Family Roles In Addiction

Estimated reading time: 34 minute(s)

Every member of the family is influenced in some way by alcoholism or any other addiction. As a means of highlighting the effects of alcoholism on the spouse, children, and other family members, Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, a renowned specialist in the field of addiction and dysfunctional relationships, outlined six key roles within an alcoholic household.

Everybody within an addicted family is affected by the addiction; everyone acquires coping techniques to deal with the strain of living with an addict, and many of these coping mechanisms have long-term detrimental impacts.

In reality, these family dynamics continue to exist even after the addict achieves sobriety, dies, or flees the family, as they are passed down through the generations via modeling and family situations.

What Are The Family Roles In Addiction

Each member of a family has a distinct role, or often several responsibilities, that help the family work more effectively and preserve equilibrium, stability, and harmony. When an alcohol or drug addiction is brought to the family of the alcoholic, the dynamics and alcoholic family roles will automatically shift to the new behaviors required to deal with the addiction and to preserve equilibrium and order.

According to the proverb, you are neither the cause of another person’s addiction or alcoholism, nor can you cure or control it. However, you may be contributing to the situation in some ways. Before blaming the other person’s substance misuse for all of the issues in your family or relationship, it may be prudent to evaluate how the other person’s substance usage has affected you and how you have responded to it.

To maintain their substance usage, those who are dependent on alcohol or drugs may cheat, steal, and manipulate others. As a consequence, family members desperately attempt to handle a loved one’s addiction, causing a ripple effect. While attempting to cope, many individuals adopt maladaptive coping techniques and behavior patterns that exacerbate the issue.

The following are some of the roles we assume when dealing with an addict or alcoholic:

The Victim Or Addict

To differing degrees, addicts perform and complete their tasks. Generally, as the amount and duration of alcohol or other drug usage increases, addiction progresses. Alcohol and drugs become the addict’s principal means of coping with problems and unpleasant emotions. 

Over time, addicts burn their bridges and isolate themselves. Their life revolves around obtaining more booze and drugs, using them, recovering, and relapsing. They attribute their issues to others, can be furious and judgmental, are unreliable, and appear indifferent to how their actions impact others. 

Other forms of addiction or behavioral addictions (gambling, sex addiction, neglected mental health issues) can be substituted for alcohol or drug addiction with similar dynamics.

The Enabler/Caretaker

Caregivers are also known as enablers and codependents. This is among the most prevalent roles assumed in homes with an addict, and there are full support groups devoted to it. Typically a parent or spouse, the enabler tries to establish and maintain clear healthy boundaries with the addict’s loved one. This person will make up excuses for their loved one’s conduct, lie to keep them out of trouble, and even support the addict’s ongoing alcohol or drug usage.

Tragically, the caretaker often believes they must safeguard their addicted loved one, yet this only harms the addict and the enabler. Generally, the enabler loses his or her sense of identity, develops anxiety or depression, and neglects his or her health.

The Mascot

The mascot might be compared to the class clown, a person who employs comedy to relieve tension or stress. This role, which is often undertaken by a younger child, entails making others laugh to assist the family and mascot conceal the agony they are experiencing. During difficult times, laughter is essential, but the mascot pushes their fun games to the next level by employing it to escape the confrontation, expression of feelings, and stress.

When the mascot’s sense of humor ceases to function, he or she may struggle to deal with domestic stress. As a result, the mascot typically turns to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, hence aggravating the vicious addiction cycle in the family.

The Heroic Figure

Similar to the carer, the protagonist seeks to conceal the addict’s conduct to preserve the family’s feeling of normality and stability. Typically, this role is taken by an older child who strives to excel in whatever they do. Most individuals would characterize the hero as incredibly responsible and self-reliant, however, the hero generally maintains these characteristics at the sacrifice of their inner peace.

While desperately attempting to make the family appear normal, the protagonist may struggle to meet their ambitions. These folks are generally susceptible to anxiety and persistent stress. Similar to the caregiver, this person’s activities end up enabling rather than aiding the addict.

The Scapegoat

The scapegoat is the polar opposite of the hero; typically, this person is a defiant or angry child who lashes out in disobedience. Whether this individual engages in acts of violence, sexual promiscuity, or general rule-breaking, the scapegoat often serves to distract the family from the addict and ultimately ends up shouldering all the responsibility. With much of the attention and blame focused on the scapegoat, the addicted member of the family is left to continue his or her drug or alcohol abuse without help.

The Lost Child

The lost child is often a young or middle-aged child who believes they are invisible in the family. Typically, this child is reserved, shy, and quiet, demanding little care, attention, or involvement from the rest of the family. Consequently, as more and more time and attention are devoted to the addict, this youngster becomes forgotten in the pandemonium of the home.

Due to this problem, the lost child may struggle to make decisions, have difficulty forming deep relationships with others, and withdraw from their loved ones. This individual may also self-medicate or develop the mental disorder as they age as a result of their inability to deal with addiction in the home.

