The Impact of Addiction on Siblings

A guide to identify issues and develop your own recovery plan
Kids walking and holding hands
Table of Contents
Each individual in the family needs to seek support and recovery in order to restore the family unit as a whole

The sibling relationship is unique, and when one sibling is addicted, it often brings with it alliances, violations of trust, secrets, hurt, fear, sadness,or resentments. Siblings have been ignored, hurt, manipulated or used by their using sibling. They have been stolen from by their using sibling or kept secret about their use or even been a go between for their parents. Whatever the case, no relationship is left unaffected, especially not the sibling relationship.

Parents have a critical need to understand how siblings have been affected, offer an open ear and support, and encourage them to seek resources for their own recoveries. Support for a struggling sibling could be individual therapy, family therapy, Al anon, Alateen, or another support group for siblings of addicts and alcoholics. Each individual in the family needs to seek support and recovery in order to restore the family unit as a whole.

Questions for Siblings

My sister or brother...

  • Yes / No — gets sick, angry or irritable if she or he runs out of drugs or alcohol.
  • Yes / No — has promised to cut down or quit but didn't keep the promise.
  • Yes / No — talks a lot about getting high or drunk.
  • Yes / No — has tried to quit but it lasted only for a short time.
  • Yes / No — has stolen money or pawned items to buy drugs or alcohol.
  • Yes / No — is gone a lot and avoids family members.
  • Yes / No — sneaks out at night.
  • Yes / No — drives drunk or high.
  • Yes / No — sells drugs.
  • Yes / No — does not talk to me or other family members anymore.
  • Yes / No — gave up sports, arts, or other interests.
  • Yes / No — gets bad grades, skips school or flunked out of college.
  • Yes / No — doesn't do any chores at home.
  • Yes / No — is in trouble with the law.
  • Yes / No — doesn't remember what he or she said or did while high or drunk.
  • Yes / No — yells at me or at parents.
  • Yes / No — says he or she could quit any time but just doesn’t want to.
  • Yes / No — gives reasons and excuses why it's ok to use.
  • Yes / No — gets high before or during school.
  • Yes / No — gets high every day or almost every day.
  • Yes / No — misses work or has lost a job.
  • Yes / No — doesn't always make sense or jumbles his words or thoughts.
  • Yes / No — says he or she wants to quit using alcohol or drugs

Have you had these thoughts or has this happened to you?

  • Yes / No — I preferred my brother or sister keeps using substances than have him or her end up in treatment.
  • Yes / No — I've been concerned about my sibling's substance use but have been afraid to talk to him or her about it.
  • Yes / No — I've thought that my brother or sister would hate me if I told somebody.
  • Yes / No — I've been afraid to be a "narc".
  • Yes / No — I thought my parents overreacted when they sent him or her to treatment.
  • Yes / No — I have felt angry at my parents for spending so much time and money on my brother or sister.
  • Yes / No — I've blamed other things or other people for my brother's or sister's substance use.
  • Yes / No — I have avoided being around my sibling even though I'm worried about him or her.
  • Yes / No — I have thought about my sibling a lot and worried about him or her.
  • Yes / No — I could not sleep at night.
  • Yes / No — I have kept secrets.
  • Yes / No — I have been afraid to upset my sibling because that might cause him or her to use more drugs or alcohol.
  • Yes / No — I have used substances with my sibling.
  • Yes / No — I have felt embarrassed in school because people know that my brother or sister uses drugs or alcohol.
  • Yes / No — I've felt that no one at home really loves me or cares what happens to me.
  • Yes / No — I have not invited friends home because who knows what's going to happen there.
  • Yes / No — I have lied to cover up for my brother or sister.
  • Yes / No — I have really wanted to talk to someone about my brother or sister.

Helpful guidelines for you as the sibling

Answering "yes" to any of these questions means your sibling's use is probably having a negative impact on you.

  • Do not isolate because of addiction
  • Focus on yourself
  • Accept things you can't change
  • Find support
  • Don't be a victim
  • Establish boundaries

Choose two that fit you the best and describe your plan to follow these guidelines.

Find outside resources like Alateen and Al-anon that can help you work through some of the feelings you're experiencing. Or seek out a school counselor, religious leaders or trusting adult to talk about what you're experiencing.

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