Addiction doesn’t just affect the individual; it’s a family disease. Family and loved ones often suffer significantly when an individual is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Moreover, family history of substance abuse and emotional triggers create a complex relationship between an addict and their family members. Over time, families often start falling into roles as a coping mechanism for handling addiction.
These family roles in addiction can often manifest in negative behaviors that may worsen addiction in certain people. Living with addiction, whether as someone suffering from substance abuse disorders or as a loved one under the same roof, can be extremely difficult. It’s like walking a tightrope of finding the best way to encourage someone to get help and taking care of yourself. Before you can do that, however, it’s important to recognize the different family roles in addiction so you can avoid falling into these traps and help everybody in the household focus on recovery.
Why Is Family So Important in Understanding Addiction?
It’s impossible to understate the impact of family on our lives. This is doubly true with alcohol or drug addictions. As researchers begin to better understand triggers for addiction, one of the biggest factors is a family history of substance use disorder. Genetics play a key role in determining who might be particularly susceptible to abuse.
Family also determines your environment as well. Does your family provide the support necessary to overcome addictions? Or do they reinforce drug-seeking and other dangerous behaviors? Let’s dive into some of the ways family accidentally do the latter:
1. The Addicted
The person—or people, in some cases—in the family whose main focus is the next drink or the next dose. They feel that they cannot stop using a given substance, which leads to a host of negative behaviors. In some cases, they may lie and manipulate those around them while downplaying their addiction. They may also blame others for their addiction, refusing to acknowledge their responsibility.
As addiction worsens, so do the negative emotional, mental, and physical health effects. Recognizing addiction is an important first step, but there is a long way to go on the journey towards recovery. The addicted’s behavior can influence those around them, which causes the following personality types to emerge.
2. The Savior
We are all familiar with Type A personalities: diligent, overachieving, and with tendencies towards perfectionism. These individuals try to pull families together through hard work to establish an environment of “normalcy” at home. More often than not, eldest children play this role, as they desperately want to create hope for other family members and themselves.
However, this puts a huge amount of pressure on them, creating intense anxiety and other stress-related conditions for them. Over time, this can even lead to this person developing substance use disorder, perpetuating a vicious cycle.
3. The Enabler
Anybody familiar with drug and alcohol rehabilitation knows the danger of enablers. However, there is a common misconception about enablers. They are not typically someone who is actively assisting in an addiction, such as buying drugs or alcohol for their addicted family member. Instead, they often work to smooth over problems to “hold the family together.” Generally, they’ll try to downplay the seriousness of situations, saying that substance abuse isn’t the problem.
Instead, they’ll make excuses saying things like “they’re under a lot of stress right now” or “they really aren’t drinking that much.” Enablers most often tend to be spouses, but children often play this family role in addiction.
4. The Clown
Addiction creates a lot of negative behaviors and emotions in a family. Oftentimes, the youngest child will take the role of clown or comedian to bring some humor and light into the household. The goal is to reduce stress levels and bring joy. However, these people are often extremely vulnerable and fragile themselves, so they desperately need the approval of other family members.
This humor is also a defense mechanism that the clown uses to avoid addressing pain and negative emotions within themselves. Worse yet, clowns often grow up with tendencies to self-medicate using drugs and alcohol, furthering addictions within families.
5. The Scapegoat
Addiction is complex. When a mother or father suffers from addiction, it’s hard to acknowledge this problem, particularly if they are “high-functioning” addicts. Instead, one individual may get blamed for the entire family’s problems, making the scapegoat. Often this role is taken by the second oldest child, which gives the family a sense of purpose by having somebody other than the addict to blame for problems.
With the scapegoat as the target, the addict is shielded from blame, resentment, and sadness from other family members. As these individuals age, they are highly likely to engage in erratic behavior, including violent outbursts, running away, making unsafe sexual choices, and abusing drugs and alcohol as well.
6. The Lost Child
For children who already shy and withdrawn, addiction in a household can only worsen these behaviors. Middle and youngest children often play this role as they become “invisible” to other family members. Even in healthy conditions, they may not receive or seek much attention from the family. However, negative behaviors in the household may worsen as they both isolate themselves and are isolated. This can create difficulties for them in forming intimate relationships, making serious decisions, and lead to them feeling lonely both as an adolescent and adult.
How You Can Create Healthy Family Roles in Addiction
These are just a few of the more common examples of family roles in addiction. The first step is recognizing these roles so that you know not to fall into them. Dealing with addiction is not easy for any family. It doesn’t matter what your family looks like; everybody faces challenges. To successfully overcome addiction, it takes an entire family working together as a team. They must be united on the same front.
For families with young children, parents can feel a significant amount of pressure to both maintain a normal life and cope with the behaviors of addicted family members. In this case, parents need to reach out to family members, such as adult siblings, parents, and close friends. Having these people to confide in can be a big help in helping parents recharge and be ready to help their families.
For families with adult children, these members can actually be a part of the family system recovery team. They can work together with the parents and other members of the support group to help create a positive environment for change.
Overall, navigating all these challenges can be extremely difficult. It’s important to remember that addiction is an illness. For this reason, families should seek counseling through programs like Al-Anon to work through addiction and related problems. Speak with a substance abuse professional today to see how they can get your family back on the path towards stability, health, and happiness.
Get the Help You Need
Many times, facing addiction as a family is too difficult to do without help. The underlying issues remain, and these are the areas that we help with during treatment. We know that nothing is more disheartening than relapsing after leaving rehab, so we give patients the tools to stay sober. Reach out to Cambridge Behavioral Hospital to learn about available treatment options. You can contact us online or call us at 1-740-661-6398.