Siblings with addiction can create a struggle between how best to support them and how to avoid enabling their addictive behaviors. Going through this struggle is unbearable for some siblings as they watch the person they have known for their entire lives change before their eyes. The problem is there but no solution. There is no cure so powerlessness sets in when it comes to helping. To make change requires patience and persistence from all the people in that loved one’s life. Siblings included. Find out how siblings are impacted by addiction and ways to best support a loved one in need.
Why Siblings Should Help
Nobody is closer to a brother or sister than their siblings. They grow up together, spend time doing activities, and even tell each other their secrets. They defend one another against their parents and sometimes become the best of friends. Denial is strong with addiction so when a sibling is addicted, they may deny anything is wrong. This makes it hard for siblings to help. The trap is feeling like everything must be fine – until it is not. Siblings should help their loved one but doing it the right way is not always easy. Enabling and allowing their addiction to continue is not helpful. A sibling’s position is unique in how they can help a brother or sister through most anything. That is why siblings are equipped to help in a way nobody else can.
How to Help
There are healthy ways to help someone with addiction and less healthy ways. Even though siblings are uniquely equipped in their situation to help, it means finding boundaries to avoid creating further damage to the relationship. The most effective way to help someone with an addiction is to confront them about substance use. If they need help, they may tell a sibling before telling anyone else. Don’t lose focus on getting a sibling to admit the need for help. They may deny a problem exists (many times) but keep at it. Work hard to push them until they are ready to talk about it or find a professional interventionist for support. Some other ways to help might include:
- Don’t spend time lecturing them. This can push them further away and feel isolated. A person with addiction needs to feel they are supposed and loved, rather than seen as a child who needs scolding. Try to work on seeing them as an equal partner in recovery rather than someone who is not capable of managing their life
- Leave criticism at the door. They need support rather than critiques, as hard as it may be
- Keep past in the past. Even though it feels like they are doing these difficult things, it doesn’t mean they should have past thrown in their face when trying to cope with the present issues. The past can keep them trapped, and feeling as if they cannot grow forward, without concern about the family bringing up old issues. Focus, instead, on how to heal and build bridges of understanding to the present and future
- Speak and act with compassion. They need concern about what they are experiencing. Try to understand where they come from but don’t come across as approving of their behavior. Simply let them know where you stand and that they are loved and accepted as they are, even if they need help
- Even if the best thing a person can do is convince that person to take an addiction assessment, that can be a good starting point. Convince them they are not going to experience any harm by trying something different. They may agree to try it and be shocked, themselves, by what they discover
Find Help as a Sibling
Self-care for siblings is very important. People are not suffering alone with addiction. Siblings, spouses, friends, and loved ones all suffer together. Even when their mood swings, deception, and other issues happened, the consequences of their behavior impact everyone. For people closest to them, or caring for them, they may need a lot of self-care. Developing good habits means not letting the person’s needs override your boundaries. Rehab centers focus on family therapy and re-connection. It is important to reach out and put yourself first.
Finding support as a sibling of someone with an addiction can be important. If they don’t go to rehab, or even if they do and relapse, the family still needs additional support. Al-Anon, Alateen, and other branches of AA are available to family members with loved ones who struggle with addiction. Understanding those in pain can be eye-opening. People in these groups deal with addiction for a long time and often need to cope with a bad situation that can help others through the same thing. Even when all the options are available, sometimes it helps to meet with a private therapist and talk about the issues. They can get better. To experience dealing with this means finding a way forward alone and with the sibling. Whether or not they get help should not impact a sibling’s life to the point they lose themselves inside of that other person. It is important they continue to live their life while dealing with the sibling’s addiction. The goal is to find them help but also to continue finding hope in the midst of the challenges they face.
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