How Addiction Affects Sibling Relationships

Less celebrated than Mother’s and Father’s Day but not less important… It’s Siblings Day! A National Day to recognize the important relationship between siblings. While these relationships are important, it is also vital to learn how addiction affects sibling relationships. 

What about those whose relationship with their brother or sister is strained due to substance abuse? Having a family member in active addiction is an experience that can run the emotional gamut from helplessness, fear, and despair to anger, frustration, and resentment– sometimes all at once. Understanding that you are not alone in your experience can help to break the feeling of isolation that often comes from having a sibling addicted to drugs or alcohol. 

Loss of Sibling Relationships

Having a sibling in active addiction can feel like a loss. Suddenly your brother or sister has changed and your relationship has changed with it. Their behavior can go from close friend and confidante to elusive, lying, and avoidant. They may disappear from your life altogether. You may wonder if you’ll ever get your sibling back. If your sister or brother gets help from an addiction treatment program, they can work on their sibling relationships and other relationships. They can learn how to live a more positive life without alcohol or drugs. 

Fear of Sharing

Often in the early stages of addiction, siblings are among the first to know but do not want to tell their family for fear of breaking their sibling’s trust. Know that you are not helping your sibling in any way by keeping this problem in the dark. You are actually hurting them. Addiction is a dangerously progressive disease for which the risks increase the longer it continues. Talking to someone about the problems you’ve seen means you are no longer harboring a distressing secret, and it could save your sibling’s life. 

Love/Hate Feelings

Common addict behaviors include lying, stealing, manipulating, and blaming. Being on the receiving end of these negative actions can be immensely painful and frustrating. Any attempt you make at trying to help your sibling seems to blow up in your face. After a while, you can start to feel resentful and even hateful, creating a conflicting love/hate relationship. But it’s important to remember that addiction is a disease, it is not your sibling you hate but their illness. And getting them help is the only road to getting them back.

Feeling Overlooked

A common problem for siblings of addicts is the feeling of being overlooked by their parents, who are so focused on the child in crisis that they don’t see the needs of their non-addicted child. This is especially difficult if the sibling is in a developmental period, like their teenage years, where they need parental guidance and attention. If the non-addicted sibling lives away from home, they may find that every conversation with their parents leads back to their addicted sibling and the status of their using. 

It can be a tough position to be in mentally. As a sibling of an addict, you know that your addicted sibling needs your parents’ help and attention more, but still can’t help but feel your needs are not being met. There is resentment (and subsequent guilt over feeling resentful), for what are entirely valid feelings.

Strain on Parental Relationship

For siblings of addicts, watching the pain their parents experience can be hard to watch and create even more friction in the sibling relationship. “I watched my parents wilt and fade. This was the hardest part of all, to see their sadness and helplessness,” said one sibling of an addict. Whether your parents are in denial or the throes of acceptance, the emotional toll can be a significant drain. You may feel angry at your sibling for causing this pain or simply heartbroken along with them. 

There can also be more strain in the dynamics when family members disagree over how to best to deal with and support the addicted sibling, creating ongoing friction in the family.


Blaming yourself for aspects of their struggle or mistakes you think you’ve made is a common issue among family members of addicts. Do not pass the blame on yourself or anyone else. You did not cause their addiction, you cannot control their addiction, and you cannot “fix” or cure their addiction. All you can do is offer loving support with firm boundaries and encourage them to seek help. 

The Strength in Continuous Rebuilding

Recovery is not linear. Drug and alcohol cravings don’t subside just because a person has broken through the withdrawal stage. It does not necessarily get easier the further one gets into their sobriety. Building sober support and proper relapse prevention education can greatly help.

Sometimes, rebuilding relationships during the recovery process can be quite shaky. It requires a level of trust by both parties. Often that trust can be broken during the ups and downs of recovery, particularly in the case of relapses. Finding the strength to keep rebuilding, even through setbacks, can be difficult. With love and determination challenges can be overcome. You can create new, stronger relationships, as well. 

If you or a loved one are in need of alcohol or drug treatment, please pick up the phone. Our admission specialists are here to listen, offer advice, and help find the right treatment facility and plan for you and your loved one.

Call us today at Harmony Oaks Recovery Center  (423) 708-4961.

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