I have written numerous articles on the parents of addicts and on the addicts themselves. Whether it is about a parent losing a drug addicted child, or about the addict’s effect on their family, I am always writing about the parents or the drug addicted individual. I have yet to tell a story, to write an article for the siblings. Which surprises me. Why? I have a younger brother and a younger sister. The effect that both my addiction and my recovery has had on them, has been profound. Yet, it isn’t a topic talked about much by me or any other addiction related site. Well it’s time.
So, here we go. This is in honor of my brother and sister, and all the brothers and sisters of every drug addict. You aren’t forgotten.
The relationships we have with our siblings is different than a parent/child relationship, obviously. Our siblings have more a friend or role model kind of relationship with us. They also tend to be the first to notice when something is up with us (the drug addicted.) Often times if we are honest with anyone in our family it is our siblings first. For instance, my brother knew what I was doing long before my parents. Siblings are also impacted just as much as the parents, just in different ways. This is especially true if the addiction ends in death. And luckily, people are starting to notice.
Both nationally and locally, there is a growing focus on the emotional needs of the non-addicted siblings in families dealing with substance abuse. Addiction treatment centers are offering more sibling support, including a program at Highland Park Hospital, as are national groups with suburban chapters, such as Compassionate Friends, Nar-Anon and GRASP.
When a person’s brother or sister is addicted to drugs, his or her emotional needs often fall through the cracks because everyone’s focused on helping the parents and the addict, said Dr. Joseph Lee, a child psychiatrist and medical director of youth services at Hazelden, a national addiction treatment center with a location in Chicago.
“Siblings get left out. They’re not getting support from their parents, because the other sibling has become a vacuum,” Lee said. “Some (siblings) end up trying to be caretakers, some enable, some turn their backs, some won’t talk about it, and some are scared so they ignore it.”
The issues can be especially challenging for young people when their drug-addicted brother or sister is school-aged or living at home. That can bring shame, fear that they’ll end up like the addict, and judgment from other kids and parents.
All of this rings true for my family. And the long list of damage I caused emotionally and psychologically in my siblings could go on and on. That is why it’s important that we don’t forget that this is a family disease, one that doesn’t comprise of moms and dads and their drug addicted kids, but also of brothers and sisters who often times are the last thing anyone is focused on. Which is unfortunate.
Luckily there is support now for the siblings. As we mentioned before with groups like GRASP. Anyone who wants to get support can. The siblings shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle. And we hear you. And we are here for you.
If you have a brother or sister share your story with us. If you are the sibling of a drug addict who has passed away, or of a drug addict who is still using, or even a drug addict that has recovered please share with us! We want to share in your experience, strength and hope. Share your voice for the other siblings out there. Don’t get lost in the shuffle. What is your story? What did you experience?