Family Roles

For a family to function, each member has a role to play. Not exactly, but traditionally, the mother provides nurture for the family, the father provides financial security, and each child is encouraged to learn and grow. Even in the modern-day family, where the variables are different, the foundation is still there. Someone goes to work, someone cooks the meals, and so forth.

When addiction strikes a family, each family member’s purpose may shift to ensure functionality. In a perfect world, the addict would attain the treatment needed to find sobriety. Meanwhile, the other members would work collectively and evenly to fill in the missing role, experiencing change for just a short time. Since addiction is such a strong and explosive disease, this is rarely the case. More commonly, each loved one will take on multiple roles or bounce between a few for an extended period of time while ignoring the emotional pain caused by addiction. We can all learn to perform a different “job” in the home, but this will not provide healthy emotional longevity the family unit needs, with or without the addict. If a positive end result for the family is desired, it is imperative to identify these dysfunctional roles and to tend to the emotional pain that accompanies addiction in the family.

Center stage is The Victim (chemically dependent). As charming as a girl scout selling cookies, he or she will manipulate any situation and every person possible to keep the addiction fed. The whole world revolves around this family member. It’s perfectly planned that way to ensure an endless supply of people to blame for the problems caused by drug use. The addict continues to use to cope with all the issues caused by everyone around them.

Meet The Scapegoat (or problem child). Not to be confused with the addict, he or she is busy acting out, and breaking rules, giving the drug user something to hide behind. The root issue for the scapegoat is usually negative feelings caused by lack of attention due to the rising problem addiction has caused in the family. Naturally, since the addict needs this member to take some of the heat so he or she can continue to use, the cycle continues for both the problem child and the user.

Then there’s The Forgotten (or the Lost One). This family member tends to isolate, fantasizing about another life and attaches to things instead of people. The addict needs this member out of the way just as much as the scapegoat is needed for distraction leaving the lost one feeling hurt and rejected. With the forgotten behind closed doors, more time, energy, and money is left for the addict on demand.

The power source, The Chief Enabler (protector of the family). Without this member’s hard work, the world may find out addiction is alive in the family’s dwelling and life is not perfect after all. The chief enabler seems to have it all under control, carrying an almost conceited sense of how hard he or she works to maintain an appropriate appearance for the family. Sometimes claiming to be the martyr of situations, most of the cause is self-inflicted. The addict will typically turn to this family member to soften any blow that comes along with addiction making it easier for he or she to continue the drug use.

Saving the day, The Family Hero (caretaker of the family). The one responsible for the positive morale that’s left in the family. The parents can hold on to a sense of “we did something right” by this member’s achievements. The Hero makes it easier for the other dysfunctional roles to be played by fulfilling certain responsibilities in the home that are no longer met by the original doer.

Clowning around is The Family Mascot. Making light of any situation, this person turns to laughter for medicine and shares it with the other members aplenty. Although a break is needed from the constant turmoil the family experiences, the hyperactivity can prevent the family from focusing on a plan to repair the destruction the disease has caused.

The outside appearances are vast among the family members affected by addiction. When the masks are removed, emotional scars from the disease appear. To keep the vicious cycle of the dysfunctional family from continuing, each member must uncover the painful feelings he or she experiences. Once the emotional root of the action is acknowledged, the family can start taking steps towards functioning in a healthy manner again.

Lori Youngblood

Lori Youngblood is a long term recovering drug addict.  Her mission is to help others gain knowledge about the disease of addiction.