My Little Brother is Using Like I Used to

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This member’s little brother is using and wonders what role she can play to lend him a helping hand. In recovery herself, with both parents and older siblings also living a sober lifestyle, she is no stranger to addiction. The family has a well-established openness about the dangers that come along with substance use… But is it possible they need a fresh approach in order to really connect with and reach the youngest (teenaged) family member?

*This post originally appeared on our Member Site blog, where experts respond to members’ questions and concerns. To take advantage of our current special offer and get full access to the Allies in Recovery eLearning program for families, click here.

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“I’m in recovery from substances, my father is, my brother is, and my mother is in recovery from eating disorders and also lives a sober lifestyle. My youngest brother is now 18, and my parents have caught him with some beer and hard liquor stored in his room. Additionally, one time I was 100% sure he hid something like a Juul or marijuana pipe in the couch. He got violent when I pressured him. He also behaves in the way I used to when I smoked marijuana, and goes outside late with friends (2am), and in general doesn’t elaborate on what they do when they hang out.

Our household is a weird mix of talking about drug use in a very de-stigmatized way, but then also the importance of youth not using, and of the dangers of substance use disorder. I’m worried that my parents haven’t changed their prevention strategy enough, as compared to how they dealt with my middle brother and I, meaning, they just explain the danger in using substances because there is a genetic predisposition.”

Keeping unity in your approach

Good questions. CRAFT provides a framework for discouraging drug use and encouraging non-using behaviors. Your family members can certainly tighten up what they are doing with regards to your brother’s alcohol and pot use. It is too early to say, perhaps, whether your brother is approaching some danger zone. Will it turn out to be recreational or more serious use? Your family history doesn’t completely determine the answer to this question, but it does suggest he should be careful.

To use the program as prevention you would use the same approach. Your family members would watch the Learning Modules, available to our members (view an excerpt here) and decide where to draw the line. When is your brother’s using problematic (to be defined by the family: when he appears high? When he scoots out the door to smoke late at night with friends?).

Step in when he looks sober, step back when you see use

If someone in the family, notably you, seems best equipped to see/ notice when your brother is using, perhaps you alert the rest of the family. Everyone tries to behave in lockstep. Just a cool family reception when your brother is high. No arguments or lectures. Just neutral and removed. Coordinating this amongst so many family members may be difficult at first, but the more united you are in this approach, the better.

So we’re fans of modeling what you want to see in your loved one. It sounds like your family does that by living sober. You are clear-headed experts in this department! You can see what is happening to your brother. You are ready with some low threshold treatment ideas should he get in some trouble or if he scares himself.

A new and different role for you

The family member who is abstinent can be annoying to someone who is using. You’ve probably noticed this… Tiny little offerings such as: “ya know: pot can hurt your productivity” are probably met with a knee-jerk display of short temperedness.

In my case, I wait for the family member to come to me. And they do. I’ve become the go-to person when someone in my family has a mental health or addiction problem. In the meantime, I lean on the kinds of communication that help build and strengthen bridges between us. We cover these especially in Learning Module 4, available on our member site (view an excerpt here). Compassionate listening can speak volumes.

It must be such a relief for those of you who are in recovery to have each other’s support. What a gift to have this reinforcement of sobriety so close at hand in your family… and to have the connection of your shared experiences walking this path together. It seems like an amazing resource. 

Separating his story from yours

Given this, it’s right to wonder how much your younger brother may be getting the message about his own substance use. The rest of you have shared so much with each other. You have established your stories together – both about your use and about your recovery – and these are invaluable resources for someone who wants to hear about them. He needs to know that you support and love him, but also that there is room for his own story to be different from yours. Feeling a sense of independence about his own choices and his own story is so important at his age. 

Even if he does end up having a struggle with substance use and needing treatment, it would be helpful for everyone to keep coming to him, and to their interactions with him, fresh. We don’t ever know what will happen in the future. You can know what worked for you, and keep that on the back burner… rely on that as needed. But always be ready to see him with new eyes. With his youth, and the experience of each generation being so different, what works for him may be completely different than what worked for you or your father, etc. 

Stay open and available

The only way you’ll be able to find the openings to reach him is by being open. Practice listening with compassion (not just to his words either). And leave room for his own story amidst the background of yours. At 18, his story is still very much in the works.  

Thank you so much for writing in. Your situation is an interesting one and you clearly have valuable perspectives to add to our discussions on this site.

We’re glad to have you in the Allies community. I wonder what others on this site think about ways people in recovery can help a family member who is struggling.

Yes, the family DOES have a role to play. Your stance, behavior, and choices DO make a difference. At Allies in Recovery we are absolutely convinced of this. “Tough love” is not a successful technique. Our learning platform is set up to help family members learn the techniques that will reduce conflict, build that bridge of communication, and be effective in guiding your loved one into treatment. Together we will move your loved one towards recovery. Learn more here.
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