Mon. Oct 25th, 2021

What No One Tells You About Being An Addict’s Sibling

Addiction’s consequences are not limited to the user. For every addict, there are multiple people in its destructive path.

No one tells you that the brother/sister you spent some of your earliest moments with will become unrecognizable.

You’ll look into their eyes and nothing will stare back at you. It’s like staring into a black hole, and if you look long enough, you’ll get sucked right into an endless pit of misery. If you know that look, it will probably haunt you forever. The person you idolized now worships something else that you can’t compete with. And God as your witness, you really, really did try to compete. There’s no more playing basketball or football or any sport you beg them to play with you. They don’t sing for you anymore unless they just snorted/ingested/injected substance X, Y, or Z and they’re in a state of giddy euphoria. They don’t watch TV or movies with you anymore, even if they’re physically there; they’re drifting miles away with each head nod. They don’t bring you home little gifts anymore, they take them. They take everything.

No one tells you about how it feels to be in constant competition for your sibling’s time and affection.

You tried to not tell on them so that they would like you. You tried to sneak them food even if they got kicked out. You tried to give them money, because, let’s be real, they would get it one way or another. You tried to give them your trust when they told you they needed the money for food or a bus ticket or anything besides what you knew it was really going towards. You tried to be patient so that you wouldn’t scare them away. You tried to be angry and show them tough love when all you wanted them to do was stop destroying themselves. You tried to understand how any substance could make you throw away everything just for one more high.


No one tells you your innocence will be crushed in the years to come while you watch your friends live fairly normal lives.

You have had drug dealers calling your phone looking for your sibling as long as you can remember. You’ve seen people looking like walking zombies come in and out of your house. You stopped bothering to learn names because they’ll only be “friends” until one of them rips the other one off. You had to learn what to do in case of an overdose after it happened all too many times. You had to learn to forget the vivid image of their blue face moments away from death. You’ve been whisked away to friends’ or family member’s houses to protect the innocence that has been gone for too long. Your friends found change when they were reaching in between couch cushions; you found spoons, needles, or stamp bags. You learned that the burnt spoons you were using to eat had heroin on them days before. You cried as you wrote down on your Christmas list that you just wanted to be in a family that got along. You cried during every fight. You cried when you didn’t know if they were still alive. You cried, and cried, and still cry sometimes.

No one tells you how exhausting it is to always be searching.

You’re searching through their pants, pillow cases, drawers, or any other spot you could possibly think of to make sure they aren’t using again. You’re searching for them because they stole something from a friend or family member and you want to kill them. You’re searching the streets for them because, even though you want to kill them, you don’t actually want them to be dead. You’re searching the internet to understand how this could have happened. You’re constantly searching for answers and apologies you’ll probably never get.


No one tells you about the hypervigilance or crushing anxiety

You’re counting spoons, q-tips, and pills. You’re counting your money, and then you’re counting it again. If any of these numbers seem a little off, your brain goes into panic/accusation mode. Could they be using again? You start watching every mannerism. Did their head just nod a little? How big are their pupils? How long have they been in the bathroom? How many times have they gone to the bathroom in the last few hours? Have they been in their room too long? Are they talking too fast or too slow, too much or too little? What have they been eating? Have they even been eating? You hear the house phone ring and your heart skips a few beats before it kicks into overdrive. Every time they walk out the door you know it could be their last. It’s like you don’t have a life of your own because you’re so consumed by theirs.

No one tells you about how it impacts every one of your environments

Every argument at home revolves around them. As soon as they walk in the door with that distant look in their eyes, the gloves come off. Your parents are shouting. Your other siblings are shouting. You’re either shouting at all of them or listening to them, usually not by choice. You’re trying to study or do your work, but who can do work when you can’t even hear your own thoughts or see the words on the paper through the tears in your eyes? Whether they show up at your work, a birthday party, baptism, or any special event, you know there is bound to be trouble. They’re shaking and sick; you’re shaking and sick. You feel the eyes on your family. All. The. Time. You can identify pity in someone’s eyes from a mile away. You can hear the whispers from other families. None of it is in your control at all, so why do you feel so ashamed?

No one tells you about the perfectionism.

There’s a good chance that, as the addict’s sibling, you’re known as the “good kid” in the family. You’ve heard that term over and over, and you’ll probably hate it until the day you die. Being referred to as “the good kid” in the family feels about as good as letting one hundred cement blocks sit on your chest for days or years on end. People don’t realize they’re causing harm with this label. Most people would look at this like some badge of honor, but it’s what your identity becomes centered around. You may start having anxiety attacks over grades that aren’t up to par or you might fall into a deep depression trying to live up to your own unattainable standards. The thought of ever getting into serious trouble makes you nauseous; it presents the possibility that the identity you grew up with that distinguished you from them will be stripped away. Kids and teenagers and adults are going to mess up. If there’s anything consistent in life, it’s that, yet it doesn’t feel like you’re allowed that privilege. When the inevitable happens and you start messing up, the fear that you’re going to end up on the exact same path is all consuming.


No one tells you about the isolation.

Highly dysfunctional families can be hard to hide. Your friends can’t sleepover because they might be exposed to what you deal with daily. You can’t invite friends over during the day in case your family starts brawling. Your parents can’t drive you to be with your friends because they’re too busy cleaning up messes, both literally and figuratively, or too tired. Everyone in your family is tired. People ask about your family and you either make things up or say you don’t know the answer. You go around pushing people away so they can’t get hurt by you or your family, too. You lie to them about how you’re doing so you don’t add to the worries. You won’t tell them you were too depressed to get out of bed and that’s why you didn’t go to school or work. You try not to tell anyone anything, but sometimes it sneaks out and you don’t talk to them for days out of embarrassment for getting “too personal.”


No one tells you that, despite what you’ve gone through, you’ll value the lessons you learned more than anything in the world. No one tells you that one of the worst things you can do for yourself is hate your sibling for their addiction. No one tells you that you may meet some of the best people in your life during this time.


The powerful grasp that addiction has is never contained to just the user. The number of people in similar situations is growing by the day, but not a single situation is the same. There is new insight to gain from each person that shares their story about how addiction has impacted them. There’s no limit to the good you can do with the knowledge you’ve attained. You’ll walk out with too many life lessons to count. You can give some of the best advice around because you’ve seen or heard it all.

One of the best pieces of advice given to me during this period in life was directly from the addict: You become what you hate. Don’t hate your siblings for their struggles. It will only lead you to pick up the same destructive coping mechanisms. Instead, hate addiction for how it ruined your family. Hate the drugs for how they took someone you loved (and still love) and made them unrecognizable. Hate the fact that, according to Boston University Medical Center, nearly one out of every five family medicine physicians receive and accept payment from pharmaceutical companies to prescribe opioids. Hate the fact that nearly two-thirds of the American population report addiction has impacted them in some way. Hate the fact that nearly half of America’s prison population has struggled with substance abuse. Hate the fact that, over decades of increasingly alarming trends, treatment centers are still severely underfunded while we’re sitting here acting like it’s no big deal to funnel over 20 billion into building a wall. In the most basic of terms, don’t hate the player, hate the game. The game can be changed while the players cannot.

And while you’re stuck in this cruel, twisted game, some of the best people will walk into your life through the door left open by those who couldn’t handle your vulnerability. They will teach you unconditional love. They will help you rebuild and conquer. They will make you wonder why you ever tried to do it alone in the first place. The amount that you appreciate their genuine love, support, and loyalty cannot be put into words. Even though the circumstances that brought them into your life may be terrible, you can’t help but be thankful for it. At the end of the day, I’m an addict’s sibling and I wouldn’t have it any other way.






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