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Ask Dr. Meg: I’m Worried My Sister May Be Abusing Prescription Drugs

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Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg,

Recently, my sister, her husband and their 2 young teenage children moved closer to my parents’ home. (They used to live out of state.) While my sister has always struggled financially, I have never been concerned with how she raised my niece and nephew. They always had what they needed and seemed happy.  Since she has moved back ‘home’, I am worried about my sister. Her health appears bad, her financial struggles seem more intense than ever, and I feel like my niece and nephew aren’t being cared for. Some of her actions lead me to believe that she’s abusing prescription drugs and that she may even have gone far enough to steal money from my parents. I am very worried–obviously about her but also about my niece and nephew. I want to approach her and get her help but don’t know how to do it in a way that she will not resent me or cut me off. Do you have any insight?

-Worried Sister

Dear Worried Sister,

The best way to confront someone who is spiraling downward is in a loving manner. Your sister will easily become defensive so your first goal is to keep communication open and withhold attacks or blame. You could try taking her to lunch or for a walk alone, for instance and say something like this:

“Sis, I think that coming back home for a while was a good move and I’m glad that you are closer to me now (if she is.) You know how much I love you and to tell you the truth, you don’t seem to be as happy as you used to be. Are you?”

Give her a chance to respond and then keep the conversation going with questions that don’t accuse her but that let her know you are concerned about her. If she senses that you are more worried about her kids, husband or parents, she will pull away. If you focus on her and how you can help her, she will continue to open up to you.

If you can’t get through to her at all, then you need to have a heart to heart with her husband and your parents. Tell them your concerns and that she needs help. If she looks bad and you suspect drug abuse, she’s probably using and she needs medical help. Get on the same page with her husband and your folks if possible so she can’t play one of you against the others. Then, see who will be the point person to communicate to her that she needs help. If she is willing to go to her doctor, have someone go with her and ask the physician for recommendations about next steps. If she won’t go, you may need to find someone in her area who will help you all have an intervention with her. Many counselors are well versed in how to do this and are terrific.

Your sister needs someone like you to advocate for her now because drugs keep her from thinking clearly. One thing is certain, she most likely won’t get back on track unless she has someone like you who is willing to fight for her (and her kids.) On behalf of her children, her husband and her, thank you for getting in the battle.

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