When it comes to the family dynamics of addiction, raising the siblings of addicts is difficult for any parent. Parents tend to focus too much energy and effort on the addicted child, which can leave the other children feeling neglected. If left unnoticed, this can lead to resentment and anger, as well as unresolved wounds of trauma.
Therefore, it is important for parents to acknowledge the feelings siblings of addicts may have, be aware of their greater risk of addiction, and provide individual attention to them. Further, parents should consider family therapy to discuss issues about the addiction in the family and review available resources and support groups for parents of addicts.
Acknowledging the Feelings Siblings of Addicts Have
When addiction in the family is an ongoing issue, it can often take a toll on the addict’s siblings. Although they probably love their addicted brother or sister, siblings may be constantly worried about their family. This can often depend on the siblings’ ages as well as where in the birth order the addict lays. For example, an addict who is the oldest of the family may have once been idolized by their younger siblings, but now siblings may feel let down by the addict. Further, younger siblings of an addict may be too young to understand what is going on with the family and may simply feel confused and frustrated.
Some feelings that siblings of addicts may have include:
- Bitterness toward their addict sibling since they may get all of the attention and the sibling may feel invisible, abandoned, and alone.
- Helplessness and fear for the well-being of their siblings and the family.
- Shame of the actions and reputation of the addict, especially when around their friends who may know about their addict sibling.
- Pressure to be perfect to mitigate the poor choices of their sibling.
- Sadness as the siblings may feel that the addict is choosing drugs or alcohol over their commitments and family leading to lack of trust.
As a parent, it is important to acknowledge and validate your children’s feelings they may have due to the choices of their sibling addict. It is important to remind the siblings of addicts that the choices of the addict are not their fault or a reflection on them as siblings. Rather, the actions of the addict are a part of their personal journey and not caused by their siblings.
Research on the Family Dynamics of Addiction
In addition to acknowledging the feelings of siblings of addicts, it is also important for parents to recognize the risk of siblings being drawn into the addiction themselves. Give recent research, such fears are real. A Swedish National study, partially funded by the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), found that a healthy sibling is at a much higher risk for using drugs if a brother or sister is abusing drugs. Also, the closer the siblings are in age, the more this deadly risk increases. The study also found that older siblings more strongly transmitted the risk for drug abuse to their younger siblings than vice versa.
In a sense, hereditary inclinations combined with peer pressure within the family unit can lead to more abuse. This is something parents should be very aware of when there is an addict in the family. Preventing other children from picking up some of the habits of the addict is crucial in maintaining overall family stability.
How Parents Can Support the Siblings of Addicts
It is essential for parents to not only provide support and attention to their addicted son or daughter, but also to their siblings. Richard Catalano, Ph.D., Professor and Director of the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, explains the importance of bonding during adolescence. “Kids who are bonded to parents who hold healthy beliefs and clear standards — particularly about drug use or alcohol use — are much less likely to get involved in any kind of problem behavior.”
Therefore, if children are strongly bonded to their parents, who have clear boundaries regarding alcohol and drug abuse, they are less likely to have an addiction issue themselves. While supporting your addicted son or daughter is important, equally as important is carving out dedicated time to your other children. Ensuring that you are able to provide one on one time where the addict is not the sole topic of conversation and you are able to connect with your child is of upmost importance.
Further, to prevent siblings of addicts from feeling frustrated or resentful of their parents, it is important for parents to be transparent about how they are handling their addicted son or daughter. This means ensuring you don’t enable the addict in any way, rather focusing on support, prevention, and treatment when a problem arises. Additionally, discussing a son or daughter’s addiction with the other children should be a carefully thought out conversation and age-appropriate where you and your partner are on the same page.
Benefits of Family Therapy & Help for Families of Drug Addicts
When it comes to addiction and family, the situations often require professional help to navigate safely. A professional drug & alcohol counselor or a licensed therapist often provides a wealth of knowledge and experience to help the family dynamic. Moreover, they are outside the family narrative, thus offering objectivity and balance. By encouraging the siblings of addicts to participate in family therapy, it allows them the opportunity to rebuild sibling relationships and find functional, healthy ways to communicate as a family.
Five benefits of family therapy are listed below:
- A Safe Space for the Whole Family
- Education about Addiction and Family
- Equal Footing for All Family Members
- Ability to Express Repressed and/or Intense Feelings
- The Benefits of Processing Challenges as a Family Unit
Beyond therapists and counselors, there is other help for families of drug addicts such as support groups for parents of addicts as well as for siblings of addicts. These support groups include the Teen Corner of Alateen and the Narateen Committee of the Nar-Anon Family Groups. Moreover, both the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) offer support for families.
Reaching out for support can be one of the best things you can do for your family. Help is available, and if you can’t find a program or support group that works for you, reach out to us here at Teen Rehab and we can help you find one that suits your needs. Ultimately, sustaining a healthy, supportive family unit while a sibling is on the road to recovery is the goal.