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Family Roles In Addiction & Recovery

Family Roles In Addiction & Recovery

Article Contents

Addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a serious disease. Like most diseases, addiction affects a person’s entire family.

It’s never easy to watch a family member suffer. Fortunately, you and the rest of your family can help your loved one on the road to addiction recovery.

Signs Of Substance Abuse In A Loved One

If you’re not yet sure whether someone you love struggles with substance abuse, look for these signs:

  • loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • neglecting responsibilities at work or school
  • neglecting relationships  
  • appearing anxious or paranoid
  • mood swings
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • decline in personal hygiene
  • sudden weight changes
  • change in pupil size
  • strange smells on breath, body, or clothing
  • wanting to stop using a substance but feeling unable to
  • using a substance more frequently over time
  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea or irritability, when trying to stop using

Learn more about the Signs Of Substance Abuse In A Loved One

How Addiction Affects Family & Friends

Many people who struggle with drug addiction lose their jobs and face serious financial problems. They may also get in trouble with the law if they engage in illegal activities such as buying or selling illicit drugs, stealing, or behaving violently while intoxicated. 

These challenges take a toll not only on the individual, but on their family and friends as well. Thus, if you love someone with addiction, you may experience a variety of unpleasant emotions, including:

  • depression and hopelessness, especially if you fear the person will never recover
  • anger, especially if the person has lost interest in your relationship, hidden their drug use from you, stolen money from you for drugs, or performed another hurtful action
  • anxiety, especially if you’re not sure how the person will behave each day
  • shame, especially if you fear that others will judge your loved one or your family
  • guilt, especially if you feel like you can’t help the person

Learn more about How Addiction Affects Your Family & Friends

Common Family Roles In Addiction

To cope with the above struggles, many family members assume roles that include unhealthy behavioral patterns. Most people don’t realize when they’ve fallen into a role or how the role causes problems. The most common roles include:

The Enabler

Often a spouse, significant other, or parent, the enabler tries to protect their loved one from the consequences of their addiction. For example, they may give them money, pay their legal fees, take on their responsibilities, or make excuses for their behavior.

These actions come from a place of love. However, shielding someone from the consequences of addiction does more harm than good. That’s because many people don’t seek substance abuse treatment until they realize how much damage their addiction has caused. 

In addition, the enabler often becomes codependent, which means their life revolves around caring for their loved one. Codependency can make you lose your sense of self, which increases the risk of anxiety and depression. 

The Hero

Usually a perfectionist, the hero works extremely hard to achieve as much as they can. They hope their achievements will cover up their loved one’s addiction and protect their family from shame. This behavior typically leads to extreme anxiety and stress. 

The hero may also deny the extent of their loved one’s addiction and pretend that everything is fine. 

The Mascot

While the hero uses achievements to try and restore a sense of normalcy, the mascot uses humor. Also called the class clown, the mascot frequently jokes about the situation to avoid unpleasant feelings. 

Because people in this role prefer to avoid feelings, they often start self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs and develop addictions themselves. 

The Lost Child

The lost child is typically the middle or youngest child in the family. Quiet and withdrawn, this person gets left behind as the rest of the family devotes their attention to the person struggling with addiction. 

Because they feel isolated and alone, the lost child may have difficulty socializing and maintaining relationships later in life. 

The Scapegoat

The scapegoat displays unfavorable qualities, such as poor academic performance or aggression.  They then get blamed for all of the family’s problems.

When a family spends all their time blaming the scapegoat, the family member struggling with addiction doesn’t receive the attention or care they need. In addition, the scapegoat may develop poor mental health from the constant blaming and shaming. 

How Family & Friends Can Help With Recovery

If you’ve fallen into one of the above roles, don’t worry. You can change your behavior and learn healthy methods to help your loved one recover from addiction. 

These methods include:

  • approaching them with compassion
  • helping them find treatment
  • taking care of yourself
  • supporting your loved one during and after treatment

Learn more about How Family & Friends Can Help With Recovery

How To Approach Your Loved One With Compassion

Some people view addiction as a moral failure rather than a disease. They may judge people who suffer from addictions as weak or selfish. These judgments can make it difficult for someone to admit they have an addiction.

That’s why you should remain as calm and understanding as possible when talking to your loved one about their addiction. Try to understand why they started using the substance in the first place. 

Many people start using due to stress, grief, mental health disorders, and other treatable conditions. 

Remember that your loved one isn’t trying to hurt you or your family. They simply have a disease that requires medical care. The more understanding you are when you speak to your loved one, the more likely they are to admit they have a problem and seek treatment. 

Learn more about How To Approach Someone With Addiction

Elderly people may need extra compassion. That’s because addiction was even more stigmatized in the past than it is today. Although many older adults abuse substances (especially sleeping pills, painkillers, alcohol, and tranquilizers), they often don’t admit it due to a fear of being judged. 

Learn more about Dealing With Elderly Relatives & Addiction

How To Help A Loved One Into Treatment

If your loved one still refuses to seek treatment, contact a therapist, interventionist, or other addiction specialist. These professionals can help you talk to your loved one about the benefits of treatment in a knowledgeable, non-judgmental manner. 

Once your loved one agrees to treatment, help them find the right treatment center. Take time to research multiple programs. Consider whether your loved one needs inpatient or outpatient care.

Inpatient care is recommended for people with severe addictions, while outpatient care may work for those with milder addictions and strong support systems at home. 

Make sure the program will accept your loved one’s insurance. Also, if your loved one has a co-occurring mental illness, look for a dual diagnosis treatment program. 

Learn more about Persuading A Loved One Into Treatment

How To Help Yourself & Your Other Family Members

If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t properly care for your loved one who struggles with addiction. Depending on how much your loved one’s addiction has affected you, you and your family members may want to consider services like:

  • individual therapy
  • support groups for loved ones of people with addictions, such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and Codependents Anonymous
  • family therapy, which is offered at many addiction treatment centers

Also, take special care of any children in the family. Some children and teenagers blame themselves for a loved one’s addiction. 

Remind them that the person facing addiction loves them and simply has a disease. Let them know you’ll support them in any way you can. Encourage older children to attend peer support groups, such as Alateen. 

Learn more about How To Talk To Your Kids About Drugs & Alcohol: Part 1 & Part 2

How To Support Your Loved One During & After Treatment

As your loved one receives treatment, tell them you’re proud of them for battling the disease of addiction. 

If your loved one chooses an inpatient treatment program, visit, call, or video chat with them when possible. Remind them that you support them and they’re not alone. 

Before your loved one leaves the treatment program, make sure they have an aftercare plan. Most plans include ongoing therapy, support groups, and wellness activities like exercise and meditation. Help your loved one follow this plan to maintain recovery. 

The team at Recovering Champions can help your loved ones find the ideal treatment program for their needs. To learn more, reach out to one of our treatment specialists today.

Written by Recovering Champions Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health - Caring Together: Families As Partners In The Mental Health And Addiction System
National Institute on Drug Abuse - How to Recognize a Substance Use Disorder
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Warning Signs of Substance and Alcohol Use Disorder

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