Carole Bennett M.A.

From Heartache to Hope

How to talk to your children about their siblings addiction

Talking to your kids about their siblings addiction can be a challenge.

Posted Oct 28, 2013

Substance abuse within a family is a devastating, gut-wrenching problem. It can tear at the very fiber of even the strongest family 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It can percolate for years, and the behavior that accompanies it might have been dismissed because of scholastic demands, peer pressure or even a rite of passage that so many adolescents go through. But when their demeanor and conduct start to become out of control and irresponsible actions begin to occur, then parents have to face the harsh reality that their child may be on a destructive, possibly one-way path toward an addiction issue.

How do responsible parents communicate with their other, healthy children about the disease that may be infecting their sibling? Confusion, uncertainty and insecurity abounds for the child or children that doesn't understand why their brother or sister is sleeping all day, acting crazy, sounding and looking like a different person and not participating with the family anymore.

Though I am not a child psychologist, I believe that being honest and open with your child/children about their sibling's substance abuse issues is respectful and fair. Don't forget that children are very intuitive, and if they see their parents speaking in hushed tones or witness an emotional and/or physical change, they will realize something is just not right.

Here are some options for parents to consider;

1. Pick an easy, comfortable time to chat with your kids. Maybe a picnic in the park or a meal at their favorite restaurant would make a good backdrop. Have both parents participate, if possible.

2. If the other children don't have a particularly close bond with each other, or if there is a large age gap, it might be beneficial to talk to them separately.

3. If you do talk to them individually, make sure you don't come across as wanting to share a secret or that this is a secretive discussion. Everyone needs to be on the same page with the information shared.

4. Try not to make the conversation a big deal. Though it is, don't act worried or wring out your hands, as your children will pick up on this and be nervous as well.

5. Ask your children what their observations are about their brother or sister, and if they are confused, scared or upset about anything that they see or hear.

6. Allow them to participate in the conversation with their questions, concerns or even a game plan that they think might help their brother or sister.

7. Establish that you are not looking for them to tattle or divulge information about their brother or sister, and that if they want to exploit them, this is not a loving and helpful option.

8. If your child or children come to you first, acknowledge their interest in learning more about what's happening with their brother or sister, but hit the pause button so that you can regroup with a plan and not be cornered into an immediate response or knee-jerk reaction.

9. If there have been volatile arguments within the family, let the children know as often as necessary that they have nothing to do with them, that you are sorry that they witnessed these outbreaks and that regardless, everyone in the family unit is loved.

10. If the children are aware that there is something wrong with their brother or sister, tell them that he or she is sick at the moment and that Mom and Dad are doing everything they can to help him or her get well, but that it may not happen overnight.

11. If your child/children are teenagers, please consider Alateen, a group of teens who share their thoughts with each other regarding the substance abuse in their family. Private counseling with one or both parents is an option as well.

12. Do your best to keep your family a united front. Sibling splitting or having one child try to curry favor with the addicted sibling can be hazardous toward a joint effort in finding their loved one a path for recovery.

Whether your child is in grade school or college, the discussion about their sibling's substance abuse issues is difficult (keeping in mind exceptions for too much exposure depending on age and communication history), but a responsible parent realizes the importance of an honest, open exchange of ideas with all family members and sharing what the road ahead toward treatment looks like. Check in with each other periodically. Everyone will appreciate that they are part of a joint effort to help, and a special camaraderie may develop in doing so.

If I can be of service, please visit my website www.familyrecoverysolutions.com and I invite you to explore my book Reclaim Your Life – You and the Alcoholic/Addict.  It can be purchased through PayPal or at Amazon. In addition, my book is available as an audio through PayPal only.