My Sister is Using Drugs, How Do I Help Her?

my sister is using drugs

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

Table of Contents

The Definition of Addiction

Addiction is a complex condition characterized by compulsive behaviors that interfere with an individual’s ability to live life in a healthy and meaningful way.

It is more than simply a physical or psychological dependence; it is an all-encompassing condition that affects individuals on multiple levels.

On the most basic level, addiction is caused by an individual’s inability to control substance use or behavior.

This inability can stem from various factors, such as genetics, environment, emotional trauma, or mental illness.

Addiction also causes changes in the brain, such as changes in dopamine levels and neural pathways, making it difficult for individuals to resist the urges to use.

Statistics on Addiction

Your family and friends may not realize just how widespread and pervasive the addiction problem has become.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health for 2021 released statistics1 in January of 2023, which paints an alarming picture.

  • Around 61 million people in the United States were reported to have used illicit drugs in the past year.
  • 9.2 million people 12 and older misused opioids in 2021. 46.3 million people aged 12 or older (or 16.5 percent of the population) met the DSM-5 criteria for having a substance use disorder in the past year, with`29.5 million people classified an alcohol use disorder and 24 million people classified as having a substance use disorder.
  • In 2021, 94% of individuals 12 or older with a substance use disorder received no treatment. Nearly all people with a substance use disorder who did not get treatment
  •  at a specialty facility did not think they needed treatment.

As you can see, addiction is rising in the United States. Your sister is not alone in her habit, although there may still be a stigma. Many families in the United States are going through the same problem, so you aren’t alone either. 

My Sister is Using Drugs? Why?

There is no single answer to this question, as addiction can be caused by a variety of factors.

Some people may become addicted due to genetic predisposition, while others may start using drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with stress or trauma.

Environmental influences, such as peer pressure or the availability of substances in the home, can also contribute to addiction.

Additionally, mental health issues can play a role in addiction as well. It is important to remember that addiction is complex and each individual’s story is unique.

Talking with your sister and understanding her underlying motivations may help you better understand why she became addicted and how you can best help her in her recovery journey.

The reality is that everyone’s addiction story is different.

How Do I Tell if My Sister is Using Drugs?

It can be difficult to identify when a person is struggling with addiction, as the signs and symptoms may not always be obvious. Even if you see signs, it can be natural to want to explain them away as something else. 

However, there are certain warning signs that indicate a problem may exist.

Physical Signs 

The following is a non-exhaustive list of physical symptoms that may be present that indicate a drug problem.

• Sleeping more or less than usual

• Changes in appetite or weight

• Dilated pupils

• Slurred speech or difficulty concentrating

• Confusion, memory problems, and impaired decision-making abilities

• Clumsiness or lack of coordination

Behavioral Changes 

The following is a non-exhaustive list of behavioral changes that may be present that indicate a drug problem.

• Stealing or borrowing money without permission

• Withdrawal from activities/hobbies they used to enjoy

• Changes in friends, particularly those with similar interests in drugs and alcohol

• Erratic mood swings and changes in attitude

• Lying about or hiding their drug usage

• Risk-taking behaviors

Psychological Signs 

The following is a non-exhaustive list of psychological changes that may be present that indicate a drug problem.

• Changes in self-esteem, such as feeling inadequate or worthless

• Lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy

• Feeling isolated, depressed, or anxious

• Increased irritability or anger outbursts 

• Paranoia or extreme mistrust of others

Emotional Signs

The following is a non-exhaustive list of emotional changes that may be present that indicate a drug problem.

• Feeling guilt or shame about their actions

• Difficulty expressing emotions and being unable to control them

• Denial of the extent of their addiction

• Difficulty handling stress and new challenges

• Uncontrollable cravings for the substance

• Difficulty focusing or concentrating on tasks.

Physical Signs

The following is a non-exhaustive list of physical symptoms that may be present that indicate a drug problem.

• Sleeping more or less than usual

• Changes in appetite or weight

• Dilated pupils

• Slurred speech or difficulty concentrating

• Confusion, memory problems, and impaired decision-making abilities

• Clumsiness or lack of coordination

Starting the Process to Get Your Sister Help

Gauge Where Your Sister is 

If you believe your sister has a drug problem, the first step is to try and gauge where they are in their journey.

It is important to remember that everyone’s recovery process will look different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach; however, understanding the stages of change can help you assess how best to support them.

The Stages of Change

The Transtheoretical Model of Change2, developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the 1980s, identifies five stages a person goes through when attempting to make behavior change:

• Pre-contemplation (not yet thinking about making a change)

• Contemplation (thinking about making a change)

• Preparation (getting ready to make a change )

• Action (making the change)

• Maintenance (staying with the change).

Once you have assessed where your sister is in their journey, it is important to tailor your approach accordingly.

For example, if they are in pre-contemplation, the goal may be to increase their awareness and understanding of their addiction.

Gently expressing your concern and providing resources that they can access if they choose may be a good starting point.

