Family Roles in Addiction: Substance Abuse Can Be a Family Disease

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sober coaching for family

Addiction is often viewed as a personal problem, but more often than not, it’s also a family disease. As a family disease, this means each family member has a role in the family dynamics as they relate to addiction. Today, we’re going to talk more about the specifics of those family roles in addiction.

First, let’s talk more about what makes addiction a family disease, rather than a personal problem.

Why Addiction is a Family Disease

Addiction is a family disease because, well, it affects all members of the family.

As a result, addiction can cause roles to change within the family and can cause dysfunction within the family unit. If you’ve been in this position, you know first-hand how family members often feel powerless to help their loved one who is struggling with addiction.

But now, let’s talk even more about what makes alcoholism a family disease and how it impacts the entire family unit.

How Addiction Affects the Family

Unfortunately, addiction affects the family in almost every way imaginable. From conflict to tension to violence, despair, financial strain, and everything in between—there are virtually no ways in which addiction does not impact the entire family unit.

Despite these challenges, however, families are incredibly powerful and resilient entities. And understanding family roles in addiction can be incredibly important in helping to overcome addiction, so let’s discuss those next.

Understanding Family Roles in Addiction

Every family is different, and the ways in which addiction affects that family will differ too. For example, a family with several siblings will have family members playing different family roles in addiction than a family with a single child and two parents.

To begin, let’s look at three of the most common familial roles in addiction: enablers, victims, and caregivers.

The Family Role of Enabler

Enabling occurs when family members make it possible for the addict to continue using drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences. It can take many different forms, such as:

  • Making excuses for the addict’s behavior
  • Helping them cover up their tracks
  • Providing them with money or drugs

Enabling also allows the addict to avoid taking responsibility for their actions and keeps them trapped in their addiction.

The Family Role of Victim

Another common role in addiction is that of the victim. Victims are often people who have been hurt by the addict’s behavior. They may feel angry, resentful, and abandoned. They may also feel guilty for not being able to help the addict or for enabling them in the past. Victims can be a major obstacle to the addict’s recovery and can hinder family healing.

The Family Role of Caregiver

Caregivers are typically spouses or parents who take on the responsibility of caring for the addict. They often feel overwhelmed and stressed out as they try to balance their own needs with those of the addict. Caregivers often put their own health and wellbeing last and can become burned out.

It’s important for caregivers to take care of themselves and to find support from other family members or professionals.

6 Family Roles in Addiction

Beyond these three roles, there are six family roles in addiction that can provide further context to the ways in which addiction affects the whole family.

The Addict

The addict is the person who is most commonly associated with addiction—the one who is addicted to a substance(s). They are the ones who constantly struggle with using drugs or alcohol, and their life seems to be consumed by their addiction. 

(Are you familiar with different options for addicts after rehab? Learn more about the benefits of sober living after rehab next)

However, as you know, addiction is a family disease which means there are a number of other roles being played in a household with addiction.

The Mascot

In many families, whether they’re dealing with addiction or not, one member tends to take on the role of the class clown or mascot. They are the ones who lighten the mood and try to make everyone laugh. In some cases, this role is essential to the family’s functioning. They may be the only ones who can make their mother laugh after a long day or who can get their father to smile when he’s been stressed out at work.

But for families dealing with addiction, this role can be dangerous. If the class clown or mascot is also using drugs or alcohol, they may be more likely to hide their addiction and make excuses for their behavior. They may also be less likely to seek help since they don’t want to disrupt the family unit. Unfortunately, their effort to remain jovial and lighten the mood may lead to them furthering the cycle of addiction by taking up drugs or alcohol to deal with the feelings they can’t express otherwise.

The Scapegoat

In an addicted household, one family member might also take on the role of the scapegoat. This person is often blamed for everything that goes wrong in the family, and they are typically the one who suffers the most abuse. The scapegoat is often an easy target because they could also be struggling with their own addiction or mental health issues.

The Hero

The hero is the opposite of the scapegoat. They are often the eldest child in the family and feel a responsibility to take care of their siblings. They may try to protect them from seeing their parents’ fights or from witnessing their parents’ addiction. The hero can also be responsible for cleaning up after their parents or trying to cover up their tracks.

The Lost Child

The lost child is someone who feels invisible in their family. They may not have a lot of attention paid to them, or they may feel like they don’t belong in the family. They may cope with their feeling of isolation by using drugs or alcohol, continuing the cycle of addiction.

The Caretaker

Finally, we get to the caretaker role—most families have someone who falls in this role. This is the person who typically takes on the responsibility of caring for others in the family. They may be a mother, father, spouse, or sibling. They are often responsible for making sure everyone is okay and that everything runs smoothly. 

When addiction enters the family, this role can become incredibly difficult. The caretaker may feel like they are constantly fighting an uphill battle to keep things together. They may feel like they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. And unfortunately, they often are.

How Addiction Affects Children

In the discussion of family roles and addiction, it’s especially important to consider how addiction can affect children. Whether they are siblings of the addict, the children of the addict, or other young family members, addiction can impact their lives in devastating ways.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) points out how the children of addicts are at high risk for developing emotional, behavioral, and academic problems. This is because they often have to take on overwhelming adult roles in the family early on in life, and they can feel a sense of responsibility for their addicted parent or sibling. They may also struggle with self-esteem issues and feel like they’re not good enough.

In addition, NIDA notes that children of addicts are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol themselves. This is why it’s so important for families struggling with addiction to get help – not only for the addict but also for the children who are affected by the addiction. Addiction is a disease that affects everyone in the family, and it’s important to address all of the issues that come with it.

As for how to begin addressing those issues? Let’s talk about that next.

Next Steps

Addiction can be a devastating disease for families. However, by understanding the different family roles in addiction, families can begin to heal and move forward. If you are struggling with addiction in your family, seek help from a professional therapist or counselor. Family therapy can be an invaluable tool for healing and rebuilding relationships.

Additionally, seeking out sober services that offer reunification assistance and family-based services can be an incredibly powerful step forward. For example, sober coaching from Elysian Sober Services places a big emphasis on the “family aspect” of addiction and the roles it entails. 

Learn more about such services at Elysian Sober Services in Jensen Beach, FL. If you would like more information on family roles in addiction or sober coaching, please visit our blog or give us a call.

Elysian Sober Services

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