Bros before woes: When your younger sibling is an addict


  • “Our sibling relationships, in fact, are the longest-lasting family ties we have.
  • “Simple perception of parental favoritism was enough to undermine [sibling] relationship.
  • “In families with more than one child, every sibling seems to get a label in contrast to every other sibling.”

Such are the statistically-backed reflections of science writer Robin Marantz Henig, who’s a contributing writer for The New York Times.

“So if your kid sister is the queen bee in any social gathering, you might get labeled ‘the quiet one’ even if you’re not especially quiet, just quiet in comparison. And if you’re a bright child who always gets good grades, you might not get much credit for that if your big brother is a brilliant child with straight A’s. There’s only room for one ‘smart one’ per family – you’ll have to come up with something else,” Henig illustrates.

If a younger sibling is the user, does that make the oldest the family saint? What if they knew it was big brother who gave him the first taste?

Puff, puff, pass – or pass?

Reddit features a drug forum wherein one commenter asks about the right timing to introduce a sibling to drugs.

“I’ve always heard stories from others about how their first experience with weed, alcohol or psychedelics was with an older sibling. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that kind of guidance – I have tried all my new drugs with people who care less about me than any older sibling I have …

I have a younger sister who’s going into high school soon. She’s a very bright student, but also well-liked and a bit of a rebel, so I imagine it won’t be long before she’s offered drugs of some sort. She doesn’t think of me as a drug user. Will she approach me if she wants to? Should I reach out?”

And the conundrum is at least superficially understandable. Older siblings typically have a protective comradery with younger siblings and may prefer, if little bro or sis is going to experiment, it be under the tutelage of someone who loves them. This however, is short-sighted.

According to what we now know of epigenetics, family members can share inherited addictive genes. Siblings, for example, can possess cells that read these active or inactive genes differently. Simply put, older siblings might experiment with a drug once without subsequent dependence but could give their younger sibling a first taste that spurs little brother’s addiction. One truly never knows, which is why it’s not worth the risk.

In a survey conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University:

  • 67 percent of teenaged younger siblings reported their older brothers or sisters would get “very angry” to discover they were using marijuana
  • 48 percent of teens with an older sibling believed their older brother or sister experimented with illegal drugs; which makes younger teens one and a half times more likely to use substances
  • 12 percent of teenage younger siblings said an older brother or sister offered them illegal drugs or encouraged their use

This last statistic supports a detailed study highlighting that teens with a pusher for an older sibling have double the risk of substance abuse as the average teen.

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About the Author

Kristin Currin is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. 

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