Family Roles in Addiction and the Process of Healing

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When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it is not just them who suffers the negative consequences of the disease. Of course, they are the one who will be responsible for their consequences and experience some of the greatest effects, but their families and their family roles in addiction are also impacted. 

Family members rarely come out unscathed when they have a loved one who is an addict or alcoholic. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find someone who has not been impacted by their family member’s addiction. This disease is highly persistent and resilient, often wiping out everything that gets in its path. Unfortunately, this not only leaves the addict or the alcoholic with a list of problems, but also changes their family members, too. The changes that the family unit can experience when there is an addict or alcoholic in the mix can make the situation much worse before it can get better. The good news is, however, that a situation like this can get better. 

Family Roles in Addiction

To gain a stronger understanding of just how much addiction can affect a family, it is helpful to be aware of the six different family roles in addiction. Across all family units, it is common to find the following individuals in the mix:

  • The Addict – The addict is the one who is actively abusing drugs or alcohol. Their behavior has changed in ways that create negativity within the family. The continued abuse of drugs or alcohol pours gasoline on an already out-of-control fire. The addict is often moody, defensive, and withdrawn from the rest of their family members. 
  • The Enabler – The enabler is the member of the family (usually mom or dad) who engages in actions that allow the addict to keep using. The enabler is not meant to be confused with someone who is actively trying to help an addict. Someone who is enabling the addict is behaving in a way where they are not suffering the repercussions of their actions because the enabler is serving as a safety net for the addict’s actions. An example of enabling would be calling in sick for the addict because they are too hungover to make it in to work. 
  • The Hero – The hero is the family member who is subconsciously (sometimes even consciously) striving to do everything right. This includes having great grades in school, getting a promotion at work, playing on a championship sports team in the community, etc. The hero tries to distract from the chaos of the addict by striving for perfection.
  • The Scapegoat – The scapegoat of the family is the individual who is always being blamed for everything. Rather than other members taking accountability for their actions, they often put that on the scapegoat. Or, the family points the finger at the scapegoat to detract from the behaviors of the addict. 
  • The Mascot – The mascot is comparable to the class clown. This family member masks their pain and frustration regarding the addiction with laughter and jokes. Even though they work to make things light-hearted, they tend to be the ones who suffer significantly in the family unit. In fact, the mascot is highly likely to abuse drugs and alcohol in the future.
  • The Lost Child – The lost child is the child in the family who has gotten lost in the mix. Not much attention is paid to them and they isolate from others frequently. They often do not express their emotions and become anit-social, which commonly leads to the development of mental health issues like depression as well as substance abuse problems in the future. 

As long as the addiction is active, a family unit can continue on in these family roles in addiction for an undetermined amount of time. The most important thing families can do is seek help for themselves so they can manage this difficult time in their lives. 

Process of Healing

Your family does not need to get the addict sober and in recovery to begin healing their own pain. All members of the family can seek professional help and community support to help break these common family roles in addiction. Some of the most effective ways to begin healing from the disease of addiction include the following:

  • Go to local support groups — Adult family members can attend Al-Anon or Nar-Anon while teenage family members can attend Alateen. These programs are 12-Step based and work to help family members cope with addiction and its effects. The greatest aspect about these groups is that they are constantly occurring, so you and your family can get immediate support. 
  • Go to therapy — You might be interested in attending therapy both on your own and with your family. When you seek individual counseling, you are able to focus directly on the impacts addiction has had on you and really examine them. Family therapy can be just as beneficial, as it helps heal the family as a whole and put everyone on the same page. 
  • Set boundaries — Boundaries are not designed to keep people out, rather protect yourself. This is extremely important in the process of healing, as family roles in addiction can have a significant impact on what you let slide and what you won’t accept. As you learn to set boundaries, you can keep the addict at an arm’s length, allowing for your healing to continue. 

Without the help of support groups and professionals, trying to overcome the challenges of breaking family roles in addiction can feel impossible. These options are ideal if you want to begin the process of healing.

Addiction Treatment in California

If you are struggling with an addiction, or if you have a family member who won’t stop using, reach out to Launch Centers today. We understand the complexity of addiction and know that it can be too much to bear. Let us help you get moving on the right track so that you and your family can see better, brighter days.

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