Teen Addiction Traumatizes Younger Siblings

The Betty Ford Center Children's Program reminds parents that summer is the time teens and young adults are most likely to try drugs and alcohol for the first time.

CENTER CITY, MINN. (July 19, 2016)—The unlimited freedom that summer provides for many preteens and young adults sometimes leads to first-time use of alcohol or drugs, which can open the door to the addiction trap and traumatize families, particularly younger siblings.  Two recent studies by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Teen Study, Young Adult Study) indicate that June and July are when experimentation with these dangerous substances peaks.

"What is disturbing is that on an average June or July day, more than 11,000 adolescents use alcohol for the first time," says Jerry Moe, National Director of the Children's Program, part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. "This can have lasting negative effects on younger kids who see their older siblings engaging in this behavior."

Moe has closely observed the effects that addiction has on younger brothers and sisters. These range from feeling forgotten by the family to being bullied by siblings trapped by addiction. Many kids who have completed the Children's Program report that older siblings sometimes:

  • Steal from younger siblings for alcohol and drug money
  • Bully younger brothers and sisters
  • Exhibit dramatic behavior changes  
  • Lie to parents and demand silence from siblings
  • Experience trauma by watching the addicted family member suffer the consequences of their illness

Often the younger brothers and sisters feel forgotten when the family is focused solely on the child trapped by addiction. Some children have expressed exasperation and wondered aloud if they also had to resort to alcohol and other drug use to gain the attention of their parents.

"When the family dynamic breaks down due to addiction, the youngest children are sometimes left to fend for themselves," says Moe. "What must be done and what we do at the Betty Ford Center Children's Program is teach children coping mechanisms. They must know that they aren't to blame for an older sibling's addiction."

The SAMHSA studies show that adolescents and young adults without much adult supervision during the summer find time to experiment with multiple substances. The best preventions are expanding awareness of the risks of alcohol and other mind-altering substances, providing alternative activities to drug and alcohol use and stepping up legal enforcement for preventing sales to minors. Parents are reminded that they should reinforce the risks involved with mind altering substance use throughout the year.

"When we work with families at the Betty Ford Center Children's Program, we find that many parents or siblings with addiction problems began using early in life," says Moe. "This has lasting impacts on younger children or siblings of those affected by addiction. As a result, these younger children are at greater risk for becoming addicted themselves as well as experiencing mental health problems."

The Betty Ford Center Children's Program serves children 7-12 years old and is offered in Denver, Dallas and Rancho Mirage, California. The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation also provides addiction treatment services for adolescents and young adults ages 12-25 near the Twin Cities. Also, Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation facilities offer family programs and/or counseling services to entire families struggling with the effects of alcohol and other drug addiction.

About the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation helps people reclaim their lives from the disease of addiction. It is the nation's largest nonprofit treatment provider, with a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center. With 16 sites in California, Minnesota, Oregon, Illinois, New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Colorado and Texas, the Foundation offers prevention and recovery solutions nationwide and across the entire continuum of care for youth and adults. It includes the largest recovery publishing house in the country, a fully-accredited graduate school of addiction studies, an addiction research center, an education arm for medical professionals and a unique children's program, and is the nation's leader in advocacy and policy for treatment and recovery. Learn more at www.HazeldenBettyFord.org and on Twitter @hazldnbettyford.

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