Jan 022014 5 Responses

Help! My Sibling’s Addiction is Killing My Parents

On a nearly monthly basis, I receive a phone call that goes like this:

Caller: Kevin, I need help. My brother/sister is addicted to (fill in the blank) and I’m afraid it is going to kill my parents.

Me: We need to get them into a recovery program.

Caller: I know, but they won’t go. My Mom and Dad have even offered to go with them.

Me: I’m not talking about your sibling. They need a recovery program too, but I’m talking about your parents.

Few things are more difficult than assisting a loved one through an addiction. It is so difficult that we often become a part of the problem rather than the solution. Despite the best of intentions and efforts, we often end up enabling our loved ones instead of helping them. (See: How to Parent an Adult Child Who is Making Bad Decisions)

As a general rule, there is only one effective course of action a person can take when a loved one has an addiction—work on you. (See: How to Respond to Others When They Make Bad Decisions)

It seems counter-intuitive. We think, “They have the addiction therefore they have the problem.” And they do. But often the loved one has a problem as well. As the person is addicted to something, so the parent is often addicted to trying to get the child better. Try as they may, their actions frequently make the problem worse instead of better.

Most often, the best way a parent can help a child who struggles with an addiction is to seek counseling and support for their own issues. By doing this, they are modeling good behavior for their child and learning what to do (and more importantly, what not to do) in order to help their child.

Unfortunately, most parents are not willing to break the denial and take this step. They fail to see how they are hurting their child. They do not understand the nature of addiction. And, they refuse to admit they cannot make their child well. (See: You Will Not Change Until…)

Because of this they do not get help. They don’t change. Their child doesn’t change. And the rest of the family watches the addict and the parents spiral downward.

As a sibling, watching your parents struggle with the poor choices of your brother or sister is difficult to take.

Here are a few suggestions of what you can do:

1. Be willing to help the addict. Your sibling should always know they can turn to you if they need help. But they should also know if they turn to you, it will be actual help they will be getting. You are always willing to find a phone number or location of a recovery center. You will drive them there. You will assist with their children or family while they are gone. You will always help them if they are taking the proper steps.

2. Refuse to hurt the addict. While you will help the addict, you will not enable them. You will not give them money. You will not listen to them whine or complain. You will not remove the negative consequences of their poor decision making.

3. Be willing to assist your parents. Recognize they are going through a difficult situation and give them the empathy they need. Do not judge them. Recognize how difficult it is to make wise choices when a child is involved. Point them toward counseling and support groups. Assist them in taking the right steps to get help.

4. Separate your relationship with your parents from your sibling’s relationship with your parents. While you cannot fully separate from your addicted sibling, you do have a right to have a relationship with your parents beyond your sibling’s addiction. You have every right to reach a point in which you refuse to discuss your sibling’s addiction with your parents. After your opinion is known and your boundaries have been communicated, you can tell your parents to no longer discuss the issue with you. Relate to them as your parents and not solely as the parents dealing with your sibling’s addiction.

5. Do not blame your parent’s choices on your sibling or vice-versa. Each person is responsible for their own actions. A sibling’s addiction does not lead to the early death of a parent. The parent might make poor choices which hurts their health, but those are their choices not the choices of the child. The addict is responsible for his/her addiction and parents are responsible for how they respond to it. Do not blame one for the other.

If we had the ability to save others, no child would suffer from addiction. Parents want what is best for their children. However, we cannot run the lives of others. We are each responsible for ourselves. Parents can’t save children. And children can’t save parents. We can help, assist, and hope, but we can’t do much more than that.

For those in the Greater Fort Smith Region, a great first step for any addict or a family member of an addict would be to attend Celebrate Recovery Thursday night at 6.
5 Responses to Help! My Sibling’s Addiction is Killing My Parents
  1. tambi (@tambi) Reply

    Thanks for sharing this, Kevin. Having lost a sister to alcoholism while I was in seminary and having a brother who is currently battling the disease, this hits close to home. This is very wise advice.

  2. […] Is this my business? (See: Help! My Sibling’s Addiction is Killing My Parents) […]... kevinathompson.com/how-to-parent-an-adult-child-who-is-making-bad-decisions
  3. Betty Carruthers Reply

    Dear Kevin your input has been helpful to me. I am a 69 year old mother of a 28 year old son addicted to alcohol and drugs. His behavior has been crippling to himself and our family and I am ashamed to myself as well as I have been an enabler. If I do not give him the things that he demands, He destroys my home, takes my belongings and destroys whatever is in his path. I want to attend counseling for myself to reprogram myself to handle this situation victoriously. Where do I start. I have sought counseling for him and have always been willing to be a part of the counseling. He does not follow through. At this point, I just need to heal and get me programmed to do what is appropriate and right in this matter. Can you suggest where I can go to start finding counseling. I live in the Dallas, Texas area. Betty Carruthers

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Betty, thank you for the comment and I’m sorry for your pain. I don’t know any counselors personally who live in Dallas. What I would do is call a large church nearby and ask if they have some names to refer to. If that doesn’t work, let me know.

  4. Guen Reply

    Bawling if your child is wasting away and has a warrant for positive meth and amphetamine test and failure to appear for probation reporting etc… and sometimes living in a park tears and literally wasting away to 110 pounds as a 5 ft 11 in male and is hurting themselves so greatly do you or someone turn them in ??? If you know their whereabouts?? Meth causes psychosis and seizures and strokes.. he’s had all 3 he has 2 children who could obviously benefit from having a dad in recovery in their lives especially one who doesn’t have a male role model our grandson I mean this is chronic and of course progressive disease and meth leaves people unable to make decisions so Please someone help me

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