Suspicious Sibling Seeks Advice


Last month while I was back home my family for the holidays, my dad pulled me aside and asked whether or not I’d noticed anything different about my older sister’s behavior. I told him no, since I hadn’t been in touch with her all that much, which was equally my fault. I’ve definitely been consumed with my last semester of college. Then last night, my mom called me and asked whether or not I knew if my sister had tried certain types of drugs before. Aside from alcohol and possibly marijuana, I couldn’t imagine her doing anything else. Apparently, however, my mom’s bottle of codeine had multiple pills missing. Nobody wants to jump to conclusions. My sister has historically always been the angelic one. How suspicious is that? Does it make sense to confront her about it or wait until we know for sure?  

This is a very difficult position. One of the first things to realize is that drug abuse often begins in a seemingly harmless context. Experts at the Mayo Clinic assert openly that “drug addiction can start with experimental use of a recreational drug in a social setting.” There’s a wide variety of different substances that your sister might possibly be abusing, which means the first objective is to positively identify them. Some families are mistaken when they suspect behavioral changes originate from substance abuse, but, more often than not, they tend to be right.

You could begin by consulting this list of warning signs. Some are seemingly more obvious than others. Know that the list isn’t comprehensive and, more importantly, the absence of incriminating evidence doesn’t necessarily mean that your sister isn’t a substance abuser. Drug addicts are highly motivated and frequently prove more resourceful and secretive than loved ones ever expect. Also know that you aren’t alone in confronting this dilemma.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported in 2011 that nearly 24 million persons ages 12 and older needed treatment for illicit drug use or alcohol abuse. Making matters worse is the widespread proliferation of opioids both in the US and globally. In 2016, 116 people died every day from an opioid-related drug overdose. Those numbers are catastrophic and entirely preventable. They’re also relevant because, in fact, codeine is opioid-based drug.

Unlike the three most commonly consumed psychotropic substances worldwide, opioids are much riskier and significantly more addictive. Confirming whether or not your sister deliberately consumed your mom’s prescription codeine is the key to this, but you’ll also want to understand why. It’s possible she sustained an injury and has a prescription of her own but simply forgot her personal medication. Contextualize her behavior and supposed decisions based on what you already know and what you learn through friendly conversation. Remember that lying is never a good sign, but remain mindful about confronting a lie immediately, versus delaying temporarily. There are pros and cons to both tactics.

In a worst-case scenario, if your sister confesses to both the theft and possible dependency, then your goal should be expedited treatment and recovery. Explore a few programs for drug rehab on her behalf, and propose the ones that make sense. You can expect some degree of resistance at first so it may be worth organizing an intervention. There’s a wide range of strategies you can take with careful thought and consideration.

“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” -- John Holmes

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