Substance abuse doesn’t just affect the person who is addicted, but their entire family and circle of friends. Besides the genetic or environmental factors that contribute to the cycle of addiction, living with someone who abuses drugs (and even alcohol), can greatly affect a person’s ability to cope and their willingness to engage in interpersonal relationships. It also greatly distorts the family dynamic and makes for a confusing, dysfunctional, chaotic home life. There are six archetypes that family members fall into surrounding substance abuse; researchers call them the six family roles of addiction.
The first of the six family roles in addiction is The Addicted. This is the person struggling with substance abuse, the one directly affecting the rest of the family with their dependence. Because of the psychological and physical effects of their addiction, they often act without regard for others, lying, manipulating, cheating, and stealing to fuel their dependency. They are the center point of the dysfunction.
The enabler and the caretaker are synonymous. They typically deny the addict’s problems or lie to themselves about the extent of their problems. Despite them taking on the role of a caretaker, depending on the person addicted, this can be a child, spouse, partner, or parent. The enabler physically enables the addict by offering them financial support, cooking and cleaning up in their wake, and lying to friends and family. The enabler seeks to maintain control through denial, often doing everything in their power to hide the addiction from others.
They are the family’s secret keeper and they strive to make the rest of the world see them as a happy, functioning unit. An enabler will convince themselves (and sometimes even the addict) that their addiction is a non-issue and often are of the belief that with enough care and attention, the addicted person will get better. The caretaker will take on the role of the protector and mediator between the addicted person and the rest of the family. Often times, this relationship is born of codependence.
The hero tries to maintain normalcy through their achievements. To this role, perfection and balance will help the addict overcome his or her disease. Like the enabler, the hero seeks control over anything and everything to compensate for the chaotic dynamic of their family. A hero that is a spouse might take on all the household duties as well as their work while a child in this role might keep up perfect grades and join many extracurricular activities.
The hero wants to boost morale and esteem for the family by demonstrating responsibility and can be described as your typical Type A personality. Heroes are high achieving, hard-working, and often suffer from a sense of perfectionism. They have high levels of stress from the need to “do everything right” and carry the weight of the world. Failure is their biggest fear because they seek validation from conquering feats and reaching goals.
Scapegoats can be children, spouses, or other close family members, though this role is more often than not taken on by the second oldest child. They are usually blamed for problems and in turn, give the family a sense of purpose. Blame on the scapegoat is misplaced and often unwarranted. They might not even be directly involved with the addict’s antics and still, find themselves in the midst of the action as a wrongly accused culprit.
Often times this role will begin to act out and cause trouble, thus becoming the problem child. Through hostility, argument, and defiance, they distract from the addict’s behavior in order to provoke the negative attention themselves. In this case, the scapegoat is voicing or channeling the anger that other family members feel but do not express. This shields the addicted family member from all the negative feelings they have caused. They get in trouble at school, turn to drugs or alcohol, or become violent or promiscuous.
The mascot is the comedian of the group. Because they feel powerless, they often use humor to lessen the levels of stress and grief caused by the addict. Oftentimes, the youngest child fills this role. Desperate for approval, they give the comic relief to shield themselves from the pain of their own fear. Their jokes are typically not well received, inappropriately timed, or seem insensitive, which only makes them double down on humor as a defense mechanism. Like the hero, they seem fine outwardly but are struggling just the same as everyone else. The mascot also doesn’t leave themselves time to process and resolve these emotions. They kn0ow if they sit still too long, they will break down.
Often times, the cycle of addiction continues with the mascot, who, to drown their shame, anger, and fear, may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Without meaning to, the mascot may also keep family members from discussing the addiction and other growing issues at hand. Long term, the mascot, may become depressed when they find that they can’t change things so quickly with humor in the long run.
The Lost Child
A lost child is a disappearing act. In order to protect themselves from the pain and chaos of being apart of the family, they slip away. Quiet and passive, they disengage completely, directly impacting family relationships and the household dynamic. They are invisible; isolated, shy, withdrawn, nondescript and often the lost child will cope by spending time doing solitary activities like reading or watching television.
Avoid, avoid, avoid is the lost child’s modus operandi. They have a disdain toward the spotlight, attention, and interpersonal relationships, often finding themselves fleeing from direct confrontation. This role is typically taken by a child, but a spouse with a loud, boisterous, dominant (and sometimes abusive) husband or wife may take on this role.
Falling into one of the six family roles pf addiction can cause codependency overtime. There is usually not an ulterior motive attached to adopting these archetypes, it can often to a problem. What started as a coping mechanism or a way to reduce stress, grows and becomes nothing more than a distraction. Did you know that families play a big part in the active recovery process for an addict? In recognizing your role, you can begin to adequately assess the damage that has already been done and craft an action plan to help your loved one get help. Knowing the signs, knowing the stages, and educating yourself about addiction can greatly help in the addict’s recovery process. There are also plenty of ways to find support and guidance like therapy.