Primary Roles in an Addicted Family
Addiction is a family disease, and its advent can cause major shifts in family dynamics. Families function as a unit and each person is affected by the other. When a group of people live with someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they all develop fully individual coping mechanisms. No two people will deal with that situation in the same way. This often results in an unintentional development of new roles within the family.
There are different (and sometimes multiple) roles that each family member plays, depending on their personal history, mental health, and coping style. The most common of these are listed below. We invite you to explore this resource to determine how addiction has altered your own family unit. If you identify with any of these roles, we encourage you to reach out for help today.
First, there is the addict. This family member is actively struggling with their substance abuse. Because of this, the entire family develops roles that subsequently revolve around them. The addict of the family may develop codependent relationships with other family members as they maintain their addiction. They are also unable to manage their moods and often portray anger and avoidant behaviors. As the consequences of substance abuse bubble to the surface, an addicted family member will often lash out at others in the family. Their behaviors probably include lying, manipulating, and directing blame at anyone but themselves.
Even though the addict causes a lot of chaos in the home, they don’t always understand how their actions hurt their family and causing dysfunction. In an addictive household, denial and secrecy are key requirements. More than likely, the addict will deny using and exhibit negative behaviors of anger and avoidance. They’ll blame more than one of the other family members for their problems, take advantage of their family’s compliance, and engage in dangerous behaviors without fear of the consequences.
The caretaker, also known as the enabler, is the family member who does not create necessary boundaries with the addict. In their role as caretaker, they engage in behaviors with the addict that ultimately allows them to continue to abuse substances with minimal or no consequences.
The caretaker may do things such as make excuses or cover for the addict’s behaviors, give them money, provide them transportation, offer them shelter, and even go as far as to accompany the addict on a drug deal to ensure they are safe. While the caretaker thinks they are protecting their family, they are really just masking the bigger issue. The caretaker is constantly working to smooth things over, though the effects of their behaviors tend to do the opposite. In the end, although they just want to help, the caretaker often makes it more challenging for the addict to heal from the effects of substance abuse.
A person who tries to fix all the family’s dysfunction is often labeled “the hero.” The hero of the family is the one who is most controlling and often exhibits Type A personality: a responsible, hard-working, and overachieving perfectionist. Normally, the hero of the family is the eldest child who feels as though they are a leader to their siblings. They appear to have it all figured out and believe they can provide others with the illusion that everything will be okay.
When the disaster of addiction takes over the family, the hero can easily feel overwhelmed and unable to manage their own anxiety. As they continue to fight for normalcy, their heroic reserve weakens and gives way to personal issues triggered by strain – i.e. insomnia, anxiety attacks, and poor eating habits. Their need to be perfect puts an extreme amount of pressure on the hero and leaves them susceptible to stress-related illnesses later in life.
The scapegoat acts out in defiant, aggressive ways in response to the addict’s behavior. Whether their actions are violent, promiscuous, or general rule-breaking, the scapegoat role often distracts the family from the addict and absorbs more than their fair share of the blame. With the attention focused toward the scapegoat, the addicted family member is free to continue drinking or using drugs.
Unfortunately, the scapegoat’s behavior results in them not fitting in well with the rest of the family and often being ignored by them. In some cases, the scapegoat will eventually be unable to manage his or her anger and often leaves town, never returning.
The mascot is often the class clown; they use humor to defuse stressful conditions. This role requires its holder to make others laugh. Their goal? To help the family cover up the pain inherent to their situation. As helpful as laughter can be during difficult times, the mascot takes things too far by using levity to avoid confrontation or emotional connection.
The mascot often struggles to cope with chaos in the household without their deflection tactics. As a result, this person often turns to substance use themselves.
The Lost Child
The lost child role is typically assumed by the household member who feels invisible. This person is usually introverted by nature; they do not ask for much attention from other family members, so they quickly fade into the background. As more attention is directed at the addict, this person becomes lost in the shuffle and withdraws further and further over time.
Because of the household disorder, the lost child often has a hard time forming positive relationships, avoids authoritative or decisive roles, and isolates themselves from others. Additionally, this family member may deal with mental illness or begin to self-medicate as a result of these events.
Heal Your Family at HVRC
Fortunately, help is available; you are not alone. Countless Americans are struggling with addiction and mental health concerns. Please contact HVRC if you or any members of your family would like to begin the journey of recovery. Our admissions team is standing by to answer your questions; please call 866-273-0868 to learn more.