Substance Abuse and the Roles of the Family

Articles, Australia, International, Understanding Addiction

Typically, when there is an addiction in a family, the roles of the family are created around the person with the substance abuse problem. After these roles are set, if someone tries to change or switch roles, the stability of the entire family system is thrown off. Even if it is the addict who changes, it throws off the equilibrium and all the relationships within the family must change in order to become balanced again. Even though the equilibrium can be thrown off because of changes of family roles it does not mean it is negative to change those relationship dynamics within the family.

Here are the usual characteristics experienced in families with addiction.

Addict-The person with the substance abuse problem is the addict. Everything the household does revolves around this person.

Enabler-The enabler is often the spouse of the addict or the oldest child in the family system. This individual is the one making sure things, such as the financial responsibilities, are taken care of and making sure the children are cared for. This individual is the caretaker of the home and generally tries to protect the addict from harm. Often the person is taking care of these items in order to save face in the outside world and present and outward appearance that there is no problems in his family. This person can rarely see the depth of his loved one’s substance abuse problem because he spends so much time covering up the problem instead of dealing with it. He covers up the problem because it is too painful to deal with in reality. In actuality, this particular person is really doing more harm than being helpful by enabling the addict because he is not allowing the addict to experience the consequences of her substance abuse. This role is exhausting because the person is always trying to maintain the balance within the family.

Hero-The hero goes above and beyond to pick up the slack where her parent is lacking due to his substance abuse. She may take on parental roles she is under qualified to do, such as financially providing for younger siblings. This person tries to fix the family in whatever way she can. Deep down this person often hopes she can change the parent’s addiction by being good. There is a sense of pressure these individuals feel to be responsible and help where the addict lacks responsibility. Therefore, this child will generally strive for perfection in most tasks she participates in as well. However, this young person is often filled with stress from the burden of responsibility and perfection she believes she must uphold to present everything as put together to the outside world. She is also often fearful of the outcome if everyone noticed she or her family is not as composed as they seem to portray. She is trying to avoid shameful feelings at all cost because it reminds her of what if feel like to live in a family of addiction.

Scapegoat-Often the scapegoat is the kid who appears out of control due to his parent’s substance abuse problem. He is typically the rebel of the family. This youngster can be in trouble at school, for stealing or in trouble with the law. He is trying to shield himself from the negative feelings he is experiencing at home by acting out. He can gain attention from others outside of the home by acting this way. This young one often feels much anger toward the substance using parent and the chaos he feels in his home.

Mascot-The mascot is typically the comedian of the family or the family jokester. She uses her sense of humor to lighten the tension and take the focus off of the substance abuse happening in her family, even if it is just a temporary fix. Although she appears confident, she is most of the time hiding behind the silliness she is creating to distract her and others from what is really happening within her family. She is often embarrassed by her family situation and feels insecure, so she covers it with the jokes she creates.

Lost Child-The lost child seems to be disconnected and isolated from the family. This child does not have a close relationship with other family members. Therefore, she can find it hard to interact and connect with her peers as well. These individuals sometimes engage in make believe as a way to distance themselves and cope with the issues at home. They typically try to go unnoticed as way to avoid being sucked into the family’s addiction drama.

As you can see, substance abuse is not experienced by simply the addict himself, but it impacts the entire family unit, so it is important for the entire family to seek help in order for the addict to be freed from his addiction. The roles listed above are neither good nor bad, but they must change in order for the substance abuse to cease.


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