Family Dynamics In Addiction

It is common for a person’s family to provide assistance and support in the majority of difficult situations. In the context of drug addiction, though, family members’ well-intentioned attempts frequently enable or sustain the addict’s substance abuse problem. This dynamic, termed “enabling,” can emerge in numerous ways, and resolving it is essential to a patient’s recovery.

Some ways in which households may be encouraging addiction include:

  • Protecting persons from the adverse effects of their addiction.
  • Reducing or downplaying the extent of the problem and/or its repercussions
  • Lying or concealing facts about a loved one’s addiction.
  • Increasing hostility or negative feelings toward the individual, and
  • Incorrectly assigning responsibility to someone other than the addict.

In contrast, a person’s family might have a significant effect on their road to recovery. Since an addict’s family can become intimately enmeshed in addition, they must also be a part of the process of healing. This involvement may involve the following:

Creating a safe and healthy home environment: This involves ensuring that a home is a secure place for all members of the family and that there is healthy interaction within the family.

Gaining knowledge regarding recovery from addiction: Families can take a crucial step in addiction rehabilitation by acquiring knowledge about the process of recovery and how to provide assistance. There are numerous online sites for anyone seeking information about recovery from addiction for family members.

Participating in group therapy sessions: Group therapy can assist families in confronting and coping with some of the challenges that accompany addictions. Important to healing is mending relationship problems, whether through couples or family counseling or support groups.

Addiction And The Family Consequences

When a person is addicted to a substance, their condition impacts more than just themselves. Drug addiction is an issue that can affect a person’s parents, spouse, children, and other members of the family. There are numerous short- and long-term ways in which households may be harmed by addiction, including:

Relationship Difficulties

Substance abuse can damage family connections by inciting conflict and eroding trust. For significant others, addiction can cause a wide range of issues, from a lack of communication to feelings of guilt and shame. The parents of a battling addict may experience feelings of helplessness and confusion. Even young children can perceive the pressure inflicted on the family and the separation caused by addiction.

Financial Problems

Families attempting to combat addiction may also have financial difficulties. This may be owing to the individual’s habits, lost employment, unpaid bills, or other unexpected expenses brought on by the circumstance. This may need other family members to work additional jobs or “make up the difference” in other ways to keep the household afloat.

Psychological Trauma

This can become daunting as time passes. Observing the evolution of addiction can be traumatic and detrimental to the emotional health of some families. As the addiction worsens or as the addict begins to experience the repercussions of his or her actions, fear and stress may also develop for certain family members.

Substance Abuse Family Roles

The following roles and behaviors are not clinically accepted, unlike those outlined previously. However, they keep the family from returning to normal and prohibit the substance abuser from seeking assistance. When people say “it takes a village,” they are correct. If the family structure resists growth and change, the substance abuser is unlikely to quit. We believe it is inappropriate for a family to attempt an intervention without the assistance of a trained interventionist. Thus, the underlying issues inside the family system would not be addressed. In the DIY intervention, the roles and behaviors specified in this section will be enacted.

The Punisher

As a consequence of the hero’s actions, the punisher frequently provides ideas for the imposition of severe punishments. Among these are severing all communication with the individual and requesting that he or she leave the residence without any treatment alternatives in place. Additionally, statements like “They don’t need treatment; they simply need a job” may be said.

The Redeemer

This is a characteristic of the hero or enabler who requires control and frequently assumes the role of the problem-solver. Most often motivated by ego and core concerns, redeemers aspire to be the rescuer who convinces the drug user to change through a persuasive speech. For fear of displaying their failure to resolve the situation, they are virtually always reluctant to help.

The Ally

Seek to avoid conflict by taking the addict’s and alcoholic’s side. The ally frequently prioritizes people-pleasing habits and the urge to be liked by the substance abuser over the family’s intervention efforts. Most often, the ally will reveal to the drug user what is happening and provide firsthand inside information about what the family and intervention team are talking about.

The Denier

A prevalent characteristic of enablers, the denier denies the presence of a problem or claims that it is not nearly as severe as others allege. This is frequently the result of mental barriers and misguided emotions, which result in a need to avoid involvement and confrontation. Regarding denial, deniers demonstrate habits similar to those of substance abusers. By downplaying the problem’s seriousness, they create the appearance that nothing has to be fixed or altered.

The Clueless

This position may be played by a member of the family who is not on the frontline and simply sees the drug abuser as he or she once was. This individual, like the denial, maybe a member of the family with an unconscious mental barrier who attempts to avoid confrontation. In certain instances, the clueless may be distant relatives who have no idea what is happening.

Resource References:

  1. Family Dynamics of addiction and recovery. GCU. Available at:
  2. Family roles & codependency. Family First Intervention. Available at:
  3. How addiction impacts the family: 6 family roles in a dysfunctional or alcoholic family. Psych Central. Available at:
  4. 6 family roles in addicted households, Ohio Addiction Recovery Center. Available at:

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