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My Sibling is an Addict

Addiction is a disease that can have horrible and long-lasting effects on an individual as well as that individual’s close friends and family. Addiction can sneak into people’s lives without them even noticing. This can cause individuals to change how they relate to friends and family. This can also cause individuals to go to great lengths to hide their addictive tendencies. In addition to the secrecy, addiction can cause tension in the workplace and at home. This is especially true amongst siblings of addicts. It is important for family members to know the signs and symptoms of addiction as well as what resources are available to them in order to successfully combat addiction. 

What is Addiction?

Addiction (also known as substance abuse or a substance use disorder) is a disease that can impact anyone, regardless of gender, status, or age. There are countless substances that people can develop addictions towards. Some substances that people most often develop addictions towards include alcohol, prescription medication, and various stimulant drugs

Addiction can affect anyone from teenagers to senior citizens. People of certain age groups are more likely to use certain substances though. 

Substance use disorders are characterized by chemical changes in the brain due to excessive substance use. Drug addictions are also characterized by the inability to stop using substances even when one attempts to. 

Substance Dependency

All individuals with substance use disorders also suffer from substance dependency. Substance dependency is characterized by experiencing withdrawal symptoms every time one minimizes or discontinues the use of their substances of choice. 

Different substances produce different levels of chemical dependency. For example, someone who uses cocaine regularly may develop a dependency on cocaine in order to function normally. This is due to withdrawal symptoms. 

Withdrawal occurs when your body becomes chemically dependant on a substance and then experiences a negative physical and emotional reaction when not using that substance. Examples of standard substance withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, irritability, sweating, and rapid heart rate. Because of how severe substance withdrawal symptoms can get, many people continue abusing more and more substances to avoid experiencing them. 

As many as 80 million Americans suffer from substance use disorders. This means that each person in America likely knows at least one person that is suffering from substance addiction. 

If you think your sibling may be struggling with substance addiction, do not give up hope. Instead, learn the signs and symptoms of substance addiction. Also, look into resources that are available to help stem the tide of addiction in your sibling. Individuals can receive high-quality addiction treatment resources at Phoenix Rising Recovery.

The Impact of Substance Addiction on Families

The effects of substance addiction can be life-altering and even life-threatening to not only the person with the addiction, but also his or her close family and friends. Those struggling with addiction can suffer from serious mental and physical effects, some of which can have permanent effects on the human body. 

Family members of addicts will also feel the effects of drug or alcohol addiction. Siblings of addicts are especially vulnerable, as they may be more in tune with the physical and emotional effects that their brothers or sisters are going through than, say, the parents. 

How Addiction Affects Siblings of Addicts

In many cases, an addict’s siblings are the people who know the addict best. As a result, siblings of addicts may even take the brunt of their loved one’s addictive behaviors. 

Watching someone you have grown up with and known since childhood struggle with addiction can be extremely difficult. Many siblings have bonds that remain close after years and distance has separated them, and this can make a struggle with addiction even harder. 

With addiction being such a widespread issue, there are undoubtedly millions of people around the world that wonder what the best way is to help a brother or sister who is struggling with substance addiction. Siblings can play an important role in recognizing addiction and helping their brothers or sisters get the help that they need. Siblings can also be severely affected by trying to deal with their loved ones’ addictions. 

Some of the ways addiction can affect siblings of addicts include:

Guilt, Depression, Anxiety, and More

It is common for the siblings of addicts to experience guilt and shame due to their loved ones’ struggle with addiction. This can happen for many reasons, but often siblings will feel as though there was something they could/should have done to help their brothers or sisters avoid developing substance addictions. 

It is important to note though that everyone is responsible for their own behaviors. Thus, a person continuously and excessively abusing substances to the point of developing a substance addiction is no one’s “fault.” 

It is a heavy burden to carry the weight of someone else’s addiction. It is common for siblings of addicts to share some addictive tendencies or to develop depression/anxiety due to the struggle of their family members though. Ultimately, such shared behaviors can cause siblings of addicts to need professional treatment in their own lives. 

