How Addiction Affects the Family: A Sibling’s Experience

Addiction affects the family, often hurting the ones that love the addict the most. Getting sober, a lot of the focus is put on the addict and the transformation that takes place as they stop using drugs and alcohol. The family can play a huge part in making this process successful though, and are often the unsung heroes of a successful recovery.

Siblings can be affected in a lot of ways. Often the extent of the addict’s use and behavior isn’t clear to brothers and sisters while the addiction is going on. So on top of coming to terms with this, which can be a difficult process in itself, siblings also learn how to communicate in new ways and go through changes themselves. The end result though, can be a new and rich relationship built on a foundation of love. I had the chance to talk with Sophie S., who has a brother in recovery, about her experience with the process, and what her relationship with her brother Alex, looks like now.

What did your relationship look like when Alex was using?

I wouldn’t even really call it a relationship. We didn’t talk much, and when we did it was usually pretty spiteful, arguing or throwing around rude comments. I didn’t trust him and he didn’t trust me. Although the love was always there, it was really covered up by a lot of anger towards each other. He was biologically my brother, but that’s about where our relationship started and ended.

How did you feel initially about your brother getting sober?

The time that Alex went to New Life House was, obviously, not a very happy one. If anything, I was confused, because I was at the time, unaware of the extent of Alex’s problems, and I also had very little knowledge of what sober living was. I guess that lack of knowledge did also create some fear. I was scared for Alex to go to New Life House, but I was also even more scared for him to leave once he got there.

What was difficult about communicating with Alex in the beginning of his recovery?

It was hard. I would say that was one of the hardest parts for me of Alex going to New Life House. The communication was quite limited, and I had to be careful of what I said, in order not to trigger any emotions about his past. I felt like every time I saw him, the conversations were so on the surface, which would always leave me feeling discouraged. I wanted Alex to open up to my family and explain his struggles, and it frustrated me that at first that wasn’t happening. Eventually though, the communication got easier and I learned and accepted that Alex needed to battle many of his wars on his own.

What types of changes did you notice as you watched him in recovery?

It was really amazing to watch Alex’s priorities transfer from mainly regarding himself to mainly regarding others. He gained a sense of gratitude for the ones around him, and it was that gratitude that forced his eyes open to realize the world was a lot bigger than he thought. He started holding the door for strangers, genuinely listening to others’ problems and he even began to share his food willingly with me.

Has there been anything else difficult about him getting sober?

I don’t think for anyone, recovery is a particularly easy, seamless process. I also don’t think Alex really bought in to the program for at least the first 6 months. In fact, at one point, he called my parents telling them he was packing up his bags to leave. So yes, there were a lot of difficult things that occurred while Alex was first in recovery, but as my parents and I reflected on his graduation day, without those difficulties there would have been no learning, no growth, and ultimately, no recovery.

How did your relationship change as he put together time sober?

I have always loved my brother fiercely, as I know he loves me. But, as Alex got increasingly more time sober, I began not only to love him, but also to look up to him. I think Alex’s time in New Life House taught my family a lot of things, one in particular being how precious loved ones are. Now that Alex is sober, we text, call, snap chat, visit, laugh, support and respect each other as much as a healthy sibling relationship could, and more than I thought we ever would.

Have you changed any aspects of your own life as your sibling got sober?

Like I previously said, Alex’s time in New Life House has taught my family and I a great number of things, and has also opened my eyes to the pain and disease of addiction. If anything, I have become more empathetic to families struggling with addiction, as I know firsthand how deeply the veins of its ugliness can spread poison in people. Additionally, I have become much closer to both Alex and my parents. Watching the lengths that family members go through in order to save their loved ones from addiction was utterly inspiring, and it made me see the irreplaceable value in familial ties.The following is a letter Sophie wrote to her brother Alex upon graduating from New Life House.

Dear Alex,

As I was sitting in class yesterday, my first class of the year actually, the professor said something that really struck me. He stated, “The natural tendency of the universe is towards disorder.” Think about it: in a more physical manner, that refers to the eventual break down and decay of all living and non living things. From their once concentrated state of atoms, every being, at one time or another falls apart, slowly becoming integrated back into the earth. Now, I heard that statement, and immediately connected it with a more abstract meaning. I thought about how true that statement was in regards to me. I can remember few times that I have had optimal order in my life, and in fact almost all of my past days have been defined by a crazy, somewhat frustrating and often times confusing, disorder. But what I realized from my professor’s statement is that this disorder is okay, and it’s even what is supposed to be occurring (according to nature).

So, I want you to remember this, when all things seem to be happening at once, and you cant find your car keys, and you’re tired and under-caffeinated, and (god forbid) that cute girl you met at the AA meeting hasn’t texted you back. Take a deep breath and a step back and remember your sobriety first and foremost, and how it has shaped who you are and where you are going, remember those who love you (ME!! :D), and remember that without all this disorder, your life wouldn’t be half as interesting, exciting, fulfilling or meaningful.

I am so proud and amazed of the man you have become and all the work you have put into learning about and living a sober life, and I can only hope that you continue to put in effort to better yourself and remember to always stay humble.

You are such a good role model for me.

I love you,


What is a cool experience you have shared with your sibling in sobriety?

I’d say so far, the coolest thing my brother and I have done since he graduated New Life House was to make a family trip to Disneyland. Aside from the deliciously fattening food and multiple trips on Space Mountain, I relished how good it felt to be with Alex and my parents, simply having fun and enjoying life. It seemed like so long since we had done anything of the sort. The coolest part of the day was looking at my family and, knowing what we had been through, seeing how much stronger we were as a family then and would always be.

Thanks for sharing your experience with us Sophie. If anyone has any experiences with brothers or sisters getting sober we would love for you to share your stories as well in the comments section!

Last Updated on February 21, 2024


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