The Secret of Talking to Your Addicted Sibling (Brother or Sister)

Are you afraid of talking with your siblings about their addiction? Do you suspect the situation can become even more complicated? Read more on how to plan for the discussion…and what to avoid.

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ARTICLE SUMMARY: Just one family member with a drinking or drug problem can bring imbalance to the entire group. And if you’ve offered help, your brother or sister may have refused it because they still don’t believe they have a problem. This article reviews ways to improve your approach to convince your sibling to get into treatment. More here, with a section at the end for questions. 



You’re More Important than You Think

We sure can love and hate our brothers and sisters. Growing up together can test our very souls. But when you’re worried about your silbing’s behavior, your input can be more important that you know. This study reports a well-known fact:

The onset of substance use typically occurs during adolescence. 

But the research also suggests that siblings and peers may provide complementary influences on how people navigate the transition through teen and early adult years. You can transmit a good example, or you can provide a bad one. Your sibling sees you horizontally. In other words, you have more influence than you think!

So, what can you do first?

Are You Helping…or Enabling?

The big thing is to recognize if you’re actually helping or enabling your addicted sibling with your actions. Enabling is a behavior that prevents someone from responsibility. It’s basically when you get in the way of having your brother or sister experience consequences for their drug or alcohol use. Enabling can look like:

1. Paying bills, filling the car with gas, or buying groceries.

2. Telling lies or making excuses for your sibling.

3. Bailing the person out of jail.

4. Cleaning up after the person.

5. Threatening to leave but failing to follow through on your threats.

6. Accepting part of the blame for your brother or sister’s bad behavior.

7. Trying to strengthen the relationship by drinking or taking drugs together.

8. Avoiding family issues or problems that need to be addressed.

Enabling adds to an addiction. It doesn’t help.

You might have already been stuck in this position and don’t know how to help your sibling. How can you address the seriousness of their substance (ab)use? Can you somehow help them move from the position of denial?

We think that you need professional help. Planning an intervention is especially hard when you have no professional experience in this area. Addiction is a medical condition, so consulting a professional can be the best place to start. Who can you ask for help?

Where to Get Help

When someone has a drug problem, it’s not always easy to know what to do. NIDA for Teens recommends that you talk with someone you trust. You can talk to a parent, school guidance counselor, or other trusted adult like a sports coach, youth group leader, or community leader.

Plus, confidential resources are out there, like the Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP) offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which refers callers to particular treatment facilities, support groups, and other local organizations. You can also locate substance abuse treatment centers in your state by going to

Here are some other ideas:

1. Talk with your family doctor. S/He can refer you to local specialists such as addiction doctors (Find an ABAM specialist), psychotherapists or counselors (Find an APA psychologist member near you), or psychiatrists (Find an ABA psychiatrist near you).

2. Talk with a social worker. You can contact your state’s Department of Health and Social Services to talk through the treatment options. Plus, you can see what services are available FOR YOU! Need counseling? Ask!

3. Call our hotline number listed above. Caring operators are ready to take your call and talk you through the process of detox and addiction treatment. Plus, it’s possible that you need to be connected with a professional interventionist. Reach out. Help is just a phone call away.

4. Call an addictions counselor, a psychiatrist, or a doctor who’s studied addiction. The following professional associations can connect you with someone in your area:

The Secret Of Talking: Planning

The first step to planning an intervention is preparation. To understand the nature of addiction, first read more about the signs and symptoms of drug/alcohol abuse. Knowing more will help you when talking with other members of your family and as you ask for advice from a professional. Then, together, you can agree who will talk to your sibling about getting help.

Also, be prepared to speak with other family members about your concerns. Make sure that you are safe from potential emotional and/or physical harm. It is crucial to gain your own emotional stability, so you can better cope with the problem and more easily overcome the barriers toward recovery.

Speaking with others who are having similar struggles is always productive. Consider SMART Recovery Friends & Family, which offer science-based, secular support group meeting (both online and in-person) to help those who are affected by the substance abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse or other addictions or Al-Anon or Alateen, a Twelve-Step organization providing help to family members of alcoholics. Meetings are widely available and free of charge.

Top 5 Things To Avoid When Talking To Your Addicted Sibling

Rule #1 – Avoid confrontation.

Instead of blaming your brother or sister for their condition, try to focus the conversation on your feelings and how their behavior affects you. The outcome may be to visit a therapist together, so you can solve your personal difficulties with the addiction in your family. Step by step, the therapist will shift the focus to your sibling without him/her noticing that the treatment is actually meant for them.

Rule #2 – Ask them to make immediate decision.

Do not let your sibling step back and think of the situation over time. Instead, be prepared to immediately consult a treatment program once s/he understands that dysfunction is occuring. This is a crucial part of the intervention, as the recovery process starts with the decision of accepting treatment.

Rule #3 – Do not threaten your sibling.

Not that it’s just ineffective, but threats to someone using drugs or drinking can also be dangerous. When people are in panic or consumed by a feeling of fear, they can be very aggresive. Conflict brings even more conflict, and suggestions and support will not have any impact if the vibes are negative in the relationship.

Rule #4 – Don’t try to talk when your sibling is under influence.

Rule #5 – Never ever offer drugs or alcohol to your addicted sibling!

It is very important to remember that addiction is a serious disease and you should always treat it in that way. Accepting treatment should never be celebrated by taking “one last dose”. Stopping the enabling cycle means respecting that addiction is a sickness. When you refuse to participate in it, you set a good example.


Do you struggle with the idea of addressing your sibling’s addiction? We hope this short article can help. If you have any additional questions, please post them in the comments section below. We try to reply to all legitimate questions with a personal response and as soon as possible.

Reference sources: Drug-free: Helping an Adult Family Member or Friend with a Drug or Alcohol Problem
Project Know: Support Groups for Families of Alcoholics
The Recovery Village: 9 tips for family members to stop enabling an addict
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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