If your sister is in the action stage, it is important to provide ongoing support as well as resources such as 12-step programs, therapy, and other forms of treatment.

The 5 Stages of Change

Talking to Other Family Members

If you are concerned about your sister’s drug use and want to get her help, talking to other family members can be a good idea. It is important to remember that everyone in the family may have different views on how best to approach the situation and respect those differing opinions.

Keeping an open dialogue is key to ensuring the family can support each other and come up with a solution that works for everyone. Discussing issues in a calm, non-judgmental manner will also make it more likely that your sister will be receptive to the idea of getting help.

It is also important to remember that addiction can have an emotional impact on the entire family and it is important to seek emotional support for yourself and other family members during this time.

Conducting Research on Addiction Treatment Options

Conducting research on different types of addiction treatment is important to ensure you are making an informed decision.

There are a variety of treatment options available and it is important to be familiar with them so that you can choose the best option for your sister’s particular needs.

It is also important to consider any underlying mental health issues that may be contributing to the addiction.

If this is the case, it is important to seek out treatment options that address both the addiction and any underlying mental health concerns.

Finally, it is important to research any potential doctors or therapists you are considering engaging with, as well as their qualifications and experience in treating addiction.

Consult an Addiction Professional or Treatment Center

Once you have done your research, it is important to consult a professional or treatment center that specializes in addiction.

A professional can provide more detailed information about the various treatment options and work with you to develop an individualized plan for your sister’s recovery.

At this stage, it is also important to consider if inpatient treatment is the right option for your sister.

Inpatient treatment provides round-the-clock care and supervision in a residential environment, which can be beneficial for those struggling with severe addiction.

Staging an Intervention for Your Sister

Once you have consulted a professional and developed an individualized treatment plan for your sister, it is important to stage an intervention.

An intervention typically involves family members and close friends gathering in a safe, supportive environment, in order to express their concerns to the person struggling with addiction.

The goal of an intervention is twofold: first, to encourage the person to accept help and enter treatment, and second, to provide them with resources and support.

It is important that the intervention is conducted non-confrontational and that everyone involved understands their role in providing support during this difficult time.

In addition to family members, it can be beneficial to include an addiction specialist during the intervention.

The specialist can provide more detailed information about treatment options and answer any questions or concerns that may come up during the conversation.

By staging an intervention, you are taking an essential step toward helping your sister find the help she needs to break free from her addiction.

With ongoing support and care, it is possible for your sister to overcome her addiction and start the path to recovery.

Setting Clear Boundaries

In order to help your sister on her journey toward recovery, it is important to set clear boundaries. Boundaries help to create a safe, supportive environment and helping your sister understand what you will and won’t accept from her.

When setting boundaries, it is important to be consistent and clear in communicating them. It is also important to be compassionate and understanding, as your sister may not always understand the need for boundaries.

Offering Support for Your Sister Without Enabling

Offering your sister support and understanding is an important part of her recovery, but it is important to make sure you are not enabling her addiction.

Enabling behavior is any type of action that allows the person struggling with addiction to continue using without facing consequences for their behavior.

One way to ensure you are offering support without enabling is to provide her with resources for recovery and treatment options, but not take over the responsibility of making sure she follows through.

It is also important to take care of yourself so that you do not become overwhelmed or burnt out during this process.

By being supportive without enabling, you are helping your sister on her journey toward recovery while also taking care of her own mental and emotional well-being.

Why You Should Get Help for Your Sister Now 

The process of getting help for an addicted sister can be difficult. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that there’s no way to control the situation.

If your sister is not ready to get help, she isn’t ready to get help. The good thing though, is that you can let her know you’ll be there for her when she’s ready.

Benefits of Early Intervention

Early intervention is key when it comes to treating addiction. For your sister, the sooner she begins treatment and recovery, the easier it will be for her to beat her addiction long-term.

Early intervention can also help reduce the risk of relapse as well as prevent further damage to physical and mental health.

Addiction Treatment You Can Trust

At Cornerstone Healing Center, we understand the difficulty and stress of dealing with addiction.

We are here to help you and your family through this journey. Our experienced staff will provide support, guidance, and resources to help your sister break free from her addiction.

We offer a variety of treatment options including detoxification, residential inpatient care, and intensive outpatient programs.

Our team is dedicated to helping your sister recover, heal, and live a healthy and happy life.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, don’t wait any longer to get help. Contact Cornerstone Healing Center today for more information about how we can help you and your family


[1] SAMHSA Announces National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Results Detailing Mental Illness and Substance Use Levels in 2021

[2] The Stages of Change

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Susana is a recovery, mental health, and addiction education enthusiast with 8 years of experience in addiction recovery herself. Susana holds a Bachelor of Arts from the GCU College of Theology. She is anti-addiction stigma and believes accurate and factual information is essential to beginning the recovery process.
lionel estrada lisac clinical director



Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach to addiction.

Articles written prior to August 2023 were also clinically reviewed by Karen Williams, LPC 

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