Roles In The Addicted Family System

Alcoholism doesn’t only affect the addict, but their entire family. Addiction to alcohol or drugs deteriorates the physical health of the addict, spoiling their spirit and impairing their mental activities. It also erodes the relationships in their life and makes it difficult to maintain steady employment, meet financial obligations and participate in social activities.

Genetics are one factor in addiction, but there are others. One person in the family suffering from addiction can change the family dynamics, and having multiple addicts in a family can shape it for generations.

Family Dynamics in Addiction

Family Roles in Alcoholic Families Infographic
All the family members of an addict are similarly affected by the substance abuse. This abuse also typically affects the finances, health and wellbeing of the family. Families are no longer directed by the grandparents and inclusive of multiple generations. Single-parent households are more severely affected by an addiction than the larger family units more popular decades ago.

Young kids exposed to addiction in their family are more likely to develop an addiction themselves, as well. They tend to begin using drugs and alcohol at an earlier age than other children, and the substance abuse lifestyle is more familiar to them and seen as acceptable.

Because the situation for every addict is different, it can be difficult to assign a causal connection between alcoholism and family roles. In general, people who grow up in families of addiction are more likely to develop addictions themselves. There’s some similarity in the way family dynamics are affected by addiction. A pattern of family dynamics can be identified to be associated with addiction.

Family Roles in Addiction

In each family, a person plays a specific role or often multiple roles for helping the family function in a better manner and for maintaining the level of balance, stability and homeostasis. When drug or alcohol addiction is introduced to the alcoholic’s family, the dynamics and roles will adjust naturally to the new behaviors that are needed to deal with the addiction and maintain the balance and order.

As the saying goes, you are not the cause of someone else’s addiction or alcoholism, you cannot cure it and you can’t control it. But there are ways that you may be contributing to the problem. Before placing the blame for all the problems in your family or your relationship with his or her drinking or using, it might be wise to examine how the other person’s substance abuse may have affected you, and how you have reacted to it. Here are some of the roles we play while dealing with an alcoholic or addict:

The Victim: There are many illicit substance addicts who feel guilty, ashamed and remorse regarding the distress and pain they are causing their families. Nevertheless, some addicts become angry and disrespectful towards their family. They might blame the family for their addiction or be in denial that they have a problem.

The Family Hero: The rescuer doesn’t let the incident become a “problem”. She lies for him, covers up, for his mistakes and protects him from the world. She denies there is a problem and as the problems get worse she takes on responsibilities that were once his. And if he gets into trouble with the law, she will move heaven and earth to come up with his bail.

The Chief Enabler: The chief enabler is typically closest emotionally to the victim & serves as the protector of the family. On the outside they typically appear self-righteous, super resposnible, sarcastic, passive, physically sick, or like a martyr. On the inside, they have anger, hurt, guilt and low self-esteem. They might be ashamed of the substance abuser’s behavior and lets him know it by her actions or words.

The Mascot: The mascots are the people who use their sense of humor in order to handle the uncomfortable environment of a house. The mascot knows their humor can bring a sense of comfort and relief to the family and hence, they continuously maintain this specific role to accomplish that sense of comfort and balance.

The Scapegoat: This is the member of the family who has a habit of misbehaving and showing unnatural and annoying tendencies in front of everybody. Sometimes these younger people get themselves in trouble at home and in school. When these kids move towards adulthood, they’ll have the biggest possibilities of facing issues with the law, also. The behavior of these members is noisy and poisonous to the household.

The Lost Child: The Lost Child is alone and becomes isolated from other family members. Hence, there is a big chance they’ll develop troubled relationships when they’re older. This person feels awkward in social gatherings and tries to escape from family engagement. They prefer hiding from both emotional and physical attachments of the family.

Which Is the Enabler?

The enabler takes care of everything, makes sure to handle all social, financial and business issues. The enabler works to hide the addiction so the addicted member of the family doesn’t feel bad. The enabler makes excuses and cleans up any messes, so the alcoholic in the family does not face any consequences.

So, which of the spouses described is the enabler? Which one is actually helping the alcoholic or addict progress with this disease? Which one, although they are trying to make things better, are actually contributing to the problem? All of them!

If you recognize yourself in any of these roles, Tranquil Shores is here to help you. We have a strong family program. We know that everyone has to heal not just the addict or the alcoholic. With our family group session every Friday afternoon and one-on-one sessions with your counselor and family members, Tranquil Shores provides guidance and paths to healing for many families. Make the call now to help yourself and your loved one begin the happy journey of sobriety today!

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*Updated March 5, 2018

  • The roles in an addicted family infographic
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