Family Roles in Addiction

teenager sitting in window suffering from anxiety

Families play an essential part in the process of addiction recovery. Each family member’s role creates a unique pattern that affects the whole family unit. Recognizing the roles that family members play is integral in helping an individual face their addiction.

Ideally, in treatment, the family would be involved, but there may be a reluctance for some members to participate. Not every treatment center includes the family in the patient’s therapy treatment. Treating the person struggling with addictive behaviors as a whole person helps them redefine who they are and find their new place in their family.

There are six family roles in regards to addiction. Family members may take on more than one role, depending on their coping skills and what they can offer. It is essential to recognize the positions adopted by individual family members in order to better understand the dynamics that exist in the family.

The Addict

The addict is the core of a family’s attention. Discussions, actions, decisions, and energy are centered around helping the addict receive care from other family members. The role of the addict forces others to fill a void left by the addict’s alcohol or substance dependence.

Family members adopt roles they believe will smooth out the imbalance in their unit. As each family member takes on their role, the addict will display forms of emotions such as guilt, shame, and stress. In some cases, the addict will drink or use substances more because of the feelings mentioned.

The Hero

The hero wants to help the family look good to those on the outside. They want to appear as if everything is perfectly fine in their family, so they act positively when they are with others. They smooth over any action or behavior the addict displayed while in public. The act of being calm and positive in public may ease family members’ minds, thinking the hero is doing well. However, the hero can feel a degree of pain and isolation.

The Jester

There is usually a member of a family who uses humor to deflect feelings. They tell jokes, play pranks, and do other things to alleviate tense or negative situations. Jesters can appear to be superficial, but they use their jokes as a means to protect them from feelings of hurt, shame, and embarrassment. They usually have a hard time understanding why their family member is addicted and understanding how they can effectively help.

The Scapegoat

The line between the jester and the scapegoat may blur in some families. The scapegoat uses humor and constructs situations meant to draw attention away from the addict. The acts of the scapegoat are often dramatic. They want solutions to problems. Their need to fix situations and interactions comes from not being able to fix addiction.

The unruly behaviors caused by the scapegoat are fixable unlike the addict’s alcohol or substance dependence. The family can focus their attention on finding solutions to the scapegoat’s problems rather than dealing with addiction issues, where it can seem like there are no solutions.

The Caretaker

The caretaker puts all of their energy into making things okay. They, like the hero, want to present a unified, happy family to the public, despite the turmoil going on at home. They make excuses for the addict and find ways to protect the addict from the harm they are causing to themselves.

In many ways, the caretaker is an accomplice. The caretaker swoops in when the addict is in trouble or might suffer from their use. They believe they must help, but their help actually ends up harming the addict. The effort to protect and rescue the addict is harmful because it distorts the addict’s reality of addiction.

If the addict is consistently being protected from their choice to use or drink, they never feel the effect their behavior has on their family. The caretaker feels loyalty and love for the addict. However, their feelings of fear regarding what may happen to the addict are misplaced. The caretaker needs to free themselves from any responsibility they may feel towards the addict.

The Family

Addiction can scar a family. The effects of addition leave pain, shame, guilt, fear, and anger. The roles family members play in order to maintain a sense of normalcy ultimately hurt everyone and can cause the addict to dive deeper into their addiction. As a result of the roles of addiction, there is a need to involve family members in addiction treatment therapy sessions.

The family as a unit can suffer without these codependent roles. Without the assumed roles, family members may not know how to act around the addict before, during, and after treatment. Comprehensive treatment includes the family. When undergoing treatment, the addict is learning about who they are and their role in their family. They gain self-confidence, tools to cope with stress, boredom, anxiety, depression, and other feelings.

By addressing the family as a whole, therapy can help the family cope, push negative feelings away, and focus the proper amount of attention on the addict. Family therapy may reveal the foundation of each family member’s role. We all have a part to play in our families.

Addressing the roles we play is vital to working toward our own recovery or the recovery of a family member. Asking questions, facing realities, and admitting we need help are strengths. With this strength, we find who we are and who we will become.

Addiction affects everyone in the family. Facing a loved one’s addiction isn’t easy. The first impulse of the family, when faced with addiction, is to ignore it or hide it. Neither reaction is a long-term solution to their loved one’s alcohol or substance dependence. Taking on roles diminishes the family’s ability to help the addict. Instead, the roles adopted by the family hinder treatment, increase the use of alcohol or substances, and can delay the family from seeking help. Every family member needs to understand their role and how they can help not only themselves, but the addict, as well. Recovery is not a process that is achieved alone. Family members are essential in helping an addict succeed, once they complete treatment. Including family members in individual therapy sessions built around addressing their roles and feelings towards the addict strengthens the recovery process. To learn how you can be involved in supporting your loved one, contact Achieve Concierge by calling today at (619) 393-5871.

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