They are the often-invisible victims – brothers and sisters of addicts.
When there’s an addict in the family, attention turns to its effects on parents, often leaving siblings to suffer in silence. Siblings are often pushed into the background while anxious parents focus their time, their emotions and their finances on getting help for the addicted child. If the addicted child succumbs to the disease of addiction, that sibling invisibility can become even more so.
So, in the background, brothers and sisters often suffer in silence, feeling angry, scared, ignored, and alone. Some become caretakers, some enable, and some just try to get on with their own lives with little support from struggling parents. In school, peers may look at the sibling differently, thinking that the brother or sister of an addict must also have addiction issues. And, the sibling may also spend a great amount of time wondering whether they will follow in the brother or sister’s footsteps because of the hereditary factors associated with the disease.
Siblings of addicts often feel guilt and anger toward their parents. They feel guilty that they can’t help their brother or sister and blame their parents for not doing more, especially if the addict dies from the addiction.
Loss of Your Sibling
While once your best friend and confidante, now your sibling seems to choose drugs or alcohol over you. If the brother or sister misses a family gathering, you feel that they are using again, despite their claims that they are clean. Since this has happened so many times before, now you feel angry and stupid for having believed them. You mourn the loss of the sibling you knew and loved and wonder if you’ll ever get that person back.
You Have a Parent Who Enables Your Sibling
Even when you come to terms with your sibling’s addiction, you often have to watch a parent or both parents continue to enable – throwing the addicted sibling out of the house regularly only to allow him or her back in amid a sea of renewed promises. You’re angry with your parent and furious with your sibling for manipulating your parents. For your own well-being, you must recognize that your parents’ relationship with your addicted sibling is none of your business and start focusing on the person you do have c
ontrol over – yourself.
You Love and Hate Your Sibling
When your sibling has repeatedly lied, manipulated, ducked responsibilities, refused treatment or even stolen from you, it’s completely understandable that you’d be angry with him or her. For some people, that anger can fester and turn into hate. Your sibling’s addiction may drive you to the point that you can no longer tolerate even hearing his or her name. What’s important to remember here is that the conflicted feelings you have toward your sibling are completely normal. To deal with it, try to remember it’s not really your sibling that you hate, its his or her behavior. Many siblings find the only way they can handle the issue is by cutting the addict out of their life. Despite doing so, the sibling often thinks of the “lost” brother or sister and, unfortunately, remains in fear of that one phone call.
You Deliberately Downplay Your Success
It’s not all that difficult to appear more accomplished than your addict sibling when he or she is in jail, living homeless on the streets or bouncing from rehab to rehab. But what is difficult to deal with is the guilt you feel over your own success. Just realize that downplaying your own hard-earned success won’t make your sibling’s decision to choose sobriety or not, any easier.
Even as an adult, your may find it difficult to connect with people who can relate to what it’s like to have a sibling who struggles with addiction. Within your own families, especially if you have an enabling parent, your needs can easily fall through the cracks. And even outside of your families, in the overall recovery community, you often find more of the same. That’s why it’s so important for you, as siblings of addicts, to speak up and share your experiences with one another. You don’t need to wait for permission to create your own supportive communities where your needs, wants and desires have room to breathe. There are other siblings out there who can relate to what you’re going through. Even if you haven’t found your group yet, that doesn’t mean you’re alone in this. It just means that we as a community have more work and reaching out to do. And I believe that we can do it.
It’s important for the sibling to seek out help – join Al Anon or see a therapist who specializes in substance use disorder counseling. Without help, siblings can be affected for life; with it, they can understand the addiction, that the outcome is not their fault, that they can hold their heads up, and even become an advocate for change.