It is a well-known fact that addiction is a family disease – when one member of the family is struggling with addiction, everyone else in the family suffers as well. Addiction brings about a dysfunction in the family by creating fear and pain, breaking down communication walls, and eroding family trust. However, during an addict’s recovery journey, it is essential that their entire family gets involved.
Family members experience feelings of loss, hopelessness, and despair when they witness their loved ones caught in the grips of addiction. Living in the same house with someone struggling with substance use, family members have to persevere through the chaotic world of drug and alcohol addiction. Most times, they come up with coping mechanisms that can have negative consequences.
Do You Know Your Role?
Experts in the field of addiction and codependency, have discovered five key roles family members tend to take on when living under the same roof as a drug or alcohol addict. Each role brings to light how adversely the disease can affect the family unit.
1. The Addicted Role
The addict is the individual around whom all the dysfunction and the turmoil in the family revolves. This person struggles with active substance abuse and uses drugs or alcohol to cope with their problems. They often portray dependent behaviors as they try to keep up with a life of active addiction.
The addict will often stop at nothing to sustain their addiction. They will lie, steal, and manipulate those around them. They will also have anger issues and blame everyone but themselves for their problems. Despite the adverse effects of their actions on their family members and friends, they only seem to care about their next drink.
Knowingly or not, family members begin to spend more and more of their time dealing with the addict, sometimes helping them cover their addiction to save face. As the addict’s behavior worsens over time, family members may find themselves embodying other roles.
2. The Hero Role
Often the firstborn, the hero is the shining star of the family unit. Most have a type-A personality and take the leadership role over their siblings. They are hardworking, overachievers, and perfectionists by nature. They cover up for the shame brought to the family by the addict by excelling in all they do.
The insatiable need of the perfectionist to control situations and make everything right makes them do everything in their power to maintain a false sense of normalcy in the outside world. They are often in denial and would rather deal with the disease behind closed doors than openly admit to having a problem.
In the long run, the reality that they are powerless over the addiction problem catches up with them. They consequently struggle to maintain the status quo and experience a lot of pain and suffering by seeing the level of dysfunction in their family. They, in turn, develop stress anxiety, which may last a lifetime.
3. The Enabler Role
This individual is also known as “the martyr of the family” and is perhaps the most common role in families dealing with addiction. They not only enable the addict’s behavior but protect them from facing the consequences of their actions. For example, they may use their money to bail out the addict from jail or lie for them to keep everyone else happy.
The enabler is often a parent or a significant other who feels they have to watch over the addict. Enablers are so involved in saving the addict that they quickly lose themselves in the process. They may end up suffering from extreme anxiety and depression due to self-neglect.
4. The Mascot Role
This individual is the class clown. The youngest child of the family often takes up this role. They are fragile, weak, vulnerable, and desperate to seek the approval of others. They use humor to deflect and avoid dealing with the dysfunction in their family.
Because the mascot uses humor to shield themselves from facing their real feelings, they tend to bottle up emotions and, over time, may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the family pressure. This only continues the cycle of addiction in the family.
5. The Lost Child
The lost child is usually the middle or the last child in most cases. They often don’t share strong relationships with other family members and tend to detach a lot. They thrive in isolation and don’t contribute much to family matters.
The addiction problem in the family makes them distance themselves even more. They hardly seek or get attention and are often “invisible.” Later on in life, the lost child faces challenges forming intimate relationships and takes up solo activities to cope with everything that’s happening around them.
How to Break the Cycle
Are any of these addict family roles familiar to you? If so, it is important to carry out a self-evaluation to understand how you can overcome these negative characteristics and help other family members do the same. A good starting point would be having an honest conversation with yourself and evaluating how your family operates, that is, the roles of your family in addiction.
Families are some of the most crucial support groups when it comes to dealing with addiction. That said, while attempting to help a loved one recover from substance use disorder, family members can sometimes enable the disease. They may find themselves entrapped in the toxic cycle that comes with addiction.
The first step to complete recovery and healing is acceptance. Having an addict in a family can be shameful, but the only way to handle this problem is first to acknowledge the issue. To break the cycle, family units should not shy away from seeking professional help, for example, going for family therapy.
Get Professional Assistance
Families play roles in the addiction of loved ones. Depending on the role of addiction, extra support for each family member may be beneficial. Together as a family, the addict and everyone in the family unit can find recovery.
If you feel your family would benefit from family resources and counseling while your loved one gets addiction treatment, consider Healthy Life Recovery. We have many family resources to support your whole family. Healthy Life Recovery can help you or your loved one with addiction at our outpatient drug rehab.