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How to Help a Sibling Who Is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

How to Help a Sibling Who Is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

In time, our obsession with the addict affects other members of the family, either drawing them into our own emotional turmoil or arousing feelings of neglect, resentment, or anger. Addiction permeates our lives, becoming in a very real sense a family disease.” ~Beverly Conyers, Everything Changes: Help for Families of Newly Recovering Addicts Your siblings are supposed to be the “fun” family members – the ones you can laugh and joke with, but who always have your back when you are in need. That close relationship can be disrupted when your brother or sister has developed a substance abuse disorder – the misuse of prescription medications, illicit drug abuse, or alcoholism. Now it’s time for you to return the favor – you can help your sibling regain their sobriety. By taking action NOW.

First Things First – Recognizing Substance Abuse in Your Brother or Sister

Substance abuse disorders exist on a continuum –from a person who likes to drink or use drugs recreationally on occasion but who has no problem setting them aside to the binge-drinker/user who likes to cut loose on the weekends and who has escaped most serious consequences to a full-blown addict/alcoholic whose life has become unmanageable. Here are some tell-tale signs that your sibling’s alcohol and/or drug consumption is becoming problematic:

  • They have become withdrawn, isolated, and secretive
  • They start lying about where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing, and who they’ve been with
  • Their appearance changes drastically
  • They are having constant money problems
  • Their behavior has become erratic
  • They blow off responsibilities and family obligations
  • They have had run-ins with the law – DUIs, fights, public intoxication, etc.

Educate YOURSELF About Family Addiction

Here is the most important thing to know about addiction—it is a disease. The chemistry of your sibling’s brain has changed to the point that they are compelled to seek addictive substances.

  • It is not a failing or a moral weakness.
  • Addiction means that your sibling can’t “just stop” –it’s beyond his/her control.
  • Addiction is not anyone’s fault—not yours, not your parents’, and not your siblings’. Playing the “blame game” is counter-productive and will get you nowhere.
  • You did not CAUSE it, you cannot CONTROL it, and you can’t CURE it – professional help is needed.
  • You can help, but it is THEIR disease.

Early Intervention Works

The longer an addiction goes on, the more profound the changes within your sibling’s brain will become, and the chance for permanent damage will also increase. It is in their best interest if you and other family members intervene NOW. Research has shown that almost 90% of interventions achieve their goal of convincing the substance abuser to seek professional drug or alcohol rehab.

  • Retain the services of a professional interventionist.
  • Stay positive, supportive, and loving.
  • Stop enabling their behaviors – paying their bills, covering for them, bailing them out of jail, etc.
  • Assemble close family and friends and lovingly– yet firmly – confront your addicted sibling.
  • Each of you clearly conveys to the addict/alcoholic how their disease has negatively impacted your life.
  • For each concern, be sure that the focus is kept on the DISEASE and the need for treatment.
  • Set boundaries that will be enforced if they refuse to get help.

Respect Your Sibling’s Sober Journey

Drug and alcohol rehab is NOT easy – it will take time and effort. Most experts agree that an alcohol rehab program needs to be at least 90 days in duration to maximize the chances of successful recovery. Afterward, there will always be a need for ongoing support and aftercare. There is no cure for addiction. This means that your brother or sister is going to have to make permanent lifestyle changes if they expect to have lasting sobriety, and that sobriety will ALWAYS need to be their top priority. This will result in changes in your relationship– no more beers on Super Bowl Sunday, for example. But any adjustments you make pale in comparison to the benefit of having your sister or brother back.

Recognize That Your Sibling May Have More Going on Than You Know

Many people struggle with substance abuse also have a co-occurring mental health issue – depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or PTSD, among others. Often, these conditions are diagnosed until they begin addiction treatment. Be aware that your sibling may have to deal with such issues at the same time they are participating in an addiction recovery program. Obviously, this can be a stressful time for them. Be patient and supportive. As long as they’re making a genuine effort at recovery, that’s all you can hope for. Be there for them when they feel overwhelmed and encourage them when they are feeling down.

YOU May Need Therapy, too

Many family members of alcoholics and addicts are quite surprised when they learn that they may need to be in their own program of recovery. Addiction is a lonely disease that somehow touches the lives of everyone around the substance abuser. 12-Step fellowship groups like Al-Anon or Narc-Anon can give you the support and inspiration you need. Family therapy overseen by the rehab facility can also be a great way to engage in a healthy dialogue with the substance abuser in order to speed up the healing process. Recovery does work, and it is possible to get your sibling back. With hard work (on their part), loving support (on your part), and patience (on everyone’s part) sobriety, sanity, and serenity can be restored.