Addiction: A Family Disease
An untreated alcoholic or addict can affect everyone they come in contact with. Those who suffer the most are often the people closest to them; the family. Addiction impacts the family on all levels – emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially and the list goes on. Established family dynamics are often stressed to the point of crisis, requiring intervention.
Family Roles In An Addicted Household
While a family member is suffering from addiction, the other family members tend to adopt roles and coping strategies. Dr. Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse identified the six most common roles within an addicted household. These coping strategies can perpetuate the family’s struggle with addiction. While family members are in survival mode, the roots of addiction spread throughout, often requiring treatment for everyone in an addicted household.
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.
Identifiers of “The Addicted”
- Burning Bridges
- Blaming & Deflecting
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 make light of a serious problem. While the enabler is most often a spouse, this role can also be taken on by a child.
Identifiers of “The Enabler”
- Perpetual Denial
- Minimizing the Issue
- Making Excuses for Loved Ones’ Behavior
- Supplying Resources used to Sustain Addiction
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.
Identifiers of “The Hero”
- Overachieving Perfectionists
- Drawing Attention to Achievements
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. When scapegoats get older, males tend to act out in violence, while females often run away or participate in promiscuous sex.
Identifiers of “The Scapegoat”
- Voicing the Family’s Anger
- Shielding The Addicted Loved One From Blame & Resentment
Think of the mascot as the class clown, always trying to deflect the stress of the situation by supplying humor. 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.
Identifiers of “The Mascot”
- Always Making Light of Serious Situations
- Fragile, Vulnerable & Approval Seeking
The Lost Child
The lost child role is usually taken on by the middle or youngest child. They don’t seek (or get) a lot of attention from other family members, especially when alcoholism is present within the family.
Identifiers of “The Lost Child”
- Shy, Withdrawn and Sometimes Thought of as “invisible”
- Spend a Lot of Time Alone
- Have Trouble Forming Intimate Relationships
Where to Turn
Is your family suffering from addiction? Can you identify with any of the roles within an addicted household? If so, help is available. Many family members avoid help due to shame, guilt, embarrassment and fear. Addiction does not discriminate, and millions of people have been in your shoes. With today’s addiction crisis, there are many avenues to seek support and treatment.
Free community support groups for families: Not One More is a great place to find local resources and support for families suffering from addiction. Click here to find a chapter near you.
Individual and family therapy: There are licensed and accredited addiction treatment providers throughout the country equipped to assess, address and treat the complex familial and social issues arising out of alcoholism and drug addiction. Call 570-537-6035 to speak to a professional, and identify the best, most accessible treatment options for you and your loved ones.
12 step support groups: There are many different 12 step groups that meet on a regular basis in communities all across the country. They are free to attend and more information can be found in the links below.
- Al-Anon.org (al-anon.org) For family members of alcoholics.
- Nar-anon (nar-anon.org) For family members of addicts.
- Gam-anon (gam-anon.org) For family members of gamblers.
- Coda.org (coda.org) For co-dependent individuals.
- Adultchildren.org (adultchildren.org) For adult children of alcoholics and addicts.
PA Drug Rehab Offering Unique Family Treatment Programs
Bradford Recovery Center’s integrated Pennsylvania drug rehab centers offer a unique “Family Rearrangement Therapy” regiment designed to assess and address the impact of addiction in the family. Contact our courteous admissions team today to schedule a free substance abuse assessment.