Dealing With A Family Member’s Addiction

couple fighting

Addiction And CoDependence In The Family

When a loved one suffers from an addiction, this often leaves the family feeling helpless in their efforts to help them achieve sobriety. The family environment can become difficult to manage as each member swings from one end of the emotional, psychological and behavioural spectrum to the other. Communication patterns become distorted, the family unit is in a constant state of stress / crisis and various roles are assumed by each member in an attempt to restore homeostasis. This characterizes the addicted family system. When what is going on within the family is never talked about, children are left to make sense of it on their own. Avoiding dealing with the situation can lead to confusion and disconnection. Discussing the issue and processing pain, is an important deterrent to developing post traumatic symptoms that can show up later in life.

Understanding just what is happening in a dysfunctional codependent family relationship is important, especially when addiction or alcoholism is involved.

Let’s take a closer look at the six kinds of codependent roles.


CoDependent Roles

The Addict

The chemically dependent individual struggles with managing his/her feelings of pain and shame. As the disease progresses, this person losses more and more control not only of their usage but also of their behaviour. As a result they begin to internalize feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, fear and loneliness. In order to continue functioning they attempt to reconcile what they perceive as reality with what is actually occurring by becoming defensive. Denial, rationalization and minimization are all characteristic of the disease. Perhaps the most significant adaptation in the dependency is the process of projection. This is when the chemically dependent person attempts to place on others the responsibility for using and for the family’s problems.

The Hero

Generally this tends to be the eldest in the family and works in close alliance with the codependent (caretaker). The hero hears more about what is really happening in he family and feels most responsible for the family pain. In an attempt to improve the family situation, the hero fills the self-worth needs of both the dependent person and the caretaker. The hero strives to achieve higher hoping that the achievements will alleviate the family pain. This person quickly learns to anticipate and interpret the wishes and needs of others. The hero often excels in the majority of his personal endeavours and is involved in activities to achieve personal recognition. Unfortunately, no amount of achievement is adequate and the family demands more and more the hero begins to internalize feelings of inadequacy.

The Scapegoat

This individual is the visible iceberg of stress experienced within the family unit. Often referred to as “the problem child”, the scapegoat’s behaviours demand urgent attention which adds to the family’s crisis. Despite the hostile, belittling and reprimanding communication received from the members within the unit, the scapegoat enjoys the relief gained from direct communication. The direct message received from the family unit is that the scapegoat is in fact responsible for the family’s chaos. The family members fail to understand that their concentration on this new focus in the family brings them some distraction and relief from the stress of the chemically dependent person.

The Mascot

The mascot attempts to bring some fun and humour into the family. The purpose of this role is to distract and relieve tension. The mascot accepts the family members laughter as approval and is therefore able to survive the pain. The humour is used to mask all feelings of inner painful feelings. The mascot is characterized as being defensive through hyperactivity, charm, being cute and doing anything to get a laugh or be the centre of attention. As a result, this individual learns to build a lifestyle for avoiding pain through humorous control.

The Lost Child

The lost child shares similarities to that of the scapegoat as both struggle with feeling insignificant and unimportant within the family unit. Both individual’s learn quickly that the family’s prime energy and creativity are spent in protecting the chemically dependent person. The lost child finds it easier to become a loner. The family inadvertently rewards this avoidance by complementing the withdrawal and expressing a sense of relief at having a quiet child who causes no trouble. The lost child learns to avoid close connections which carries over into adult life.

The Caretaker

Another descriptive word for this type of role is “enabler.” The Caretaker is often left feeling as though they are responsible for the management of the entire family. They consistently take on the addict’s problems which often leads to the individual experiencing anger and frustration. The enabler fails to see that in fact refraining from “saving” the addict is in fact what is most helpful. The Caretaker is the martyr of the family, and often supports not only the addictive behavior of the addict or alcoholic, but also the roles of all the other members in the family.

Recognizing Your Role

By understanding these different roles and which one you may fall under, you are one step closer to helping the addict in the family recover from addiction. Addiction within the family does not only effect the addict but those around them as well. For more information on these roles call IN counselling and Psychotherapy Services Inc. We are here to help.  (416) 254 -0252

Posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .