Living in a household with a brother or sister who is suffering from addiction can be a stressful experience for anyone, particularly another young person.
In addition to the normal, sometimes confusing aspects of growing up, the siblings of addicted teens may face an unstable environment that is not of their own making. It is easy to understand that these children might sometimes feel less important or even disregarded in their own homes. Drug abuse and addiction among teens can lead to violence in the home and sexual behavior that can lead to teen pregnancy which can then affect the living conditions and family dynamic for siblings.
5 Helpful Tips for Siblings of Addicted Teens
It is important for the siblings of addicted teens to learn coping skills to help themselves and their sibling. There are some practices that families can employ to help mitigate the negative and prepare all of the children in the home for a happier future.
Be willing to participate in the recovery process
According to information published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, family therapy can be beneficial during the recovery process. Generally, the addicted teen is the “identified patient,” but the entire family unit is drastically affected by the drug use. The goal of family therapy in this case is to help the addicted individual, of course. There is a side effect of the therapy, however, that helps every member of the family understand more clearly what their loved one is facing. Family therapy gives siblings a voice and a means to find the help they need to get through a rather grown-up situation. Ultimately, if the addicted teen in the family can find recovery, the lives of the other children in the household can become more stable and enjoyable.
Drug abuse and addiction are complicated subjects. There are many adults in the world who, until they are faced with addiction in their own lives, have very little understanding about it. Many people think that abusing drugs is purely a choice – that if the person wants to stop using badly enough, they’ll just choose to stop. The truth is that taking drugs the first time might be a choice. Even taking drugs a second or third time might be a choice. Once addiction has set in, however, the choice is often out of the drug addicts’ hands.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is incredibly difficult for a person to stop using drugs if they suffer from addiction. Educating yourself about your sibling’s addiction will not make the problem go away. However, it might help you understand what is happening to your sibling in a way that can ease confusion and uncertainty.
Set boundaries for your sibling during recovery
The relationship between siblings can be close. Perhaps you have an older sibling who seems just a bit larger than life, even though some of their bravado has been brought on by their drug use. Perhaps you are an older sibling, and you want your younger brother or sister to experience the fun and freedom you had when you were their age. Either way, it isn’t unusual for siblings to trust each other with their most precious secrets.
Some secrets are dangerous, especially for addicted teens. You can help your brother or sister get the treatment they need for drug abuse or addiction by not keeping their dangerous secrets. How can you tell the difference between a dangerous secret and one that isn’t such a big deal? Ask yourself if the secret can hurt you, your brother or sister, or your family. For instance, if your big sister has a new boyfriend who is violent, you’d want to tell someone, even if she asks you not to.
There are many people that you can tell if you are afraid your sibling is abusing drugs.
- Your teacher
- Scout leader or other club administrator
- School counselor
- Pastor or reverend
- Police officer
The important thing is to tell someone. Don’t worry that you will get your sibling into trouble. Don’t worry if they say they won’t love you anymore, or if they’ve made you promise you won’t tell. Your sibling needs help to become healthy again.
There is another way to set boundaries as well. Sometimes, your sibling may ask to borrow money. They might say that they need a new pair of jeans or gas for their car. If they are abusing drugs, however, there is a very real possibility that they will use your money to buy drugs, or that they need gas money because they spend their own money on drugs. Rather than making it easy for them to obtain drugs, let them know that you will not loan them any money until they receive treatment and are living a sober lifestyle.
Understand your risks for addiction
Did you know that some diseases tend to run in families? There is a classification of diseases called the leukodystrophies, for instance, that occur because of the genetic combination of either one or both parents. There are other conditions that occur because of combinations of genes too, such as Down syndrome. A person who is born with either of these conditions has no choice in the matter. Some diseases and disorders are heredity. A person may not be born with cancer, but their odds of getting it someday go up if someone else in their family has developed it before. The American Cancer Fund has stated that 5 to 10 percent of cancers run in families.
Drug and alcohol addiction is also hereditary, although the scientists aren’t completely sure yet why this is true. The good news is that heredity is not the only factor in drug abuse. Unlike conditions such as Down syndrome, where a child has no choice in the matter, a child at risk for addiction can make informed, important decisions to protect himself or herself from the disease.
Take the right steps to take care of yourself
Dealing with a sibling who is addicted to drugs or alcohol and coming to terms their disease is difficult and time-consuming. It might seem as though every moment is spent trying to help your brother or sister. In order to help them, however, it is important that you remember to take care of yourself too.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Parents who talk with their children about drug abuse and addiction can help prevent drug use from occurring, so don’t be afraid to ask your parents questions and talk openly about the addiction issues in your family.
- Ask for help. If you’re feeling alone, sad, or stressed, ask for help from someone you trust. Your feelings are valid, and you can get help to learn how to cope through counseling.
- Get involved in your community. Studies show that young people involved in organized activities, like a sports team or an after school club, are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. Taking part in these types of activities is a good way to take your mind off the struggles at home for a few hours.
- Take a break. When you find yourself overwhelmed with efforts to help your parents and your sibling, don’t forget to take a break from the stress for a while. You might consider learning relaxation techniques such as yoga to help establish a time each day that is just yours.
Learning how to cope with the effects of your sibling’s drug addiction is an important tool that will help you and the rest of your family to get through a difficult time. You are important. You do matter. If you are concerned that a member of your family is abusing drugs, please remember to talk with an adult right away. You can call us for help and the tips on how to best cope with your family members in treatment.
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