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Family Roles in Addiction

When someone develops an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it doesn’t just happen to them. The effects of substance use disorders impact the entire family. In fact, there are documented family roles in addiction. Buckhead Behavioral Health explores the different roles that family members often assume when addiction becomes a part of the life of one of their loved ones.

What are the Family Roles in Addiction?

It may seem like an odd idea that entire families can take on different roles when one of them develops an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Yet, research shows that family roles in addiction happen frequently. In fact, family members often are not aware that they fall into certain categories and that learning to identify and change them benefits the entire family unit. Let’s take a look at the six roles that often surface in a family when one person develops a substance use disorder.

The Addict

The first family role in addiction is the member who has the addiction that has reached the point where they regularly turn to drug or alcohol abuse. They may abuse substances as a way to deal with troubling events in their life or painful emotions, but regardless of the reason, they are past the point of being able to stop using drugs or alcohol on their own. Their illness often causes the spotlight in the family to shine on them as others react to their negative behaviors.

The Enabler

The enabler means well but tends to make it easier for their loved one to stay sick. They often make excuses for the addict in an effort to protect them, when it actually just allows them to continue to remain addicted without fully experiencing consequences. The enabler acts as a caretaker and works hard to keep up appearances that the situation is not as complex and dire as it really is. Even if they acknowledge an addiction exists, they are likely to insist the addict can cure it on their own without professional intervention.

The Scapegoat

Families in turmoil often look for one member to blame for their collective problems. This role is most commonly occupied by the middle child or second oldest child. The scapegoat may willingly, although grudgingly, accept this role in order to protect family members. However, the individual usually reaches a point of resenting being placed in this role and becomes angry. They may remove themselves from the family temporarily out of resentment for being blamed for the problems of others.

The Hero

Often a perfectionist, the hero likes to pretend everything in the family is fine. This person is often the firstborn child and naturally fits the role of an overachiever and a leader. Eventually, their need to manage the image of the family becomes overwhelmingly stressful and they find it difficult to hide their feelings of shame and fear.

The Mascot

Much like a mascot for a sports team, the mascot assigns themselves the task of keeping up everyone’s spirits. They often use humor to try to smooth things over during family fights or whenever the subject of addiction comes up in relation to their family member. The mascot is most often the youngest sibling who has learned to use humor as a defense mechanism to get approval from others. 

The Lost Child

The lost child often has a history of receiving less attention than others in the family. They are often the middle or the youngest child and tend to fly under the radar when it comes to their needs. They remain quiet and are not likely to bring up the addiction or how it affects them because they feel it’s their duty not to cause any problems. 

Can Families Learn New Roles?

While family roles in addiction may seem set in stone, people can learn to move out of them and adopt new, healthier roles. Once the person with the addiction enters treatment, loved ones can begin attending family therapy. During these sessions, a trained therapist will help each person identify the role they play in their family and how to move out of it. 

Family members learn how to express themselves calmly and communicate effectively without conversations devolving into arguments and playing the blame game. Each person learns that they have their own needs and how to meet them. Additionally, everyone learns how to offer their support to their loved one in recovery. This allows growth for each member and prepares the family to deal with their newly sober family member so that everyone can move forward without relapsing into their old roles.

Begin Treatment for Addiction in Atlanta

Does learning about the family roles in addiction help you identify how substance use disorders don’t just impact the person who abuses drugs or alcohol? If you struggle with addiction or have a family member who does, it’s important to know that supportive, structured treatment is available. Buckhead Behavioral Health offers care that changes lives. Our program matches people with the right addiction-related therapies that help them learn how to stop abusing drugs and alcohol. We provide access to a detox program and outpatient rehab in Atlanta that allows each individual to discover their strength and learn to avoid relapse.

Visit our admissions page now to find out how to get in touch with us. We’re in the business of helping families heal and form new, healthy roles.

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