Addiction in the Family: A Sister’s Perspective

My brother Billy used to stick his tongue out at me and put his feet right by my head just to get a reaction out of me. I would get my revenge back by biting down on my tomatoes at just the right angle where I would squirt tomato guts all over his shirt.

Billy was born to a single mom, my stepmom, who holds the honor of being a Marine Corps Veteran. During Billy’s childhood and young adulthood, he was often said to remind them of Leonardo DiCaprio.

Standing at 6’ 4”, Billy was not shy with the ladies and always had an air about him that made his presence known when he walked into the room. Nevertheless, Billy struggled during high school and was ridiculed by one of his teachers, leaving a psychological scar and stomping on his self-confidence. He eventually dropped out of school in his senior year and spent time volunteering at a senior citizens center, and took a job as a clerk at a local grocery store. My parents always knew that Billy could be a handful at times, yet his big personality would guarantee him many friends and success.

My dad married my stepmom, Billy’s mom, in July 2001. The warm July wedding would be the last time the whole family would see Billy. From what we know, he began using marijuana. While we weren’t aware of an abuse problem, he ended up accidentally overdosing on the painkiller, Oxycodone.

Shortly after that family celebration, Billy partied with a couple of friends and dabbled into Oxycodone, Being time released, one pill takes a while to affect you, so an impatient Billy took more to get high. Billy’s friends brought him unconscious to his bed and left him to sleep it off.

The next morning, a friend went to check on him and discovered he had died. My dad was checking his phone messages on their honeymoon cruise when he listened to a message from the Simi Valley Police Department that asked him to call him back because he had some “very bad news about his son.” As the ship left port and went out of cell service range, he learned from the police officer that Billy had overdosed and died. My dad had to tell his new wife, that her only son, the son she raised largely as a single mother, died from an overdose.

When I asked my family what resources they wished they had in 2001, they said they wished they had known more about Oxycodone. One action they would have taken is to postpone the wedding and get Billy in to treatment.

It was truly a life-changing event that painstakingly caused our family to love one another a little more deeply and have more patience with each other. I did not know it then, but I understand now why I have always wanted to help others who suffer from addiction. Now, 18 years later, I find myself obtaining my Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and I chose that route because mental illness and substance use disorder are connected. It’s often not talked about, but this complex diagnosis requires help from multiple resources.

By sharing my story, I hope to inspire others to help end the shame and stigma that come with addiction and overdose. Substance use disorder is a family disease and, as a sister, I know how losing a brother to this terrible ordeal can cause an irreversible ripple effect on the family.