Addiction is often called a family disease, because when one person is an addict, whether it’s drugs or alcohol, all of their loved ones often suffer along with them. Often, along with the far-reaching impacts of addiction on an entire family, family members will also start to play roles. These roles are commonly seen in families where addiction is an issue, and it’s usually a way for the loved ones of the addict to deal with what’s happening around them because of the disease.
These roles often start to be fulfilled from good intentions, because as the loved one of someone with an addiction problem, you want to help that person while also trying to protect yourself. What ends up happening, however, is that you may instead start to become an enabler or codependency can occur. Codependency is a dysfunctional way to relate to other people, and it’s often at play in situations where there is an addiction.
So, what are the family roles in addiction that are most commonly seen?
First, and probably the most well-known family role in addiction is the enabler. You don’t usually start out trying to become an enabler, but it’s often a natural progression. An enabler is someone who protects the addict from the consequences of their behavior, and they will often lie or cover up for the addict, or make excuses for them.
The enabler tends to be the one who shoulders the burden of cleaning up the messes the addict leaves behind, and they are in that respect removing consequences from the addict’s life. That enables the addict to continue on with their destructive behaviors.
The mascot is another frequently seen family role in addiction, and this is the family member who tries to make light of the situation and create humor around it. The mascot may be the youngest member of the family, and despite the seriousness of what happens, this person is always trying to lighten the mood. The mascot often becomes this person as a survival mechanism for themselves, because they want to alleviate the tension and chaos surrounding the family of an addict.
There is also the hero. The hero in an addiction situation is the family member who tries to be so perfect that they distract from the problems of the addict. The hero might excel in school or work situations, but it’s really just a way to help the rest of the family cope with how let down they feel regarding the behavior of the addict.
There is also the scapegoat, who may start to actually do the opposite of the hero and underperform at school or work, but it’s also a way to distract from the addict.
Finally, in families where there are children, there may also be the so-called lost child, who is the person who seems distant and disconnected from the problems of the family.
Along with the family roles in addiction, it’s important to understand what you can do as a family if addiction is happening. There’s really no action you can take that will alter the behavior of the addict, aside from facing the reality of the situation and holding an intervention to encourage them to seek treatment. There are also family support groups you may find helpful as a way to cope with what’s happening.
If you have an addicted loved one who does seek treatment after they return you can work to stay involved in their recovery process, and also be supportive. It’s important that once someone seeks treatment, family roles in addiction shift to deal with a recovering addict, instead of an active addict.
Family members are an essential part of recovery, and they should play an active role both during and after treatment. Family members can ultimately be the key support system during recovery, so family members of addicts should work on discovering how to take healthy actions and have good interactions when their loved one returns from treatment.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.