Families are dramatically impacted when a member has a Substance Use Disorder (SUD/addiction). While we are getting better at addressing parents’ needs, we sometimes overlook the siblings’ needs and experiences. Quite naturally, siblings may feel resentment and anger, they may desperately want to rescue their addicted sibling, or they may isolate or disconnect … either from the addicted sibling or from the entire family system.

This page contains information for those seeking support or a greater understanding of the sibling’s relationship to someone with an SUD.

Following up on our February 27, 2024 program

We heard from a professional who works closely with family systems, as well as other family members who shared their personal experiences. This program is relevant to siblings, parents, or anyone seeking understanding about the relationship between siblings when one or more have a substance use disorder.

Meet Our Presenters

Mallory Henry

Mallory Henry

Senior Coordinator of Education
Caron Treatment Centers

Maddy Omrod, LSW

Ethos Treatment, LLC

Liz Tankel, MSS, LCSW, CAADC

Better Counseling Services, LLC

Chester County Department of Drug & Alcohol Services

Hear from siblings who shared their experience

We aren’t parents. We aren’t spouses. We don’t have responsibility for the addict, but we still love them and are hurt by them. We are stuck watching them spiral and crash with our hands tied behind our backs.

I was the straight-A, involved, goody two-shoes kid my parents never had to worry about getting into trouble. I was mature for my age and independent, which despite still being a child, meant I was often left to figure things out myself. My parents were so focused on my brother, understanding his drug use and getting him into rehab, that I was often left to the side. I started to feel like I couldn’t tell them when I was struggling with school, stressed about college applications, scared about moving away from home. I also couldn’t enjoy my accomplishments with them.

We got home from intervention prep at midnight a few nights before my brother went to rehab and I received acceptance emails from my top two choice colleges. I immediately started crying, but they weren’t tears of joy. I was crying because I was mad that I couldn’t feel the joy of that moment. I felt ripped off from enjoying my senior year. But then I immediately felt guilty because I knew my brother was the sick one who needed help. I carried that guilt of my anger for a long time.

I think it’s important for parents to know that siblings of addicts are watching our beloved brother or sister kill themselves in front of us, just like they are. Understand that we need support too. And help your kids find ways to enjoy their lives in the midst of fear and crisis, because we will never get that time back.

My message is this: Don’t forget us. Remember to celebrate our everyday lives, and especially our successes. Remember to stop and check in with us about how we are doing, instead of being relieved that we don’t complain, scream, cry, or curse at you because we are the “good children.” Take the time to plan our high school graduation party, attend our piano recital, or cheer at our soccer game. Be present when you drop us off on our first day of college, or when we tell you about the mean thing that someone said to us at school that day. When my brother was going through his addiction, I felt like I was forgotten, that my emotional needs fell through the cracks because everyone was focused on him or my parents.

Find resources that support siblings

From Hazelden Betty Ford:  A guide to identify issues and develop your own recovery plan

Siblings also struggle when addiction strikes a family

from WHYY

The Shadow Child: Living with a Sibling’s Addiction

by Ashleigh Nowakowski

It Will Never Happen to Me: Growing Up with Addiction as Youngsters, Adolescents, and Adults

by Claudia Black

Sober Siblings: How to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister-and Not Lose Yourself

by Patricia Olsen

Sister Siren: A Non Fiction About Addiction

by Michaela K. Canterbury

The Worst Thing: A Sister’s Journey Through her Brother’s Addiction and Death

by A. M. Young

Addict in the House: A No-Nonsense Family Guide Through Addiction and Recovery

by Robin Barnett EdD LCSW


Long Bright River: A Novel

by Liz Moore

For Young Readers:

Josh and ZZ: A Sibling Story on Addiction

by Annie Chute Hernandez

Here is the poem that Mallory Henry shared:

I Am the Other Child

I am the other child.
The ok one
I am the sober child.
The one on the sidelines.
I am the observer.
The one watching him slowly killing our parents.
I am the angry one.
The one who’s pissed because he’s
destroying our family.
I am the sad one.
The one losing her first best friend.
I am the reassuring one.
The one holding her Momma as she cries.
I am the torn one.
The broken one trying to hold everyone
I am the confused one.
The one who wonders how we became
so unimportant and invisible.
I am the other child.
The ok one.
– Anonymous

Al-Anon Meetings 

Alateen / Teen Corner

Sibling Support Group

Caron Treatment Center offers a national Sibling Support Group that meets online on the third Wednesday of every month from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Participants must be 18 years or older to attend.

Here is the link to join: https://caron-org.zoom.us/j/84245958517?pwd=bmsyMDRvQURGLzcySWZkQ1c3aG4vZz09

Meeting ID: 842 4595 8517
Passcode: caronsap

Contact Mallory Henry at mhenry@caron.org with any questions.

Learn more about Brynn. Her practice is called BCA Therapy. 

Brynn mentioned J. William Worden’s 4 Tasks of Mourning:

  • Task I: To accept the reality of the loss.

  • Task II: To process the pain of grief.

  • Task III: To adjust to a world without the deceased.

  • Task IV: To find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life.

Click here to learn more.

Death is Nothing At All

A poem by Henry Scott-Holland

Siblings of Patients Need Support Too

from Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania

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