10 Things That Suck About Being an Addict’s Sibling

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.

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.

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9 Responses to 10 Things That Suck About Being an Addict’s Sibling

  1. Avatar
    Jen February 3, 2016 at 11:18 am #

    Thank you for the part about feeling guilty about cutting them out of your life and preparing for the phone call. I had to cut my alcoholic brother out of mine five years ago when I feared for my physical safety. I decided if he sought help I would be willing to try a relationship again. Last week he attempted suicide. I’ve always known this would probably happen, and the phone call came on Friday. He’s been burning himself with cigarettes and has an enlarged abdomen so there is obviously liver disease. But in the interest of my well-being I am having to stay away from the drama. His son and my other brother are with him. I wish I could contribute or help but I have been in al-anon long enough to know that you can’t save an alcoholic from himself. Thank you again for this post.

  2. Avatar
    Jenny April 15, 2016 at 7:09 am #

    I was moved to tears by your article. Every section rang sadly true. As the older sister of an addict, I go through these thoughts daily. And more get added over time. Right now I’m really struggling w/the fact that,after years of trying & 2 miscarriages, I finally have a beautiful now 13 mo old son. My sister has 4 kids by 2 different guys that she has missed out on most of their lives, stolen from them, used & drank through at least 3 of the pregnancies. I feel bitter that I had such loss & dificulty, would love multiple children, & would do ANYTHING for my son, while she has neglected, abandoned , & not put her children first.
    Even though we live a couple hours apart, I also have difficulty with the fact my son gets less attention from his grandmother & she’s closer too my nieces & nephew.
    I don’t blame IN ANY WAY, the kids. They absolutely need my mom in their lives. Actually would probably be in foster care if not for her. I blame my sister. In her selfish, addictive haze, she has not only stolen a mom from her children, but an aunt, cousins, etc. She’s also stolen a more attentive grandma from my son. And why? Because I’m a good mom & she’s not. At least that’s how it feels. And feeling that way makes me feel guilty. And sad for my son.
    I just wanted to thank you for being so open & heart wrenchingly honest. It makes me feel better just knowing these feelings are “normal” & I’m not alone.
    Many thanks,

    • Avatar
      Lynne September 29, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

      I completely understand how you feel and have experienced much of the same. It is hard enough to accept the fact that we, as the sibling, are shadows in our families. But when we see our children also missing out, the feelings morph into anger and resentment.

      Of course our parents are closer to the alcoholics children. As you stated, they need this support and the proximity creates stronger emotional bonds. But too frequently the obsessive focus on the needs of the alcoholic and even their children creates a complete blind spot to the other grandchildren – our children.

      I have thought and even stated to my mother many times that she will not ever be able to recover the years she is missing out on with my children.

      The last time we visited my mom bought chicken for the family. My 9 year old daughter loves wings and grabbed two and put them on her plate. Not the best manners I admit… 🙂

      My mom came over and took both of the wings off her plate and gave them to her cousin (alcoholic sister’s child that lives with “my” mom, his grandma). We live 1500 miles away.

      She told my daughter that her cousin likes wings but she could have this special piece of spicey chicken. My daughter looked up and said thank you. Then my mom pulled out of the bag one order of French fries and took them over to my nephew. She then scooped up some mashed potatoes and put them on my daughter’s plate.

      Now, my daughter is 5 years younger than my nephew. She shouldn’t have taken both wings but could not believe my mom took both of them away from her versus giving each child one. And my daughter absolutely hates spicy food. And she loves French fries.

      It was truly the most bizarre thing I had ever seen. And my daughter was so eager to please her grandma, that she never sees, that she acted happy about having her food taken away, appreciative of a piece of spicy chicken that she picked at and didn’t eat, and just stared at her cousin as he ate French fries but didn’t say a word. When I started to speak up she glared at me so I paused. Boy was I torn on what to do!

      I did ask her cousin if he would be OK sharing a few fries and he did.

      My mom has no clue what she is doing to her relationship with her “other” grandchildren and cannot even see it when I point it out. She acted so flippant when I talked with her about it later that I sincerely started to question my emotional intelligence and wondered if I was making too big of a deal out of the situation by even bringing it up.

      And like you, I love and adore my nephew.

      It is just difficult. Very, very difficult.

  3. Avatar
    Joe August 16, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

    The article also rang true on all aspects with myself as well. I appreciate all of the insight into these topics. It helps just knowing that I am not alone.

  4. Avatar
    Kristin September 1, 2016 at 10:39 am #

    Thank you so much for this post. I needed it. So much of what I’ve read or heard is about spouses, children, and parents, not siblings. This list rang so, so true. Especially the part about downplaying our accomplishments — I have an engineering degree and a thriving career, while she can barely keep a pizza delivery job. I feel guilty sharing news about getting awards or a raise, because I worry that it will make her feel worse about herself. It really, really does suck.

  5. Avatar
    Ariana October 17, 2016 at 9:48 pm #

    I could really relate to this article. It sucks seeing your sibling so hooked on a drug that isn’t even worth it. My sister is a drug addict and sometimes, and i can feel the love hate thing with her. We can only hope the best right?

  6. Avatar
    Miranda October 18, 2016 at 12:12 am #

    Thank you for taking time to write this post, I’d really like to seek out communities/forums where people can discuss and help each other get through what is happening with their drug addicted family member. I’m a 22 year old sister to a younger brother who is pretty seriously into drugs and the bad lifestyle, and it’s so hard to see my mom suffer through what he is doing with his life. When you wrote about “missing the person he really was”, that really spoke to me. My younger brother is one of the funniest, smartest people I know and nowadays it’s like that part of him is almost completely gone. I would never wish this kind of worry on anyone and I wish everyone else in the same situation the best of luck.

  7. Avatar
    Debra October 18, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    My sister just turned 51 this past weekend and bc her addiction has finally left her homeless, I had no way to text call snail mail or any other way … communicate with her. My dad said this is first time in her life that he’s not talked to her on her birthday. It’s heartbreaking. She’s been on some type of drug on and off since abt 14 years old. I’m older sister by 2 years and we have younger brother. My brother had to ask her and her homeless boyfriend to leave my dad’s house and never return after they asked to borrow $150. My dad has only ss for income and my brother couldn’t stand it anymore. Like everyone else, I downplay my happiness and successes in life so as not to seem like the goody goody sister she has called me from time to time. Winter is coming on and I have no idea where she’s sleeping or how she’s eating. Finally the natural consequences of her life are finally catching up with her. I feel helpless and sad. Thanks for listening.

  8. Avatar
    Becky November 11, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

    This really hit home. I to have a little sister who is a drug addict. Although I live 500 miles away it really affects everyday life. Relationships are ruined she is not the same happy go lucky girl she used to be. Her personality although she is supposedly clean has completely changed. I don’t think she will ever be the same.
    I have mixed feelings as well I love her but at the same time knowing how she treats my parents when they do so much for her makes me hate her as well. I’m a struggling working college student and I just can’t imagine asking my parents for money when they are raising my 2 year old nephew but they still seem to help her with whatever bills and I hate that.
    I got a call in June that she had overdosed and she was in a coma for a couple days. I still dread my phone ringing. I’m always afraid that call could be the one that says I lost my baby sister .

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