Almost 21 million Americans have at least one addiction. While this number alone is daunting, what the statistics don’t reflect is the number of people affected by addiction, which is much larger since each one of those 21 million addicts have families who also suffer the effects of the disease in one form or the other.
Whether the addiction starts at a young age and the effects are suffered by parents or guardians and siblings or whether it starts as an adult and the affected parties involve wife and kids, repercussions can be devastating. Addictions create dysfunctional families and family members also end up falling into standard dysfunctional family roles without even knowing it.
Every person that is close to an addict will suffer along with him/her the consequences of the disease. However, not every person is the same and the type of relationship they have with the addicted person will determine the role they end up falling into. In other words, it is not the same to be the mother or the wife of an addict than their son or daughter.
Dysfunctional Family Roles in Addiction
The most common roles that have been identified in family members of addicts include: the enabler, the hero, the mascot, the lost child, and the scapegoat.
It is especially important that family members and people close to the person who is actively dealing with substance abuse become aware of how the disease and circumstances affects them, and what role they are playing in the situation. If you, or someone you know is dealing with this problem, make sure to read along and share this article with them, it is very common for family members to think that the only person that needs help is the addict, but that is definitely not the case.
Mothers, spouses or close friends are most commonly the ones to take on this role. The enabler will cover, lie, and make excuses for the addict, eventually “allowing” the addict to continue using without this having major consequences. Enablers provide shelter, assist the addict if they are feeling ill, even give them money. Just as it happens with the addict, enablers many times live in denial and have a hard time admitting there is a problem.
Children often fall into the hero role. It is also frequently seen this role overlap with others. The hero is that person that “takes care of things,” that who tries to fix things or keep everything going as “normal” as possible. This could mean working extra hard to bring in more money to the household, or taking care of all house chores. Heroes often suffer from anxiety, stress and/or panic attacks that come from the pressure of trying to keep things “together.”
This is the kind of person that tries hard to “lighten” the situation. Some people have a hard time accepting when there is a problem, or, if they don’t know how to fix it they turn to humor; unfortunately this same difficulty to properly “deal” with tough circumstances makes the mascot prone to having addiction problems themselves or other self-destructing behaviors.
The Lost Child
Exactly as the name suggests, the lost child tries to stay out of the way, clear of trouble. They hide, both physically and emotionally. It is a coping mechanism, or a survival tactic if you may. It is common in children of course, but it can also be the case of a spouse who deals with a dominant or abusive addicted husband.
Some people find that acting out and rebelling is the only way they can show how they feel. They get in trouble of their own and then get blamed for all the family’s problems, and of course for the addiction itself. Any member of the family can take on this role but is often one of the children. Eventually this could also lead to them having substance abuse problems of their own, or other self-destructive behaviors.
Getting Help for Dysfunctional Family Roles
We cannot be oblivious to the negative consequences that having an addict in the family brings along for all the members of the same. The same way that addicts need to get help, their loved ones must also seek therapy to become healthy themselves.
Living with a drug addict has effects during the time the addict is active and even after the addict gets help. The consequences and trauma caused can last for a lifetime if no help is sought, and, as mentioned before, can lead to dysfunctional family roles and members becoming addicts themselves or having destructive conducts.
Not all relationships survive an addiction. Sadly, family members and even close friends end up developing toxic relationships that in time and without proper help are hard to repair. It is normal for people close to the addict to feel confused about how they should act, to experience anxiety over not knowing how to help the addict and even sometimes feel responsible or guilty, specially in cases where the addict is a child.
The most important thing is to seek professional help to be able to discuss the situation and your feelings and concerns. Whether it is a therapist, a counselor, an addiction recovery coach or other addiction specialist, there are many options you can turn to for help not only for the addict but for yourself and your family members.
Family members and close friends need to learn the necessary tools and work on themselves before they can help people around them.
The SHAIR Recovery Community
The SHAIR recovery community provides a variety of resources that can help you find some light in your path and some clarity on actions that you can take to change your reality. Listening to the podcasts will help you realize you are not alone and will motivate you to find what works best in your own path to recovery; recommended books, and sessions with a recovery coach are also available.
Seek help today, this is the first step to start healing the damage done to yourself and your family.