Family roles in addiction hurt more than help the addict and overall family dynamic. This is why it’s important to fully understand these roles and seek support as a family.
In this article, we break down each role in detail as well explain how addiction recovery is also a family recovery.
It is hard for an addict to be an addict all by themselves. Usually, there are friends and family helping them continue in their risky behaviors. Everyone plays a role, even the ones who think they don’t.
Family roles in the context of coping with a member addicted to drugs or alcohol can be dysfunctional and harmful.
Addiction is a disease that infiltrates a whole family. To cope with the stress of this disease, family members create roles for themselves. On the outside, the roles chosen may appear to help. Or at least, it eases some of the stress. On the inside, family roles can do more damage than good.
There are six typical family roles related to addiction. They are discussed in more detail below.
1. The Addict
The addict is the reason family roles exist in the first place. Without the addict, this would not be a concern, and everyone could resume “normal” family roles like the leader, nerd, clown, disciplinarian, and rebel.
The addict, as a person, is not the problem. It is their addictive choices and behaviors that create havoc. They become the center of the family’s universe in a very damaging form. The addict’s actions make you feel on edge, suspicious, disappointed, fearful, and in a constant state of turmoil.
The addict is not a bad person. They have a disease that needs to be treated. But until they get treatment, everyone else takes on a role, like that of the hero.
2. The Hero
The hero is the family member that appears to be the opposite of the addict. They are super-responsible. While the addict is entirely dependent, the hero is independent and often turns away help because they do not need it.
The hero likes to fix things and may often try to fix the addict. When that doesn’t work, they may try to fix other family members and their roles. For example, they may work hard to help the enabler not be such an enabler. Often, the enabler takes on the part of the caretaker.
3. The Caretaker
Caretakers mean well. They have a lot of love for each family member. The problem is that the love they feel blurs the lines between helping and harming. They do not want to see anyone in pain, which is often the case with addicts. So, they do whatever they can to ease others’ pain, even if that means further damaging the family as a whole.
They don’t know their actions are damaging, and don’t know what to do or how to act. That said, they jump into action and do whatever they can to help the problems subside for a while.
The caretaker has a hard time saying no to the addict, and it doesn’t take long for them to form a codependent relationship.
The caretaker wants to keep everyone happy. They may even cover up the destructive behaviors of the addict to avoid conflict within the family. They want to reduce everyone’s stress that has been caused by the addict.
4. The Scapegoat
The scapegoat is the person in the family that comes across as a rebel. He or she is defiant and hostile and breaks the rules. While they do not have an addiction, they are misbehaving. Their goal is to take attention away from the addict.
The theory is that if the family is not focused on the addict’s behavior, they are less stressed and maybe even a little happier. While the intention is admirable, the role itself creates more dysfunction.
5. The Mascot
The Mascot has the same goal as the scapegoat, to divert attention away from the addict and make the family feel better. They use humor and silly behaviors to reach this goal. The Mascot is the clown, the goof-off, the one always trying to replace your anger, sadness, and worry with laughter.
Both the scapegoat and the Mascot are good in their roles. Temporarily they can distract you from the chaos created by the addict. However, what they have also done is to distract you from the member in the role of the lost child.
6. The Lost Child
The family role of a lost child is played by a quiet person who is a big part of the family but often goes unnoticed. They do what they can to avoid you, all of you.
If the lost child could choose a superpower, they would prefer to be invisible. Or, they would be the next incredible shrinking person. They want to exist without being a part of the group. The lost child is independent and prefers privacy.
While other members seek attention, the lost child avoids attention.
As mentioned before, addiction is a family disease. This means recovery is also a family journey.
To heal your family and break free of the roles each member has taken, you must seek help. And you do not have to wait until the addict goes into treatment or gets sober to start your recovery. You may learn that when you heal and are no longer supporting the addict, they move closer to a rock bottom that leads them to get help too.
Options for role recovery include individual, family, and group therapy. With individual therapy, each member can meet with their therapist to learn how to cope with the stress of loving an addict. They can learn how to be themselves and how to cope with addiction-related stress effectively.
Family therapy allows your whole family to meet with a therapist at one time. A therapist can facilitate and moderate the session so everyone can speak and be heard. You can learn how to set boundaries, avoid making excuses, and how to provide positive support to one another.
Through therapy, your family will learn techniques that strengthen your bond, improve communication, and introduce you to support resources. Together, you can heal the wounds caused by the disease of addiction.