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10 Things That Suck About Being an Addict’s Sibling

by Dawn Clancy on December 14, 2015 in Friends, Taking Care of Yourself

As siblings of addicts, our voices are often muffled by the drama that the addicts kick up. Our needs are overlooked and we often feel alone, frustrated and misunderstood. If any of this sounds familiar to you, then you’ll be able to relate to these 10 things that suck about being an addict’s sibling.

If this sounds like you, attend Al-Anon, Al-a-Teen, or seek therapy to help you work through your feelings.

They Choose Drugs or Booze Over You

Instead of meeting up with you on a Saturday afternoon for coffee, your brother decides to cuddle up to a bottle of vodka. This isn’t the first time he’s done something like this and although you feel frustrated, more than anything you feel duped, again.

After six hope-filled months of sobriety, you find out that your sister didn’t make it to dinner because she’s using again. And no matter how hard you try to figure it out, you just can’t understand why she insists on continuing to choose drugs over your relationship.

By the time I was born, my older brother was already struggling with addiction. So, from an early age I was often confused and heartbroken by his choice to use and booze.

But through the years, I found some relief when I realized that his choices weren’t a reflection of how little he cared for me but more about how little he cared for and respected himself.

 You Don’t Trust That They’re Sober When They Say They Are

I remember once, over the phone, when my brother was going on about how he was sober and finally, “putting his weight back on.” I really wanted to believe him and trust that this time was different from all of the other times he claimed sobriety but I had a nagging suspicion that he really wasn’t.

A couple of months after our call, I went to visit him only to discover that he was squatting in a crack house and so gaunt that his eyeballs were on the verge of falling out of his face.

The truly sad part about discovering that my brother had lied, yet again, about his recovery, was that I really wanted to believe him. And more than anything, I wanted him to prove my suspicions wrong.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that my brother told me that he was sober when he was far from it. But I’ve learned that when it comes to the addicts in my life, it’s better for my sanity to put more faith in their actions than their words.

 You Have a Parent Who Enables Your Sibling and It Drives You Crazy

My dad was a classic enabler. He threw my brother out of the house on a regular basis only to allow him back in a week later, when he showed up at our front door with a whole new script of promises that he’d already broken.

I used to get so angry at my dad for not being able to see the truth about my brother’s addiction and at the same time I’d be furious with my brother for taking advantage of the one person he knew he could manipulate, our dad.

It took me a long time to get there, but once I accepted that my dad’s relationship with my brother was none of my business, I stopped obsessing over their dysfunctional connection and started focusing on the only person I’ve ever had control over and that’s me.

You Love and Hate Your Sibling

When your sibling has repeatedly lied, manipulated, ducked responsibilities, refused treatment or even stolen from you, it’s completely understandable that you’d be angry with him or her.

For some people, that anger can fester and turn into hate. Your sibling’s addiction may drive you to the point that you can no longer tolerate even hearing his or her name.

What’s important to remember here is that the conflicted feelings you have toward your sibling are completely normal. If you’re willing to get a little curious about the way you feel, you may discover that deep down it’s not actually the sibling you hate but the behavior.

You Had to Cut Your Sibling Out of Your Life and You Feel Horrible About It

For my own safety and sanity, I eventually decided that as long as my brother was active in his addiction, he couldn’t be part of my life. Sadly, I haven’t spoken to or laid eyes on him in over a decade and there isn’t a day that passes that I don’t think about him.

The last time we spoke, I made sure he knew that as soon as he was ready for rehab, I’d be there to help him. Unfortunately, he wasn’t receptive to my offer and that was the end of it.

Do I ever second guess my choice? Yes. Do I ever feel like guilty? Yes. Do I love my brother and want him to choose a new path in life? Absolutely. But I also value my health and well-being and hopefully someday he will understand that.

You’re Always Preparing Yourself for That Phone Call

Given that I haven’t spoken to my brother in over 10 years, I, like countless other siblings, live in fear of that one phone call. The phone call where your every anxiety springs to life and you find out that your brother is dead, or your sister overdosed and was found lifeless under some bridge.

The anxiety we experience as siblings can easily trigger feelings of guilt and helplessness. We want to help our loved one but we eventually surrender to the truth that we can’t or we give up because we don’t know what to do.

You Miss the Person Who Was

Although my brother is still alive, I mourn the person he was before drugs and alcohol swallowed up and spit out his life.

In my mind he will always be my big brother. The guy with a great sense of humor. The guy who could walk into any room and make friends instantly. And the guy who made the best cinnamon toast I’ve ever tasted.

Will I ever get my big brother back? I don’t know and that’s the part that scares me the most. I can always hope though that one day he will decide to make new and healthier choices. Although, as long as he is clean and sober, I’d be willing to accept however he showed up in my life.

You Deliberately Downplay Your Success

It’s not all that difficult to appear more accomplished than your addict sibling when he or she is in jail, living homeless on the streets or bouncing from rehab to rehab. But what is difficult to deal with is the guilt we feel over the success we have in our lives.

For years, I felt conflicted over wanting to celebrate my hard-earned accomplishments but at the same time not wanting to appear boastful in front of my brother who I knew was struggling. But as a therapist once told me, downplaying my success, no matter how big or small, won’t make it any easier for my brother to choose sobriety. After all, I’m not that powerful.

People Think That If Your Sibling Is an Addict, You Must Be, Too

Even though my brother was nearly a decade older, his reputation haunted me as early as third grade. In the classroom as well as on the playground, I was called “pothead.” And many parents forbid their kids from socializing with me because they were afraid of the negative influence they imagined I’d have on them.

As an adult, I know that addiction isn’t contagious but as I kid I thought it was. It was the only way I could make sense of my classmates’ behavior. Thankfully, I eventually switched schools and left my brother’s reputation behind me. But it’s taken me years to heal my battered self-esteem and step out from underneath my brother’s shadow.

You Feel Like No One Understands What You’re Going Through

Even as an adult, I find it difficult to connect with people who can relate to what it’s like to have a sibling who struggles with addiction. Within our own families, especially if we have an enabling parent, our needs can easily fall through the cracks. And even outside of our families, in the overall recovery community, we often find more of the same.

That’s why it’s so important for us, as siblings of addicts, to speak up and share our experiences with one another. We don’t need to wait for permission to create our own supportive communities where our needs, wants and desires have room to breathe. There are other siblings out there who can relate to what you’re going through. Even if you haven’t found your group yet, that doesn’t mean you’re alone in this. It just means that we as a community have more work and reaching out to do. And I believe that we can do it.


About Dawn Clancy

Dawn Clancy is the creator of “Growing Up Chaotic,” a blog and radio program for those determined to survive and thrive despite growing up in families rife with addiction, domestic violence and mental illness. Dawn is a regular contributor to Rehabreviews.com and TheFix.com and has appeared on Huffington Post Live. She currently lives in London with her husband and cat called Poo.