If you or someone in your family is battling with a substance use disorder or addiction it does not only affect the person addicted but can also make a significant impact on family members. From spouses and parents to children, siblings, and extended family members, everyone who directly is involved can suffer from the repercussions of addiction. Because drugs and alcohol can cause emotional and social strain, recognizing family roles in addiction and how each member of the family can play a part in propelling the addiction or compensating for the addicted, can help guide families coping with addiction. It can be a launch point to changing the family dynamic so that it can foster a platform to begin dealing with and beating addiction, for the sake of everyone.

How Does Addiction Affect Your Family?

The effects of addiction on the family can change the dynamic and relationships in the family, both in a conscious and unconscious manner. The way addiction affects certain family members depends on which party or person interacts with the addicted individual.

One group that can be affected is young children who witness parents or siblings dealing with addiction. The trauma from witnessing a parent or sibling suffering from substance abuse disorder can have long-term effects on a child and how they develop mentally, physically, and emotionally. When addiction is happening, children are more likely to be neglected by the addicted individual and can experience physical and emotional abuse. Additionally, this continual stress incited from seeing older adults on drugs, or experiencing the indirect effects of their drug use, can create delays in learning and development, which can eventually spur mental and emotional disorders for the child.

Children are the more vulnerable party since they are still in the phase of developing their personalities and processing different emotions and information. Those that see their parents or older siblings abusing drugs or alcohol, may find themselves doing the same when they grow older. Children that experience any aggression or violent behavior as a result of someone using alcohol or drugs may repeat these aggressive behaviors in their own life.

Teenagers who participate in underage drinking can also have a large impact on other family members. The effects of drugs and alcohol on school performance, behavior at home, and financial impact can cause major grief on parents. Furthermore, these teens may resort to running away from home due to the strained relationships substances have caused or may resort to more substance abuse.

These teens who abuse substances are more prone to continue substance use disorders in college. This can cause even more strain and anxiety from parents as they often times have less control over what their college-aged children are doing. With college being the first time for many young adults to begin to deal with life by themselves, they can begin to push away their family members and fall into the trap of substance abuse.

Issues That Can Arise in the Family with Addiction

There are numerous issues that can arise when addiction and family is in the mix. Spouses can have marital problems as a result of changes caused by addiction. Trust can be broken between members of the family. Self-blame can happen and feelings of guilt can grow from a family member watching their loved one’s life being destroyed and feeling unable to fix the situation. An increased amount of fighting can ensue, not just from the emotional effects an individual using substances can experience but from the strain and resentment it can cause between that individual and the members in the family who have to indirectly deal with the repercussions. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, addiction stresses the family to a breaking point and impacts family unity, mental and physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics. It is this added unnecessary stress factor addiction brings that can have a truly negative effect on all members of the family.

Family Roles within Addiction

As a way to cope with an addicted individual’s often unpredictable behaviors, family members tend to react and establish dysfunctional behavior patterns as well. The following are common roles individual family members may take on as a result of dealing with addiction.

The Addict

The addicted individual is the focal point of the family and the behaviors of this individual influence how other family roles develop. The person who is directly struggling with substance abuse tends to live in a constant state of uncertainty and turns to alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with their problems or feelings. What makes it even worse is that because the individual is addicted, they will stop at no ends to supply their needs, regardless of the financial, physical, and emotional burden it can bring on him- or herself, and the family. Addicts may resort to isolation or blaming others for their problems, they may lie or manipulate those around them as a way to deal with the issues their addiction causes. These actions can negatively affect the entire family.

The Caretaker/Enabler

The caretaker or enabler of the family takes on the role of covering up the addicted family member’s problems. This individual takes on added responsibilities in order to keep the peace and attempt to make the rest of the family happy. They may think they are helping the addicted individual by making a serious situation seem lighter than it is, but they are in fact enabling the addiction because the addict does not have to claim responsibility for any problems caused. This role is often taken on by a spouse in the family; however, it can also be taken on by one of the children in the family.

The Hero

The hero in the family is typically characterized by having a Type A personality, constantly overachieving, striving for perfection, and working hard to keep matters in control. It is through this individual’s own achievements that he or she feels like they can create a sense of normalcy. They tend to overcompensate for the falls of the addict to give “hope” to the rest of the family. The oldest child in the family tends to take this role. They are similar to the caretaker/enabler in the family because they tend to focus their attention on covering up the addicted individual’s mistakes to restore normalcy in dysfunctional home life. Striving to do everything perfectly and right can put an extreme amount of pressure on the hero of the family, which can manifest into highly anxious tendencies and stress-related illnesses.

The Scapegoat

The scapegoat is the opposite of the hero, often referred to as the problem child. This individual often takes the blame for the problems within the family, and the second oldest child tends to take on this role. His or her purpose, whether they know it or not, serves to offer someone else to blame versus the addicted individual. He or she may act out of defiance or hostility towards the other family members. Acts of lashing out may actually represent voicing the family’s collective anger. This can spur negative attention that distracts from the addicted individual’s behavior the real problem at hand, which is the addiction. Furthermore, as the scapegoat family member gets older in life, he or she may tend to continue acting out in violence, run away, or participate in risky situations.

The Mascot

The mascot is the family member who is known as the “class clown” and uses humor or silliness to lessen or deflect the stress that is caused by the addiction in the family. This individual may feel powerless with the situation at hand and feels that providing comic relief can mask the pain or fear. The youngest child often takes on this role because they can be the most fragile, vulnerable, and in need of approval from others. The mascot tends to constantly be going, always trying to deflect the stress, but when he or she slows down or stops, can become anxious or depressed. The mascots have a risk of self-medicating with substances like alcohol as they grow up, which can continue to perpetuate the cycle of addiction in the family.

The Lost Child

The lost child is the one who is a bit more reserved, quiet or withdrawn person in the family. He or she does not outwardly try to seek attention from other family members, even more so when attention may be on addiction. The lost child tends to not interact with the actual family member that is addicted and lets the other family members take their own roles in interacting with the addicted individual. This family member tends to stay out of the way of situations and avoids interactions, choosing solitary activities as a way to cope. The role is often taken on by the youngest or middle child. As a result of addiction, the lost child may develop difficulties making decisions or having trouble forming meaningful relationships.

Getting Help with Addiction for the Whole Family’s Sake

One individual’s addiction can cause a ripple effect within the entire family. These family roles in addiction can be harmful not only for solving the problem of addiction for the individual but also can be detrimental to every single member of the family. Addressing family roles and addiction and how they have an impact on perpetuating addiction is one step towards changing the negative cycle.

Get help with addiction today, for you and for the sake of all those in your family. Call for help at 888-912-2454 or contact us online to check out addiction center locations near you. You’ll be connected with our admissions department and learn the addiction treatment programs available. It’s one step forward towards creating family dynamics that will foster the best environment for combatting addiction.

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