Dysfunctional Family Roles in Addiction
Addiction is an insidious disease for several reasons, but especially because of how deeply destructive it can be to families. Families with an addict or alcoholic know that there is no way to be that close to active addiction and come out unscathed. Of course, there are ways to minimize the blow that addiction wields, however when in the midst of this disease, seeing clearly enough to preserve oneself is extremely difficult. Dysfunctional family roles of addicts and alcoholics find themselves in need of help even though they are not the ones who were using. That is why addiction is often referred to as a “family disease,” as the entire family typically morphs in the face of this disease.
Dysfunctional Family Roles in Addiction
Everyone in a family unit plays a certain role, even in healthy family units. When addiction is infiltrating a family, though, the roles that members end up playing are emotionally destructive as well as physically damaging. As addiction continues, the toxicity within the family unit can increase, only making the situation worse. It often takes professional help for all members of the family to heal from the impacts addiction has had on their lives.
The addict in the family is the person who is actively abusing drugs and/or alcohol. Their relationship with mind-altering substances changes their relationships with their family members, as the use of drugs and/or alcohol becomes priority. With their main focus on using, the addict’s behavior changes for the worse and often include the following:
- Regularly asking to borrow money without ever repaying it
- Being secretive about their whereabouts
- Isolating themselves from the rest of the family
- Experiencing unpredictable mood swings
- Blaming family members for things that are their fault
- Neglecting responsibilities at home, work, school, or in any other environment
If the addict in the family continues to use, these and other behaviors can ensue, complicating the situation and the dysfunctional family roles at home.
The enabler of the family is the person who enables the behaviors of the addict or alcoholic, allowing for the addiction to continue. Many times, the enabler is not intending to cause harm by enabling the addict, but does so despite their intentions. The enabler in the family does things such as:
- Make excuses for the addict’s behaviors
- Defend the addict when they are challenged
- Provide money to the addict when asked (and even when not asked)
- Bring the addict places, even to pick up drugs or alcohol
- Ensure the basic needs of the addict are always met (e.g. clothes, shoes, shelter, food)
The enabler struggles to set and uphold healthy boundaries that would otherwise limit the destruction that the addict’s behaviors would have on the family unit.
The scapegoat is the family member who is usually blamed for the majority of the family’s problems. In most cases, the scapegoat is one of the children of the family, typically the middle child or the second oldest. The scapegoat is often viewed as the “problem child” despite not being the addict, and can exhibit the following behaviors:
- Acting out aggressively
- Experimenting with drugs or alcohol
- Taking the blame for the addict’s behaviors (especially if the addict is a sibling)
- Getting into trouble often
- Having difficulty following rules
The scapegoat often behaves in this manner as a response to the stress and chaos that addiction is having on their family unit, however the person filling this role may also be struggling with a mental health condition like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) or even a substance use disorder.
The hero in the addicted family is the person who strives endlessly to give the illusion that everything is “just fine.” The hero may be in complete denial that their family is struggling or be fully aware of it but still tries to keep it all together. It is common for the hero to:
- Be a perfectionist
- Overachieve in the majority of things they do
- Attempt to do everything the “right” way
- Try to distract from the addict’s behavior with their perceived successful behavior
The hero in the addicted family is usually the oldest child, as it is common for the oldest to take on a leadership role. The consistent internal need for everything to seem like it is under control typically produces intense amounts of anxiety and stress, compromising their overall physical and emotional wellbeing.
The mascot is the family member who tries to detract attention away from the severity of the addiction in the family through humor, almost in a way similar to that of a class clown. The mascot is usually the youngest sibling and engages in the following behaviors:
- Using humor as a defense mechanism to cope with emotional turmoil
- Turning to the use of drugs and/or alcohol as they get older as a means of self-medicating their pain
- Constantly seek approval from other members of the family, often through the use of humor
The mascot can easily fall into the downward spiral of substance abuse and addiction if they do not address their distress. This further perpetuates the disease of addiction in the family.
The Lost Child
The lost child is exactly that — lost in the mix. Often the youngest or middle child, the lost child gets drowned out by the chaos surrounding the addict and the behaviors of the other members of the family. They tend to:
- Isolate themselves from the rest of the family
- Avoid making decisions
- Struggle maintaining relationships
- Have problems developing intimate relationships
- Participate in solo activities
The lost child can grapple with feelings of neglect, even if they are the ones who isolate themselves from everyone else in the family. They often feel like there is no place for them in their family.
All dysfunctional family roles in addiction are unhealthy. The longer the roles are upheld, the more complex the issues become, making the family unit’s recovery much more challenging.
Family Addiction Recovery in Orange County
If you and your family are struggling with the disease of addiction, know that there is help. At Asana Recovery, we are dedicated to helping all individuals battling active addiction overcome their challenges. We are also committed to helping the families of our clients identify and recovery from these dysfunctional family roles.
If the time has come for you and your family to put a stop to addiction, reach out to us right now. We are here to help guide and support you and your loved ones as you strive for a happier, healthier way of living.