6 Common Family Roles in an Addicted Household

This article is by rehabs.com


We all know that substance abuse is a family disease – it not only affects the user, but the whole family, as well.

Living under the same roof with someone who’s dependant on alcohol, family members must navigate and endure the chaotic world of addiction, ultimately adopting coping strategies that can create lasting negative effects.

What’s Your Role?

Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, an expert in the addiction and codependency fields, has identified six different roles that family members tend to embody when living with an alcoholic. Each role highlights the negative effects of this disease on both the spouse and the children.

  • Role #1 The Addicted People struggling with substance abuse live in a constant state of chaos. Alcohol becomes the primary way to cope with problems and difficult feelings, and in turn, he or she will stop at nothing to supply this need. As a result, they burn bridges, lie, and manipulate those around them. They isolate and angrily blame others for their problems. It comes as no surprise that their actions create negative effects for the entire family; they can’t seem to focus on anything other than the next drink.
  • Role #2 The Enabler Deny, deny, deny – this is an enabler’s M.O. The goal of this role is to smooth things over within the family. In order to “protect” the family, enablers convince themselves that alcohol isn’t a problem and, in order to make light of a serious situation, they make excuses for their loved one’s behavior. While the enabler is most often a spouse, this role can also be taken on by a child.
  • Role #3 The Hero The family hero is your typical Type A personality: a hard-working, overachieving perfectionist. Through his or her own achievements, the hero tries to bring the family together and create a sense of normalcy. This role is usually taken on by the eldest child, as they seek to give hope to the rest of the family. Unfortunately, a driving need to “do everything right” tends to put an extreme amount of pressure on the hero, leaving them highly anxious and susceptible to stress-related illnesses later in life.
  • Role #4 The Scapegoat The scapegoat is just what you would expect: the one person who gets blamed for the whole family’s problems. This role tends to be taken on by the second oldest child; he or she offers the family a sense of purpose by providing someone else to blame. They voice the family’s collective anger, while shielding the addicted parent from a lot of blame and resentment. When scapegoats get older, males tend to act out in violence, while females often run away or participate in promiscuous sex.
  • Role #5 The Mascot Think of the mascot as the class clown, always trying to deflect the stress of the situation by supplying humor. This role is usually taken on by the youngest child; they’re fragile, vulnerable, and desperate for the approval of others. Providing comic relief is also the mascot’s defense against feeling pain and fear himself. Mascots often grow up to self-medicate with alcohol, perpetuating the cycle of addiction.
  • Role #6 The Lost Child The lost child role is usually taken on by the middle or youngest child. They’re shy, withdrawn, and sometimes thought of as “invisible” to the rest of the family. They don’t seek (or get) a lot of attention from other family members, especially when alcoholism is present within the family. Lost children put off making decisions, have trouble with forming intimate relationships, and choose to spend time on solitary activities as a way to cope.

Define Your Own Healthy Role

Do any of these roles sound familiar? If so, important to understand that these negative characteristics can be overcome.

Taking an honest look at yourself and how your family operates is a great starting point. Helpful next steps include going to see a licensed professional therapist, as well as joining a support group, such as Al-Anon, to help you forge down a new path.

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