It’s rarely easy to deal with a loved one’s addiction. Learn about ways you can help your sibling, avoid enabling behaviors and improve your relationship.

In a family with healthy relationship dynamics, the bond between siblings can be incredibly strong. You love your sibling and depend on them as a friend, a confidant and a person who understands your life perhaps better than anyone else because of your shared experiences.

When addiction impacts your brother or sister, however, the relationship can become confusing and painful. Learning how to deal with an addicted sibling is one of the hardest puzzles out there, especially when it’s someone you looked up to or idolized at one point.

Every member of the family is impacted by the ripple effect that addiction creates, but siblings often feel the pain in different ways, and they may be more reluctant to open up to others about what they’re experiencing.

Reactions to a Loved One’s Addiction

Some of the common scenarios that happen when you have a brother or sister with addiction include:

  • You feel like your sibling chooses their addiction over you. It can start to feel like your sibling doesn’t care about you, or cares about drugs more. A big part of understanding addiction is to realize that a person’s substance use has nothing to do with you.
  • You likely experience a feeling of broken trust. You may believe your sibling the first few dozen times they promise something, such as making a commitment to stop using substances. Eventually, you may lose all trust. Even when they say they’re sober, you don’t believe them, and it’s hard to envision that trust could ever be rebuilt.
  • Your parents are enabling your sibling’s addiction, creating tension and frustration between you and your parents. You may start to become angry with your parents for facilitating the addiction of your sibling, and it can lead to dysfunctional parental relationships. In other instances, you may feel like your parents’ focus is entirely on the addicted sibling, leaving you to feel invisible or abandoned.
  • You are unsure how to act. When people are figuring out how to deal with an addicted brother or sister, they often go one of two directions. They may try to turn it into a humorous situation and make light of everything, becoming somewhat of a family clown. Or, they may strive for perfection to block out some of the shame and pain of the addicted sibling’s behaviors. Some people may also go the other direction and let their school work or career slide, in an effort to take the negative attention off the addict.

It is normal to feel uncertain, scared, hurt or even angry when someone you love is struggling with addiction. However, while it won’t necessarily be easy, there are some strategies you can use to help support your sibling and family in constructive ways.

Dealing With an Addicted Sibling

First, it’s important to avoid enabling behaviors. You need to learn about addiction and enablement so that you can take steps to prevent this dangerous cycle from happening in your relationship with your sibling.

You can maintain a sense of trust and communication with your brother or sister without being an enabler. Even when you become frustrated, it’s important to avoid blaming, nagging, lecturing or demeaning your sibling. This is only going to push them further into their addiction, and away from the people who love them.

Additionally, you shouldn’t try to use drugs or alcohol around your sibling. Siblings — particularly ones who look up to their brother or sister — may use substances as a way of seeking acceptance or approval. This is both unhelpful and an easy way to create additional problems for everyone involved.

When you’re considering how to deal with an addicted sibling, speak to the rest of your family about the potential of staging an intervention. Then, if your sibling opts to enter treatment, you can play a key role in that process as well, if it’s something your sibling is open to.

By participating in your brother’s or sister’s treatment and recovery, you can work toward rebuilding your relationship and finding functional, healthy ways to communicate with one another as siblings.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or a co-occurring mental health condition, The Recovery Village is here to help. Contact one of our helpful representatives today to begin the path toward lifelong recovery and wellbeing.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more

SAMHSA. “Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy.” Treatment Improvement Protocols, 2004. Accessed June 19, 2020.

University of Pennsylvania Health System. “Enabling Behaviors.” Accessed June 19, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.