April 22, 2019 Felicia Durling

The Complicated Truth About Family Roles in Addiction Recovery

Are you struggling with the discovery of an addict in your family?

It’s a troubling time for everyone, but especially the person managing their life after recovery. Fortunately, with proper guidance and sympathy, families can overcome this addiction and other problems facing them.

Read on to learn about family roles in addiction.

Defining Family Roles in Trauma

Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse is the founding Chairperson of the National Association of Children of Alcoholics and renowned author. She has authored several books on the roles of family members and their relation to trauma.

In her book, The Family Trap, she details the six common roles that family members fit or blend into after a trauma.

We’ll summarize these below to help you better understand how addiction affects families as they deal with this trauma.

The Caretaker

The caretaker seeks to avoid stress and harm within the family dynamic.

They do this by reducing the problem as much as possible, sweeping it under the rug. Every issue easily gets whisked away with an understanding excuse.

Unfortunately, they often act as an enabler that will exacerbate the problem.

They deny the issue and cover up any slack in the family. Secrets are kept clean, pristine, and out of sight. Nothing can deter from the happy, picturesque image that they believe they must uphold.

Or else the whole picture comes crashing down, leaving millions of pieces to pick up.

The Hero

The hero presumes the role of the overachieving perfectionist, the ideal human.

They strive to bring great honor and success to themselves and their families. Every hour is a new opportunity to strike gold, push it one step further, fly above and beyond.

Carpe diem.

The hero pours so much of their energy and effort into their tasks and achievements. It adds up to a lot of pressure over time. But they do it to maintain control, to prove they can rise above.

Those who climb the highest, however, have the greatest to fall.

The Scapegoat

For the scapegoat, life within the family can be quite tough.

The scapegoat, recognizing the wrongs within the family, will act out and rebel. They will often commit offensive actions as a distraction from the pain they feel in their family.

They then receive the scorn and admonishments of their family members. This leads to the scapegoat often feeling rejected and isolated.

Those who get blamed for everything, often cause more reasons to be blamed.

The cycle continues.

The Clown

Nothing can be bad if everyone’s having a good time, right?

The clown tries to alleviate the stress of the family with humor. Laughter is the best medicine, or so they say.

For some time, it might work. It has to, or else they wouldn’t keep clowning around. But laughter isn’t a bandaid for everything.

They react to pain in the family by repressing their tears and tearing into a good punchline. This becomes their primary defense mechanism to cope with their fear, pain, and anger.

As one might imagine, this doesn’t lead to a healthy coping method. The clown is often unable to process the gravity of a situation, instead only laughing it off.

Those who laugh the hardest in public often hold back the most pain in private.

The Lost Child

The desire to disappear is one wished by many.

The lost child does just that, at least to the best of their ability. They don’t seek out attention, they don’t force themselves into situations, and they don’t share their thoughts and feelings.

They wander in a world all of their own.

The lost child seeks out the quiet and isolation, away from all the issues surrounding their family. They’ll surround themselves with solitary activities, books and films of fantasy to be their escape, and music to drown out the reality of the outside world.

Though they’re referred to as “lost,” they are often only a hallway away.

The Addict

The addict maintains a functioning role in the family to varying degrees.

Whatever their drug of choice, the addict copes with their problems through substance abuse. What might be a common pastime to some or a recreational enjoyment to others, an addict uses and abuses to hide and avoid from whatever struggles they face.

As their addiction grows, their responsibilities within the family diminish. Over time, they burn whatever bridges they have, isolating themselves. Their existence rests on feeding their addiction.

Anything that gets in their way of satisfying their addiction becomes the problem. They blame others, become angry at them, critical of their behavior. Anything to appease their addiction and block out truths that haunt them.

Else they have to face the mirror.

Family Roles in Addiction

When discussing the roles of the family, it’s important to keep in mind the individual relationships with the addict.

Let’s take a look at the possibilities:

  • Addiction and your partner
  • Addiction and your children
  • Addiction and your parents
  • Addiction and your siblings

And we use these terms loosely—many grandparents assume the role of the parent, cousins can be close like siblings, etc.

The expectations and support that individuals need from others vary greatly. In general, we expect to be able to lean on our partners for support; we expect to rely on and look up to our parents; we expect our children to grow and flourish; we expect our siblings to always be there to lend a helpful hand.

Addiction changes all of that.

Find Support as a Family with Addicts

There’s still time for healing.

Contact us now for more information on our services in addiction therapy and rehabilitation treatment. We can help guide you and your family roles in addiction today.

Whatever the addiction, change can be made.



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