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The Effects of Addiction and Substance Abuse – Common Family Roles

sloganDrug addiction not only affects the person, but also the family. A family with one or more members with an addictive disorder faces continual pressure and stress as they begin to focus on ways to accommodate the addictive behavior. Each individual in a family unit plays an important role(s) to maintain a level of homeostasis and stability.

Addicted family create family patterns that promote a dysfunctional homeostatic system. If the addictive behavior were to change, the family roles would be disrupted. For instance, instead of embracing and supporting the individual’s sobriety, the family may attempt to restore the dysfunctional homeostasis. A teenage girl who adjusted to the “parent role” caring for her youngest siblings and maintaining the household due to a parent’s addiction, may exhibit resistance to their parent’s attempt to achieve sobriety. The teen may be forced to change her ‘parenting role’ and for this reason, may demonstrate acting out behaviors, running aware from home, etc. in an attempt to restore the family’s dysfunctional homeostasis.

In other situations, addictive families may create destructive patterns of codependence. Codependents often think and feel responsible for others and are compelled to solve other people’s problems. Psychological consequences may include denial or protection of the person with the substance abuse problem. They usually end up taking on the substance abuser’s responsibilities. It is important to address codependency issues with the family to improve the chances for recovery of the client with the addiction and the family member with the codependent behavior.

In most cases, when one member of the family is an addict, family roles can become problematic in contributing to negative relationships. The way that people behave and interact in their roles may not be a result of conscious choice.

  • The Addict – “I don’t have a problem, you do”

    The person suffering from addiction. The family roles are developed around this individual. They blame others for their problems and don’t seem to care about how their actions affect others.

  • The Enabler – “He will stop, when he is ready”

    One of the most significant role a family member may assume is that of an enabler. The enabler tries to protect their addicted family member from the consequences of their actions. They may take on responsibilities such as paying the bills, maintaining the home, etc., cover up the problems caused by the addict, and even believe that the addiction was their fault.

  • The Hero – “I’m doing so well in school; my parents are very proud of me”

    The hero demonstrates achievement and success which is used to hide feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, and pain. The hero can mask the dysfunctional home life. They tend to be responsible and self-sufficient and are often a perfectionist.

  • The Mascot- “You know that I’m the funny one”

    The mascot use their attention-seeking behavior and humor to distract family members from experiencing painful and threatening situations.

  • The Scapegoat – “If I can’t beat ’em, join ’em”

    Often referred to as “the black sheep” is frequently the person who initially is the identified client. The person who becomes the “problem” for the family. This individual often exhibits acting out behaviors and may present with their own legal, substance abuse, or addiction-related issues and/or school-related behavioral problems.

  • The Lost Child – “I’m just going to stay by myself and be quiet”

    This individual is often unseen and unheard, “the quiet one.”. The lost child spends more time alone to escape the family situation. The lost child deals with reality by withdrawing from it.

Taken from Envision Pass “Tackling the Social Work Clinical Study Guide and Workbook”

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