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Understanding the Six Dysfunctional Family Roles in an Addicted Household

Addiction is a severe condition that affects every part of a person’s life. An untreated addiction can quickly lead to lasting damage to a person’s physical and mental health. It keeps people from being engaged in their life and strains relationships.

Addiction also damages the health and wellbeing of entire families. When a person lives with addiction, each family member is affected. A loved one’s addiction is often a burden that can be too heavy to bear. The coping mechanisms family members use to keep the peace can hurt them. In time, these coping mechanisms may become destructive roles they play for years.

Some may find it challenging to imagine that a group of unique individuals could fit neatly into specific roles. Still, it is very common for families to adopt these roles to function.

Learning more about the family roles in an addicted household can help you identify dysfunction in your family and address it in a healthy, productive way. 

Identifying Dysfunctional Family Roles in Addicted Households

Addiction experts have identified six specific roles that people take on when one family member is living with addiction. These descriptions assume that the addicted family member is a parent. However, any family member can take on these roles depending on which family member is struggling with addiction.

The Addict

The person who lives with addiction fills this role. The addict may be angry or depressed. They may engage in secretive behavior or may lie to hide their addiction. The addicted family member may shift blame away from themselves. This blame is often assigned to another family member or another outside source.

The Enabler

Often, a spouse or partner adopts this role, but one of the children can also play it. The enabler makes excuses for the addict’s behavior. They blame anything except drugs or alcohol for the addict’s actions. They may work tirelessly to cover up the addict’s shortcomings or failures. This may include completing the addicted person’s work, putting up with bad behavior, or painting the addicted person’s behavior in a flattering light to others. 

The Hero

The oldest child in the family is likely to fill this role. The hero does everything “right” and works hard to make it appear as though everything is fine. The hero is prone to anxiety and may experience stress-related illnesses.

The Scapegoat

The middle child is most likely to take on the role of the scapegoat. The family may blame the scapegoat’s behavior for the addict’s actions or shortcomings. Blame and family focus shift to the scapegoat, who is likely to be the middle child. The scapegoat internalizes the family’s blame and may eventually look for ways to escape their family.

The Mascot

Often the youngest child in the family, the mascot’s role is to deflect stress by using humor. The mascot has a desperate need for approval but does not have the coping skills necessary to navigate the complexities of their addicted family. They rely on their ability to make jokes to break the tension and keep the peace. Using jokes to mask anxiety keeps people from learning to manage it effectively. Living in this state of stress makes the mascot prone to chronic anxiety and self-medication. 

The Lost Child

The youngest child may take this role. The lost child doesn’t demand attention, and their family members may forget them. Their needs go unnoticed and unmet. They are essentially invisible to the rest of the family. 

Each family is different, and the people may play one or more of these roles depending on the family structure. It is essential to identify these roles to heal the addiction.

Addressing Family Roles That Develop as a Result of Addiction

As family members adopt roles that allow them to cope with the stress and uncertainty surrounding their loved one’s addiction daily, the behaviors they adopt often come with undesirable consequences. Holding these roles for too long can lead to stress, relationship strain, and anxiety-related illnesses. They may also lose the ability to manage life’s challenges. 

Whether or not the addict seeks treatment for their addiction, family members must do the work of identifying and correcting these roles. Even if the addict never treats their addiction, the family environment becomes healthier for everyone involved. 

Identifying and healing these family roles that develop due to addiction takes energy and commitment. Families do this work in several ways:

  • Education about addiction and the role family plays in it
  • Individual counseling
  • Support groups, including Al-Anon 
  • Family therapy

The entire family benefits by each member bringing their whole self to the relationship. Family members who have their needs met can function in productive, healthy ways. 

Get Help Today at the Mandala Healing Center

For more information about the family roles caused by addiction or how we can support you in recovery, reach out to the specialists at the Mandala Healing Center today.