The family system in addiction
In addiction, everyone in the family takes on a role. When one person in the family is struggling with addiction, all family members are effected and can—often very unconsciously—contribute to and enable the individual's addictive behaviours.
The enabler often covers for the addict’s problems and responsibilities to keep the peace. The enabler not only supports the dysfunctional behaviour but also usually shields the addict from the consequences of their actions.
Known as the jester of the family, the mascot often uses humour to try and reduce the stress brought on my the addict’s behaviour because they feel powerless with the situation. As a knock on effect, the mascot is in constant motion and can become depressed or anxious when they slow down or stop their role.
The Lost Child
This person quietly flies under the radar during the chaos while other family members play their own adopted roles in dealing with the addict. They stay out of the way of conflict and eventually avoid all interactions; essentially disappearing out of the picture.
This person is the ‘problem child’ and the opposite of the hero. Through rebellious behaviour or hostility toward other family members, the scapegoat provokes negative attention to ultimately distract from the addict, diverting the family’s attention from where it should be.
Similar to the enabler, the hero is typically portrayed as over-responsible and devotes their attention and time to covering up for the addict’s mistakes to maintain the appearance of normality in the family system. Essentially, they will do whatever they can to restore the dysfunctional home life. They are often seen as self-sufficient or even a perfectionist, however by being the golden child or parent the hero may struggle with living up to the status and experience the pain of seeing the addict suffering up close.
The focal point in this family system is the addict. Consciously or not, the rest of the family spends more time and energy dealing with the addict; helping, enabling or covering up what they missed out on in order to preserve the status quo. As the addict continues their behaviour, family members may end up taking on more roles within the family without realising it. This usually causes a detrimental effect on other family members’ own health.
If you’re experiencing addiction in your family, learning about the different roles can help you incorporate healthy boundaries, behaviours, skills and thought patterns so you can support yourself. More often than not, shifting your own behaviours can also lead to helping the person dealing with addiction.
If you’re a family member of someone struggling with addiction please consider seeking support, such as counselling or coaching. Do get in touch if you’d like to speak more about getting help - the addict in the family isn’t the only one suffering.