Siblings of people with substance use disorders (SUD) may feel they are ill-equipped to help, either when drug use is active or when a sibling enters a treatment program for addiction.
However, just because you don’t have personal experience with substance abuse or treatment at an inpatient or outpatient rehab center doesn’t mean you can’t relate to your sibling.
There are several healthy ways to support a sibling through the addiction recovery process, such as learning about substance abuse and being a non-judgmental listener.
Contrarily, there are ways to negatively affect a sibling’s recovery, along with hurting yourself. These can include blaming or enabling your sibling.
5 Ways To Support Your Sibling
When we see siblings in a hard situation due to drug or alcohol abuse, we immediately want to help.
Below are some positive ways to assist your sibling while they embark on their recovery, and help you know what to say if they relapse.
1. Educate Yourself
The first thing you can do is inform yourself about how someone with a substance use disorder (SUD) may be affected physically and mentally.
Additionally, you might also learn more about what the addiction recovery process looks like. This can help you to be prepared for what’s to come and empathize with their situation.
One way to do this is by attending a 12-step program meeting. Many 12-step groups are open to those who wish to observe and learn about the recovery process.
Speaking with healthcare professionals can give you insight into how addiction is a medically diagnosed disease.
Ask questions about how addiction affects the brain and body to learn how it might be affecting your sibling.
This can bring a level of understanding with your sibling, and help you to see why people go to alcohol and drug rehab, and can’t just simply “quit” without assistance.
2. Establish Trust
Despite your sibling wanting to get clean, it may still be hard to give them your complete trust, especially in cases when active addiction has gone on for years.
But it’s important to understand how family support during addiction recovery can help. With your support and trust, your sibling will be more likely to achieve long-term sobriety.
Being a non-judgmental, available, and non-confrontational resource for your sibling provides them a safe space to connect with you when they are experiencing rough times in recovery.
3. Set Boundaries
For some, the hardest thing when dealing with a sibling in the addiction process is to set boundaries.
It’s important to know that saying no, or referring them to someone else who may better help them, is okay. Their sobriety is not based on what you can or can’t do for them.
If you decide to appease them against your own wishes, this can turn into resentment you have toward them, further creating conflict and confusion later on.
4. Allow Them To Have Their Own Journey
Your sibling’s emotional and physical well-being is not your burden to bear.
In the same way that you must let a new co-worker experience the ups and downs of becoming familiar with a new position, your sibling has to go through certain things in recovery without you there.
Allowing them the space to find their own coping strategies can give them the strength and self-confidence they need to remain sober.
5. Practice Self-Care
It’s easy to forget about simple things like exercise, meditation, or even sleep when a sibling is in the midst of addiction recovery because your mind is preoccupied with helping them.
Remember to take time for yourself to do things that bring you joy, and to keep up with your health practices. This will rejuvenate your body and help you better assist your sibling.
3 Habits That May Hurt A Sibling’s Recovery
There are a few common things that siblings do that may hurt the addiction recovery process — for them and for you.
Keep in mind that these habits are normal for siblings and other family members of people with addictions.
The important thing is to recognize when an unhealthy habit is happening and respond to it.
If your sibling is having trouble staying sober or is still displaying erratic behavior in recovery, it’s important to not take their shortcomings as your failure.
The recovery process is different for everyone, and even with adequate friends, support, and love, someone still may struggle to stay sober.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40% to 60% of people with a SUD relapse.
Know that relapse is a common part of the recovery process. Their slip-ups with drugs or alcohol are not a reflection of how well you’ve supported them.
While your companionship and help are greatly needed in your sibling’s recovery journey, they’re in control of their own actions.
Attending Al-Anon may help you better manage the emotional toll of a sibling’s recovery journey. Al-Anon is open to the family members and loved ones of people with addiction.
Enabling A Sibling
You can be supportive without constantly offering money, shelter, or bailing them out of legal issues. While filling these needs may seem necessary at the moment, it may stunt their growth.
Part of the addiction recovery process is learning how to function in society as a sober person. This means your sibling will need to understand how to live by their own means.
If your brother or sister requests money after spending it on drugs or alcohol, consider offering them support through other means.
For example, instead of sending them money, invite them over for a meal or offer to take them to a job interview.
Avoiding enabling behaviors will encourage your sibling to lean on their own strategies for recovery and push them to take care of themselves.
Judging The Recovery Process
It’s difficult to sit back and watch your sibling relapse again and again, especially if it directly affects you and your family.
Remind yourself that they have a disorder, a medically diagnosed condition that requires professional help.
Someone newly sober will be in a world of emotional pain, causing unruly or antisocial behavior. Your sibling might be angry, depressed, lonely, or unable to remain sober for any stretch of time.
Allow them time to recover and try not to pass judgment on them when they make a mistake. Recovery is a long and difficult process, it takes time to heal.
Treatment For Substance Abuse In Massachusetts
There are several ways you can help your sibling find recovery.
Reach out to a specialist today to learn more about our programs for addiction recovery.