The effect of addiction: On siblings
“Watching someone you love being rearranged and turned inside out while they try to hide, manage, deny, recover or live with mental health problems and alcohol and other drug use…”
This is the portentous introduction detailing strong emotions a sibling of someone with addictions and co-occurring issues feels; it’s detailed on a website dedicated to siblings of addicts. Affinity, fond memories and closeness – the best of a sibling bond – are perverted by the naturally mercurial shades of emotion while the addicted toil in abuse.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) compiled data from hundreds of scholars on sibling relationships and substance abuse. Below are illuminating findings:
- Substance abuse can be predicted by aggression, violence and hostility between siblings, surpassing the effects of negative parent-child and peer relationships
- Sibling violence happens more frequently than other forms of child abuse and is considerably correlated to substance abuse
- One sibling’s behavioral issues were tied to the other’s depression; research demonstrated strong correlations between siblings’ tandem levels of substance abuse
- An older brother or sister’s externalizing of behavior synchronized with a younger sibling’s increasingly externalized behavior over time
- Parent differential treatment (PDT) of one child over the other instigated substance abuse, and PDT was reportedly a response to a child addicted to substances
Straight-edge by comparison
Jim LaPierre, a clinical social worker and therapist, explains siblings of an addict will either follow the substance abuser’s lead or do the polar opposite.
“Siblings of addicts will almost assuredly have very strong feelings about drugs and alcohol. Some will be straight-edged and others will resent the idea that they cannot use or drink in moderation. … The addict is Cain and the siblings are expected (by their parents and/or themselves) to be Abel. Perfectionism and over-achievement follow.”
Effects with parents
LaPierre says prodigal behaviors and perfectionism extremes are the very definition of compensation, and it’s largely unconscious. “Families seek equilibrium, even if it means going to equal and opposite extremes,” he informs.
As revealed in part two of this series, children’s addiction can affect their parents’ relationship. They often divide the two, as one enables and the other likely protests the situation, taking a vocal and aggressive approach. The significance on the remaining child or children is double-edged.
LaPierre explains the conundrum. While the remaining siblings are in a fish-bowl of attention, it’s superficial. “The siblings grow up in a vacuum of emotional unavailability,” as parents are emotionally drained by the addicted child, he illustrates.
Effects in outside relationships
One of the greatest effects of sibling addiction is its preparation for a future codependent relationship. It’s the parents’ place to influence a wayward child, yet their sibling’s mixed feelings of love, pity, anger, frustration and helplessness are just as strong.
According to the NIH, codependency has evolved from defining just spouses to include any relative of another with a substance abusing and/or psychological problem. The signs of codependent people indeed mirror the traits of a sisterly or brotherly bond through adversity:
- Controlling, as they believe others are incapable of taking care of themselves
- Faltering self‐esteem with tendencies to self-deprecate
- Excessively compliant, compromising personal values to avoid rejection
- Oversensitive, as they are often hypervigilant of any disturbances
- Loyal to those who do nothing outwardly to deserve their fealty
The Sovereign Health Group has risen as a nationwide leader in mental health rehabilitation from psychological disorder, addiction, dual diagnosis and eating disorders. Because our treatment is individually customized, we are ever-mindful of loved ones in the process. Family therapy, family weekends and dinners aid the support system in a natural and holistic way, both during and after rehabilitation. Call our 24/7 helpline for details.
About the Author
Sovereign Health Group staff writer Kristin Currin is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.