How to Deal with an Alcoholic Sibling?

Sibling of an Addict

Addiction is a homewrecker. It devastates. Whether it’s alcoholism, drug abuse, or any of the numerous damaging addictions that plague us, it hurts everyone involved, not just the person suffering from the disease, and it requires serious treatment and support if recovery and rehabilitation are to be achieved. 

But… as the sibling of an addict, you’ve probably heard all that before. Ten too many times. In fact, if you’re the sibling of an addict, it might feel like your whole life is about responding to, managing, or avoiding someone else’s addiction. Especially if you don’t struggle with any addictions of your own, you may find it increasingly difficult to deal with your sibling’s condition. And that’s okay!

Dealing with an alcoholic sibling, or any family member with an addiction, can be incredibly taxing, so it’s understandable if you’re struggling. There is a lot of research out there on how to cope with and help an alcoholic or drug-addicted sibling, but if you’re struggling to identify resources and support for yourself and your family, this article can help you get started.

Education Leads to Empathy

Especially if your sibling has struggled for a long time and experienced a number of relapses, it can be tempting to blame their condition on “bad behavior.” When you see someone, you love repeatedly make choices that hurt themselves and others, it makes sense to feel angry. But addiction is a disease. Read that again. Addiction is a disease. There’s even some research that supports the idea that relapses are a crucial part of recovery. If you find yourself angry with your sibling, that’s absolutely understandable, but educating yourself on the nature of addiction and recovery may help you empathize with their journey in a way that you haven’t been able to before. Imagine your sibling had a different illness, perhaps diabetes or even cancer, would you blame them for that affliction? No! Addiction feels different because it’s so tied to behavior, but at the end of the day, research supports the fact that it is, in fact, a disease that afflicts your sibling’s brain and ability to make decisions. If you’re struggling to empathize, it’s probably time to educate.

Empathy For Everyone, Including Yourself

It’s okay to admit that your sibling’s addiction is putting a strain on you and your family. Addiction invites all kinds of stressors into your daily life. You may be walking on eggshells around your sibling, afraid of triggering an angry outburst. You may be afraid that your sibling will steal money or belongings from family members in order to finance their next binge. You may worry that every time your phone rings, it will be the hospital or the police calling to let you know that this time your sibling didn’t survive. Constantly worrying or thinking about your sibling’s well-being and behavior is called hypervigilance, and that kind of stress can cause extreme damage to your health. Even though your sibling’s addiction, their recovery, their relapses, and their needs or behavior may seem like they more urgently need to be at the forefront of everyone’s time and attention, it’s crucial that you also prioritize your own health and needs. Does your family ever take a break from crisis mode? Do you ever take a break from your sibling’s problems just to focus on yourself and do something for you?

Your Mental Health is Crucial Too

Maybe you feel like it would be selfish to focus on anything but helping your sibling, when in reality, if your mental health goes down the drain, that’s not going to help anyone. Make sure you talk to your family, find support with friends, and seek professional counseling to ensure that you aren’t getting lost in your family’s attempts to cope with this situation. Find a therapist who can offer your entire family insight on how addiction impacts the household. Alcoholism and other addictions absolutely impact the family as a whole, whether it’s a parent or child struggling with the disease. If you are constantly depressed, anxious, or beginning to engage in your own unhealthy coping mechanisms, nobody benefits. Addiction runs in families, according to genetic research, and it can often be triggered by stress, so taking care of yourself in the midst of your sibling’s struggles is vitally important to make sure you don’t fall prey to your own addiction struggle. That means your health is crucial to your sibling’s health. Now read that again. Your health is crucial to your family’s ability to deal with an addict’s journey. 

Invest time in yourself. Find ways to rest, do things you love, enjoy life in the midst of its trials. If you can bring health, perspective, and maybe even joy to your interactions with your family, everyone will benefit. You can still have a good life, even as your sibling struggles, and that will not take away from your love and support of them.

Detach From the Outcome

A lot of the above advice assumes that your sibling is actively engaged in the recovery process, which is unfortunately not always the case. Sadly, addicts can often become so embroiled in their disease that they’re not open to support of any kind, or even relationships with family members. They may pull away from you, refuse to talk to you, or even disappear from your life completely. When that happens, it’s heartbreaking, and it can make you feel like you should work even harder to reach them, control them, and force them into recovery against their will. But remember, their recovery is their recovery, not yours. Their addiction is their addiction. It is important to detach your love for your sibling from the outcome of their journey. Detachment is not abandonment. You can still love and support your sibling, while remaining healthily detached from their addiction. You can make it clear that you are always there for them and separate your happiness from theirs.

Live For Today

This might sound ridiculous…. But when was the last time you enjoyed spending time with your family? If you have a relationship with your sibling, what’s something fun you could do with them today that doesn’t have anything to do with their addiction?

What’s something you could do today that would make you smile? Something that would give you a little bit of hope or proof that there is still some beauty, light, and joy in life. As dark as our thoughts, conversations, and mindsets can become when we’re dealing with a family member’s addiction, it’s important to ground yourself in the knowledge that right here, right now, you are alive, you are well, and you have the time and space to read an article about this issue--which means you have a little hope. In fact, stop reading for a moment. If you have TikTok, go follow Andrew Bird. Just do it. He’ll tell you to drop your shoulders, loosen your stomach, relax your eyebrows, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth. Just for now. And take his message to heart, which is this: breathe. You have time, you are safe, and you have this present moment. 

There is Hope

If you’re struggling to connect with any hopeful feelings, you can reach out to us at TheHopeLine, where a HopeCoach can share resources with you, as well as counsel you in the hope of Jesus Christ, whose life means that there is light even in the darkest times. He’s not afraid of your darkness. He’s not afraid of your sibling’s darkness. His story is one of love and compassion, and a HopeCoach would be happy to walk with you through this tough moment toward hope for a better tomorrow, how to let that hope drive you today, and then wake up again tomorrow and let that hope drive you through another day.

If you have a loved one with an addiction, there are ways you can offer support. Read, "Someone I Love Has an Addiction: Can I Help?". 

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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