that you remember that just is there is help for your brother and sister, there is help for you, too. They can get better, you can help them, and you can absolutely get your relationship with them back to how it was. Just remember to stay persistent, compassionate, and patient. Have you had experience dealing with an addicted sibling in the past? What advice do you have for someone going through the same thing now? Leave us a comment below – your advice just might get someone through a tough day.


Sotonoff, J. (2012, July 12). Siblings of drug addicts face unique pain. Retrieved May 08, 2017, from Welcome to Al-Anon Family Groups. Retrieved May 08, 2017, from Home. (n.d.). Retrieved May 08, 2017, from