How Addiction Affects Siblings According to Birth Order

When a teen is experiencing substance abuse, it affects the entire family, but siblings are often greatly impacted and their needs overlooked. This doubles the impact of the substance abuse upon siblings: They experience the negative impacts of their sibling’s substance abuse, as well as a loss of parental attention because the parents are focused on the sibling addict.

There are many specific ways for how addiction affects siblings:

  • Neglect, especially emotionally
  • Shame around their sibling’s behaviors
  • Violating trust, such as money stolen
  • Feeling less important because the drug addict sibling gets all attention
  • Loss of relationships
  • Increased chances of developing substance abuse themselves.

Birth Order as a Predictor of Substance Abuse

 All siblings are at higher risk of developing substance abuse when they witness it in the home. But psychologists have done extensive birth order research reviewing the correlation between substance abuse and sibling order of birth. In one study that looks at birth order as a predictor of substance abuse, the results showed that the youngest siblings were at a slightly higher risk of developing a substance use disorder. Other studies have shown similar results.

Examining the psychology of birth order helps us to understand why younger siblings are more likely to abuse substances. Statistically, youngest siblings are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors than their older siblings. They may also be more subject to peer pressure, which could be another factor that increases their risk of developing an addiction.

Sibling Relationships Impact by Birth Order

Birth order can also dictate the reactions siblings have to substance use in the family. While individual personalities and family dynamics play a larger role in their response, a few common factors come into play, such as the age differences between the siblings, and whether or not they are emotionally close, etc.

  • Older siblings often feel responsible for younger siblings. They may take their sibling’s substance use as a personal failure and wonder what they could have done to prevent it or blame themselves for it.
  • Middle siblings often feel disappointment in an older sibling who is struggling with substance abuse, particularly if they look up to or idolize the sibling. They may also feel responsible for younger siblings with addiction issues, as if they have let them down. Middle siblings may also feel lost in the family drama and retreat emotionally.
  • Youngest siblings may feel confused and betrayed by an older sibling’s substance use. They may feel neglected or may emotionally retreat from the family when active addiction is impacting them.

Long-Term Effects of Substance Abuse on Families

Just as substance abuse can impact families, especially siblings, in the short term, there are long-term consequences as well. Some of these effects include lack of connection and communication, loss of trust, and feelings of resentment, anger, or hate that can negatively affect sibling relationships.

Substance abuse can erode and destroy family relationships, particularly among siblings. These relationships will need to be repaired, which is where family therapy can be enormously beneficial. For teens with substance abuse, treating the family is a key part of the healing process considering how addiction affects siblings. If your sibling or a member of your family is suffering from substance use disorder, contact Teen Rehab and we can assist in finding the right care for your family.


Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash