This is often an understandable concern for parents. Younger siblings can and do suffer when there is substance use in the family. It is important to consider a plan not only for your older son struggling with substance use, but for your younger son, as well.
Be sure to provide one-on-one time with your younger son. A child who is doing well can be overlooked and not get the attention they normally would, due to the behavior of their older sibling. Do your best to attend your younger son’s sporting events and other activities. If you need to miss an activity, rather than simply assume your younger son will understand, take the time to explain why.
Something else to consider is that your younger son may begin to idolize his older brother and, as a result, begin to idolize his substance use. On the other hand, your younger son may be aware of the difficulties his older brother is facing, and strive to be even more responsible as a result. This may lead him to try and take on a “parental” role, and forget how to enjoy his childhood. Finally, he may find himself caught in the middle of wanting to keep secrets for his sibling, but also feeling pressured to tell his parents details about his sibling’s substance use.
Self-care is important for your younger son, as he may feel stressed because of his older brother’s substance use. Use positive reinforcement whenever possible to acknowledge both of them when they exhibit positive behavior.
Studies show that younger siblings’ use of alcohol and tobacco increases when older siblings are already involved with substances, so consider reaching out to a counselor, your community church or an Alateen group to help your younger son. This will allow him space to share his feelings about his older brother’s substance use. You can also look for a prevention program in your community that you can attend together.
Finally, explain to your younger son in an age-appropriate way that his brother is struggling. Let him know that you are doing what you can to get his sibling the help that he needs to make healthier choices. By reinforcing what your younger son is doing well, and by taking the time to give him personal attention and guidance, you are increasing the chances that your younger son will lead a healthy, substance-free childhood.
Want to connect with another parent who's been there?
Cathy is one of our volunteer Parent Coaches. Like all of our coaches, she knows first-hand the challenges of helping a child with addiction. In addition to their own experiences, all parent coaches receive extensive and on-going training.