The Sibling Group
A siblings group is a unique support group for young adults who have been harmed by their sibling’s substance use. A Myriad of support groups exists within the mental health community. There are groups for people with substance use disorders, mental health disorders, people going through a divorce, or people with other behavioral issues and is necessary for the wellbeing of the attendee. It is something that is very important to the person going through it because it normalizes the fact that there are very real hardships the sibling goes through during the treatment process. Addiction is family disease and for adolescents, this is especially true. Below are 3 unique struggles siblings can experience when living in a household that’s been hit hard by addiction.
- Lack of Connection with the Teen Struggling with Substance Use Disorder
The sibling in many cases is pretty close in age to the teen struggling with substance use disorder. They likely have had strong bonds growing up and were at one time close to their sibling. A struggle a lot of siblings go through is the “loss of a loved one” feeling when the teen is deep in their addiction. It’s one that the parents know all too well. The feeling can make other family members believe that they are talking to a different person. More likely than not, they essentially are.
The teen with a substance use disorder often has their motivations, priorities, morals, and goals change due to their use. They might find maintaining their relationship with their sibling is 9th or 10th on the priority list consisting of at least 3 drugs and 5 methods of obtaining them. But, with all addicts, once they’ve gotten their fix, and checked off that item on the list, the process is restarted again, and again. Sadly, the sibling box is rarely checked off, despite many attempts by the sibling of establishing some semblance of connection. The sibling gets mad, sad and bitter and eventually hides and changes their focus to something else.
- Feeling Invisible
One of the more heartbreaking experiences the sibling goes through is the feeling that they are invisible within their family. This is not the parent’s fault, nor is it the teen’s fault. Addiction is a disease that tears families apart. It is hard for everyone involved. Somewhere along the way between the addict getting their fix and fighting everyone in their path, and the parents trying desperately to get their child back, the sibling can feel that their accomplishments or efforts are going unnoticed. The unfortunate part is that they probably are.
One of the hardest situations for a parent is working damage control with an addict child and putting every amount of available energy into that child only to then watch the other one suffer. It’s pretty easy to see how a parent can reach a point of hopelessness and despair. Sometimes when a child is feeling as though they are not being seen or not “important” that’s when they can start acting out in an effort to gain some visibility. The sibling can sometimes start acting out with drugs or alcohol or start getting in trouble at school. All of these reactions are completely understandable when you are left with the feeling that you are not a priority in your family.
- The Hero Trap
The reverse reaction is also potentially harmful. This is known as the “Hero Child” complex. The sibling, watching their parents struggle to regain control and their brother or sister completely lose it, can sometimes feel as though they need to pick up the slack in the household. Some of the most common ways siblings do this is by watching the youngest while the parents go and talk to a specialist, or by cleaning the house so that there is one less thing their parents need to worry about. In particularly bad cases, we’ve seen siblings do the grocery shopping or take care of dropping off and picking up the youngest siblings from school while Mom and Dad deal with their other teen getting in trouble for drugs.
In any case, though this is usually tied with the reason above, feeling as though you are invisible. The sibling can try and gain visibility or appreciation by helping the family, even if it is in smaller ways. But this method, although very appreciated, can make the sibling feel trapped. It can feel like if they don’t help than they are adding to the problem and it can feel like a loss of childhood. The child in this role will put an enormous amount of stress on themselves to be “perfect” and find it hard to ask for help. This crossover in roles can lead to overcorrection in later years. Meaning that this sibling is out of pocket in times of need in the future.
The point in this article is to shed some light on what the sibling goes through and to stress the importance of mental, emotional and spiritual intervention across the board in the family system. This is why at Keystone APG we have started our sibling group. We have structured it as an open process group with the emphasis on the substance use disorder in the home but is also open to the other sources of pain for the attendee to check in about. It’s a group that is vitally important to the lives of the people in it. When dealing with substance use disorder, you cannot forget about the family and what they have been through. Keystone focuses on the family system and that is why we offer groups for the teen with the substance use disorder, their parents and NOW their siblings! This group is held every other Friday at our main location.