How to Be There for a Sibling with Addiction

Supporting a sibling can mean forgiving them and encouraging them back toward Christian values

For the Christian whose sister or brother  is an addict, there is a persistent struggle to serve her in a sacrificial, Christ-like way, and at the same time, to set a proper boundary for personal health and sanity. Confusion over the proper approach to an addict family member can lead to enmeshment, co-dependency, and enabling, or a sense of guilt and callousness. Anger and frustration are almost unavoidable. These steps are designed to help the Christians struggling to deal with a sibling in addiction.

Admit The Problem. The addict is sick and we need to begin to see them with new eyes. The little girl you remember is gone—at least for now. Treating the addict as if she is normal leads to unreal expectations of her and resentment for you when she fails to meet them. The sooner you can see her as a person who is struggling with a disease she cannot control, the sooner you will begin to feel freedom from resentment and anger.

Christ Is That Savior—Not You. We all want to have the answer. We want to believe that if we extend enough love and give enough help, we can make the addict well. But the reality is, Christ is the only one who can save. When we believe in our hearts that Christ is the Redeemer, the Savior, and the Restorer, then we must admit that we are not. This is not an abdication of your responsibility to help your sister, rather, it is a humble realization of God’s omnipotent power and our human weakness.

Setting Boundaries. While you may fear that you will appear uncaring or mean, there is a need to set proper boundaries with the addict. Many family members have been drained of money, neglected their own relationships, and put their jobs in jeopardy trying to help and support an addict. You sacrifices will not fix them—they will only put your life in shambles. If the addict refuses recovery you may need to refuse money and even relationship. A pastor or Christian counselor’s guidance can be helpful here.

Allow The Holy Spirit To Work. Believe that it is God’s Holy Spirit that transforms hearts. He will lead the addict to recovery in His own time. Pray, relax, and allow the Holy Spirit to work. Practice letting go.

Allow Them To Hit Bottom. Often the family members of addicts are reluctant to let the addict completely self-destruct. As a consequence they practice enabling—holding them just above the depths of hell, but never really allowing them to crash so that God can build them up again. Enabling is not helping. Covering up her behavior and cleaning up her messes only impedes her from realizing the true gravity of her condition. Let her fall. God will catch her.

Get support from others. Though shame and embarrassment may hinder you from seeking help, it is essential that you have support from people who understand your struggle. Begin by honestly admitting the problem to your pastor or a trusted elder. They may be able to recommend support resources within the church.

Family members of addicts should also seek out an Al-Anon group in their area. Directories of nearby meetings are available online. Though you may recognize that it is your sister that has the problem, and not you, addiction poisons the entire family. The family is sick too.  God did not put us on earth as self-sufficient beings. We are meant to be in community—helping others and letting them help us. If you are uncomfortable receiving help, remember that your experience with an addict may bless someone else who shares a similar struggle.

Forgive. Generally the family of an addict has one of two responses to the call to forgive: either that there is nothing to forgive, or that forgiveness for so many years of hell is impossible. The first is denial and the second is unbiblical. For the one in denial, he must realize that years of addict behavior constitute an offense and it is normal to feel angry and resentful about that. You don’t need to feel shame about your anger, even if you know that the addict is unable to control her behavior. When you realize and admit your true emotions, you can be more effectively relieved of them. This is vital to your own recovery and your relationship with the addict.

For the one who thinks that forgiveness is impossible, we must recognize that we too are in great need of grace. Christ died for your sister and her sins—and he died for you and your sins as well. Some honest soul-searching should reveal that your own character and actions can be sinful and an offense to God. Pray that God would help you to see your own failings and your need of mercy. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive” (Col. 3:13).

Work On You. Many of us have become so enmeshed in the life of an addict, that we have been distracted from our own needs, weakness, and character flaws. Now is the time to examine your own character and to work on your personal walk with the Lord. Increased time in prayer and the study of God’s Word are the place to start.

Pray Without Ceasing. No matter what happens to the addict in your life, they need your prayers. Many families have spent years, even decades, in prayer. With faith they continue to hope for the miracle of restoration. Many have been blessed to see these prayers answered. Remember, with God, all things are possible.