Teen addiction and its affect on younger siblings

August 1, 2016
 teen addiction and younger siblings
How teen addiction affects younger siblings is explored in a Betty Forbes study

Teen addiction: The unlimited freedom that summer provides for many preteens and young adults sometimes leads to first-time use of alcohol or drugs, which can open the door to the addiction trap and traumatize families, particularly younger siblings. Two recent studies by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Teen Study, Young Adult Study) indicate that June and July are when experimentation with these dangerous substances peaks.

“What is disturbing is that on an average June or July day, more than 11,000 adolescents use alcohol for the first time,” says Jerry Moe, National Director of the Children’s Program, part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. “This can have lasting negative effects on younger kids who see their older siblings engaging in this behavior.”

Moe has closely observed the effects that addiction has on younger brothers and sisters. These range from feeling forgotten by the family to being bullied by siblings trapped by addiction. Many kids who have completed the Children’s Program report that older siblings sometimes:

  • Steal from younger siblings for alcohol and drug money
  • Bully younger brothers and sisters
  • Exhibit dramatic behavior changes
  • Lie to parents and demand silence from siblings
  • Experience trauma by watching the addicted family member suffer the consequences of their illness

Teen addiction and family dynamics

Often the younger brothers and sisters feel forgotten when the family is focused solely on the child trapped by addiction. Some children have expressed exasperation and wondered aloud if they also had to resort to alcohol and other drug use to gain the attention of their parents.

“When the family dynamic breaks down due to addiction, the youngest children are sometimes left to fend for themselves,” says Moe. “What must be done and what we do at the Betty Ford Center Children’s Program is teach children coping mechanisms. They must know that they aren’t to blame for an older sibling’s addiction.”

The SAMHSA studies show that adolescents and young adults without much adult supervision during the summer find time to experiment with multiple substances. The best preventions are expanding awareness of the risks of alcohol and other mind-altering substances, providing alternative activities to drug and alcohol use and stepping up legal enforcement for preventing sales to minors. Parents are reminded that they should reinforce the risks involved with mind altering substance use throughout the year. To read more click here.

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