Dealing with a brother addicted to heroin
Originally Published: April 24, 1998 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 7, 2012
I'm hoping that you can help!! My brother, who is thirty-five years old, is a heroin addict. He has taken his whole family for a roller coaster ride with this drug. WE all want off the ride - he uses the family when he needs us, just to return to this disgusting drug.
The type of heroin that he is addicted to is called Black Tar heroin. I am not sure how he takes it but I think he smokes this stuff. My family (including myself) has given up on him. Last year my sister let him live with her for a whole year while he went through a rehab (methadone) program. It was probably the hardest thing she ever did, to see him go through all the pain and withdrawals, etc. But she stuck by him through it all. The whole family at one time or another has supported him financially, as well as mentally. Then we all watched him turn around and go right back to this disgusting drug.
As a family, is it best just to totally cut him out of the picture? Do we let him hit the bottom with nowhere to turn? It seems we have tried everything else! The drug always turns out to be the important thing! I almost wish he would get busted and sent to jail, I bet that might work.
Any suggestions would be helpful and very much appreciated.
Dear Heroin Hater,
Living with an addict in the family can be difficult and stressful, regardless of whether or not you live under the same roof with that person. You may not be able to help your brother get off heroin, but you can come to terms with what his addiction means for the rest of you. The next step involves figuring out changes that can help you and your family better cope with this tough and painful situation.
Sometimes family members of a person with an addiction can become caught in a cycle of co-dependency. Essentially, family members "help" the addicted brother/daughter/mother/uncle (or other relative), but in ways which enable her or him to return to, or maintain, the addiction. For example, a family member might have loaned money in the past, thinking "this time, s/he's really telling the truth; s/he's going to kick the heroin habit and won't use the money to buy more drugs." It's easy to maintain this compassionate line of thought, even knowing in the back of your mind that this outcome is unlikely. While it may not be necessary to entirely cut your brother out of the picture, your family could think about the idea of co-dependency and how it does (or doesn't) fit into the story of his addiction.
Breaking out of this cycle depends on the way you and your family decide to handle future interactions with your brother. Your concern is to take care of yourself and get off the "roller coaster ride" that you have been on for far too long. Naturally, all of this is easier said than done. Just as the road to recovery for your brother is extremely difficult, so too is making the decision to put your own needs and mental health ahead of concerns you have for your brother.
The best suggestion may be to spend some time with a counselor, who will help you identify options that you and your family can consider taking in your relationship with your brother. Counselors provide an objective point of view, as well as lots of support and encouragement — things you may not get from other family members who are as entrenched in the situation as you. If you're a student at Columbia, you can visit Counseling and Psychological Services; call x4-2878 to make an appointment. Outside of Columbia, you can check out Mental Health America for counseling and other resources. If therapy isn't an option, you can attend Al-Anon meetings, which, although geared toward family members of alcoholics, can also be useful to family members of people addicted to other drugs. For more information on addiction in general, visit The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information.
As a final note, do try to keep your brother's addiction in perspective. His addiction to heroin is an illness. He uses and manipulates you and your family because of this illness, not because he wants to hurt all of you. On the one hand, the fact that he has an illness doesn't mean you have to give him money or shelter every time he asks. On the other hand, you might not need to cut him out of your life completely. Finding a balance between these two extremes could be your goal. While it will be a difficult goal to reach, it is not impossible. Above all, remember that you and your other family members also deserve support as you decide how to best help your brother.
March 22, 2012508967
February 21, 200821390
To the reader,
You are not alone in this situation — my wife and I are going through the same thing with her son — I am afraid it becomes a case of self preservation! We have...
To the reader,
You are not alone in this situation — my wife and I are going through the same thing with her son — I am afraid it becomes a case of self preservation! We have now come to the conclusion, hard as it may sound, that he is a lost cause and that we must preserve some quality of life for us or all three will go down. As you say, the drugs are the most important thing — my wife's son was a heroin user and managed to become clean for five years before returning to them. I am afraid that the user has to want to change — if they don't, then there is nothing you can do. I wish you all the best.
April 25, 200721228
It breaks my heart to see those who advise you to cut off all contact with this person. This is the same ignorance that has people cutting off contact with a person because he/...
It breaks my heart to see those who advise you to cut off all contact with this person. This is the same ignorance that has people cutting off contact with a person because he/she is gay or is dating someone whom they do not approve of.
While I can understand that this person has been hurt by the actions of an addict, there is no justification in the complete denial of a person and their afflictions. I myself am an addict and I harbor intense guilt over what I put my friends and family through, and what I continue to put them through. While you must look out for yourself, there are ways to still help this person. It may seem cliché, but the best advise there is is to lock up your valuables and open your heart. Believe me, it is what we need.
August 16, 200520946
I, myself, have a drug problem. I'm currently in recovery and have been clean for over a year. It hasn't been easy. It's never easy for the user or the users' friends and family. The...
I, myself, have a drug problem. I'm currently in recovery and have been clean for over a year. It hasn't been easy. It's never easy for the user or the users' friends and family. The hardest part about being close to someone with a problem is you can't help them until they want help. And you can't make them want help. There are all kinds of programs out there to help addicts, but they have to ask.
October 1, 200420774
Right now, my boyfriend is addicted to heroin. We have done everything to help him. He has been clean a week, but is on his way on his bike, in the rain, to go get some. I am...
Right now, my boyfriend is addicted to heroin. We have done everything to help him. He has been clean a week, but is on his way on his bike, in the rain, to go get some. I am disgusted because we have a ten-month-old baby girl. In my opinion, if you have done all you can do, and been there for him, let him hit his rock bottom. From what I've heard from people, drug addicts need to hit rock bottom. Cut off contact with him and let him lose everything. When he decides to change for himself and not for everyone else, he'll come crawling back. When he does, offer your support as much as you can. You need to show him that he can't use and abuse you, but that you will be there for him. Good luck, and I hope your brother gets his life straight.
May 19, 200420565
My brother, who I love more than life itself, just recently got out of rehab for heroin and other drugs. I've always known he did drugs and experimented, but my worst nightmare had...
My brother, who I love more than life itself, just recently got out of rehab for heroin and other drugs. I've always known he did drugs and experimented, but my worst nightmare had come true. My parents are divorced, but my family is a normal middle class family. No one could have predicted this. I went through a two-month period where I thought I was dead. My life was so messed up and I felt like no one understood. My brother would come into my room in the middle of the night talking gibberish and running around and yelling and then just go back into his room and think everything was fine the next morning. We would find him in the bathroom throwing up all the time. I have images of him all the time, but I try so hard to get through this. He tried to detox off it himself, but it's not possible. You need help. You can't do it alone. He went through a week of detox and then rehab. He's been out of rehab for about a-month-and-a-half, and yesterday (3/1/03) he got his 30 days sober key chain from his NA meeting. I went to a few meetings with him and learned so much. I give hope and love to all who are suffering.
November 9, 200120387
I have a son who got addicted to smoking black tar heroin and it got to where it controlled his life. He tried Methadone and that didn't work for him. He took a dose of methadone...
I have a son who got addicted to smoking black tar heroin and it got to where it controlled his life. He tried Methadone and that didn't work for him. He took a dose of methadone every morning and then he still had to use the heroin. It's a terrible addiction. Today my son is clean and sober for 16 months this October 26, 2001. We had an intervention and got him into in-house treatment at a good treatment center. He is in a sober living house that is connected to his rehab treatment center. I hope your brother can find a good treatment center and work the 12 steps and turn his life around. There is hope.