Shame is also a common response to dealing with a family member’s addiction, especially if the loved one’s behavior is disruptive or occurs in public. The stigma of substance abuse is a strong one and young siblings of addicts may especially be subject to ridicule or bullying due to it. 

Strained Relationships With Siblings

More often than not, siblings of addicts may find themselves drifting away from their addicted brothers or sisters. This is not always intentional and is rarely meant to be hurtful to the siblings that are struggling with substance abuse. However, family members often do not know what they can do to help their struggling loved ones. As a result, many family members of addicts will simply distance themselves to avoid enabling their loved ones’ addictions. 

Distancing oneself from one’s own siblings is far from easy often takes a toll on siblings of addicts. After all, it can be difficult to distance oneself from a person who one has known and loved for essentially his or her entire life. 

The strain that addiction causes sibling-to-sibling relationships can be irreversible in some instances. This is not always the case though. Some siblings are able to reconcile with their addicted brothers or sisters after addiction recovery takes place.

Strained Relationships With Parents

Siblings of addicts may feel like they live life in the shadows of their brothers and sisters who suffer from addiction. Dealing with addiction requires lots of time and energy from the whole family and sometimes this can give a healthy sibling (child or adult) a feeling of unimportance. This feeling can lead to tension or even resentment towards parents or siblings. 

It can be difficult for siblings to connect with parents whose lives seem to revolve around dealing with another child’s substance abuse issues. That’s why family therapy is so useful for families with kids in them that suffer from addiction. 

Family therapy is an important step in the recovery process. Also, counseling for non-addicted family members is extremely important. 

Addiction Can be “Contagious”

Watching a sibling struggle with a drug or alcohol addiction can be very difficult. In fact, dealing with a sibling with a substance addiction can be so stressful that it causes the sober sibling to also start abusing substances just to cope with the stress. In this way, addiction can be contagious, and one sibling’s struggle can lead to a domino effect amongst siblings that can have dire consequences. 

How to Tell If Your Sibling is Struggling with Addiction

Addiction is a multi-faceted disease, and it can be very difficult to know for sure that someone is dealing with it. Substance abuse looks different for everyone. There are some common signs and symptoms that individuals that suspect that their siblings may have substance abuse problems can look out for though. 

Physical Signs of Addiction

  • Changes in energy level
  • Changes in physical appearance such as rapid weight loss or gain
  • Excessive sweating, twitching, or rapid eye movement
  • Change in appetite
  • Noticeable difference in personal hygiene

Behavioral Signs of Addiction

  • Repeatedly missing work, school, or social commitments
  • Isolating from friends or family
  • Becoming secretive about habits or activities
  • Visibly using more drugs or alcohol
  • Changing sleep patterns

Emotional Signs of Addiction

  • Irritability
  • Argumentative
  • Change in demeanor
  • Making excuses to drink or use drugs
  • Minimizing drug or alcohol use

The Three C’s of Addiction

If all else fails, you can often fall back on the “three c’s of addiction” to determine whether a sibling is suffering from a substance use disorder. The three c’s of addiction are:

  1. Control lost – the inability to stop using
  2. Craving and compulsive using-constantly wanting to use drugs or alcohol
  3. Continued use – Drug and alcohol use has obvious negative effects, yet the patient is unable to stop using them.

Helping Your Sibling with Addiction

It may seem like helping your loved one with his or her substance abuse issue is beyond your reach, but there is hope. There are resources, programs, and support groups that exist to treat substance addiction and help individuals achieve recovery. There are also support groups that exist to empower family members of addicts like you so that you have the courage to step up and help your siblings overcome their addictions.

At Phoenix Rising, we have the professional staff, facilities, and track record to help your family get back on track and conquer addiction. We offer many different treatment types – from outpatient to on – campus, to sober living, and detox. Call us today to find out which treatment plan may be right for you and your loved one!