Dysfunctional Family Roles in an Addicted Household

Addiction is a family disease that impacts the lives of each person in a family system in different ways. Family members may face a range of emotions as they watch their loved one struggle with substance abuse, and the entire family may get pulled into a destructive cycle of responses and behaviors.

While each family is made up of individuals with their own experiences and feelings, specific patterns and roles can emerge in families affected by addiction. This article will explore some of the most common dysfunctional family roles that develop when one member lives with substance abuse or addiction.

Reach out to the team at Arise Treatment Center to learn more about the effects of addiction on family behaviors or to explore our holistic treatment programs.

How Does Addiction Affect Family Behaviors?

When someone lives with drug and alcohol addiction, their family may develop certain behaviors or roles to compensate for the addicted person’s shortcomings or to cope with their own emotions related to their loved one’s addiction.

While each person responds differently to the stress of a loved one’s addiction, six distinct patterns of behavior often develop among members of a family. Here is an overview of these dysfunctional family roles.

1. The addict

As you might expect, the addict is the person in the family who lives with substance abuse and addiction. An addict’s behaviors often relate directly to the substances they use. Their behaviors may be erratic, unpredictable, or even aggressive at times. Or, they may lack energy, fall behind in their responsibilities, or become unreliable as a parent or partner.

The addict often avoids accepting personal responsibility for their actions and may blame others for their shortcomings and behaviors.

2. The caretaker

An addict often can’t function without significant support from a caretaker. The caretaker often engages in behaviors that enable the addict, such as covering up their substance abuse, working harder to make up for the addict’s shortcomings, and sacrificing their own well-being to meet the addict’s needs.

The caretaker is often the addict’s spouse or partner, but this role can be filled by anyone very close to the addict. The caretaker believes they are preventing severe harm to the addict’s health and well-being and may feel that they are the “glue” holding the family together. However, the enabler often prevents the addict from realizing that they need help.

3. The hero

The hero is most often the oldest child in the family. The hero feels tremendous pressure to perform well or strive for perfection to shield their family from criticism or scrutiny. The hero may strive for perfect grades at school, a high-paying job, achievement in sports, or other concrete external validation of their worth.

The hero may feel a deep need to control every aspect of their life and believe their achievements can stabilize their home situation. However, the hero is likely to carry a heavy burden of stress and may face their own mental and physical health challenges as a result.

4. The scapegoat

Addiction can cause severe dysfunction in families when both the addict and caretaker are unwilling to acknowledge the source of their family’s problems. In some cases, the addict and caretaker will look to another family member–often a child–to take the blame for the mess they’re in. This person becomes the family scapegoat.

The scapegoat takes the blame for things that go wrong within the family system and may eventually act out as a result. They may rebel against family norms and rules or leave the family altogether. The scapegoat is also more likely to develop their own substance abuse issues later in life as a way to cope with their stress.

5. The mascot

The mascot uses humor and distraction to relieve tension within the family. The mascot may make jokes, use self-deprecating humor, or become sarcastic during family situations as a way to distract others from their problems.

Within the family, the mascot may have a reputation for being immature or insensitive. However, in many cases, the mascot is highly sensitive and may experience chronic stress from the family’s dysfunction.

6. The lost child

The lost child role is often adopted by a younger family member. They may feel very unsafe or insecure within the family and make every attempt to “disappear into the woodwork.” The lost child will do anything to avoid confrontation, even if it means living with a lot of discomfort and uncertainty.

Any attention the lost child should have been given is shifted to the addict–and the lost child does not do anything to seek attention. They feel invisible in their own home and may carry significant trauma and challenges into adulthood.

Families affected by addiction can learn to identify and heal these dysfunctional roles by participating in their loved one’s addiction treatment program (when appropriate) and finding support in the community.

Learn More About Healing the Family After Addiction

If you or your family are affected by substance abuse or addiction, you are not alone. Reach out to the Arise Treatment Center team to learn about our comprehensive addiction treatment programs or explore our family support resources.


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