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Addiction doesn’t only affect the individual, it impacts the entire family system. When an individual is in their addiction, the family assumes various roles in response that contribute to the problem. Family members may cover up the addiction, assist them in addictive behaviors, dishonesty, enabling, and distractions. Family roles are often used as maladaptive coping strategies to manage the chaos of active addiction. Family roles have negative consequences for everyone involved and leads to increased denial and codependency. Family therapy is crucial to help the system heal and change these roles. This article will review the six types of family roles in addictive households and what you can do to help. 

The Six Types of Family Roles in addictive households:

  1. The Addict

  2. The Caretaker

  3. The Hero

  4. The Scapegoat

  5. The Mascot

  6. The Lost Child 

The Addict

The addict is whom the dysfunction and chaos revolves around. The addict can be addicted to substances or alcohol and/or behavioral addictions such as sex, gambling, and love. The addict will stop at nothing to maintain their addiction and will often lie or manipulate those around them. Often unknowingly the family system begins to spend more time “helping” the addict and at times covering to keep them from facing negative consequences. The addict’s behavior and use is what leads to the five additional roles to surface. 

The Caretaker

The caretaker or the “enabler” enables the behaviors and actions of the addict. The caretaker takes any extensive lengths to maintain homeostasis within the system, often covering up for the addict or making excuses. The caretaker tries to keep everyone in balance regardless of the addiction. Generally, the caretaker won’t bring up treatment or getting help out of fear of upsetting the addict. This role often keeps the other roles afloat due to these behaviors and denial. 

The Hero

The next family role is the hero. The hero is often the eldest child and feels drawn to perform perfectly for the sake of the family unit. The hero generally is achievement driven and attempts to control the things around them. The hero feels a responsibility to protect the family and feels they can prevent the situation from deteriorating. The hero often has a type A personality type and takes on a leadership role with siblings. Due to the position they are in, it often comes with exorbitant amounts of stress and anxiety. 

The Scapegoat 

The scapegoat often gets blamed for many family problems. This individual is generally the middle child or second eldest. The underlying feelings of the scapegoat tends to be shame, guilt, and feelings of emptiness. This individual may act out or rebel to take the attention away from the addict and distract from them getting help. 

The Mascot 

The mascot often hides behind humor as a means to cope with the tension and disturbances. This individual utilizes humor during family arguments to try to resolve it and decrease chaos. They are often the most fragile and most commonly the youngest sibling. The underlying emotions of the mascot are embarrassment, shame, and anger. Humor is the mascot’s defense and can be seen as immature. In reality, it’s a defense mechanism to ease the native emotions within the family system, brought on by addiction. 

The Lost Child

The lost child is a sibling that is often quiet and more reserved. They try to not ruffle any feathers and give up personal needs as a means to avoid causing any problems or issues. The lost child can exhibit isolation and difficulty maintaining relationships as a result of addiction within the family system. The underlying emotions of the lost child include guilt, loneliness, neglect, and anger. The lost child tends to avoid any discussions about addiction and family roles, opting for solitary time while avoiding all conflict. 

Addiction and The Family 

Addiction and family roles can lead to codependency, denial, blaming, dysfunction, anger, and turmoil within the system. Family members assume their roles and codependency is rampant. Family therapy is essential to break down these defenses and heal the system. When the addict gets help, the family doesn’t automatically heal too. It takes work! At Carrara, the family program encompasses psychoeducation, coping strategies for the family system, multi-family process, and individual sessions targeted to heal the patient and family. Learning healthy behaviors, communication skills, changing thought patterns, and implementing new skill sets is crucial for healing and changing maladaptive family dynamics. 

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