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The Complicated Role of Family in Addiction and Recovery 

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What is the family’s role in addiction and recovery?  Despite what most people think, it may have a more profound impact than they realize.  

When a loved one struggles with addiction, their entire family dynamic is affected.  Family members often feel guilt, shame, and anger.  Everyone loses trust and experiences a sense of hopelessness and frustration.  These painful emotions can create severe dysfunction within the family unit. 

Family members often unknowingly take on roles in the family, and these roles help them cope with the complications brought on by a loved one’s addiction.

Dysfunctional Roles of Family Members in Addiction and Recovery

All families have problems from time to time.  How they handle the problems is key to maintaining healthy relationships among family members.  

Substance abuse is often the result of poorly handled family issues.  Consequently, family members often take on different roles when trying to resolve or escape substance abuse problems.  

Typically, the family roles in addiction can be broken down into 6 categories:

  1. The Addicted Person
  2. The Savior or Hero
  3. The Mascot
  4. The Lost Child
  5. The Scapegoat
  6. The Caretaker (Enabler)

In most cases, family members are unaware that they have assumed these roles.  

Here’s a look at how the family role in addiction and recovery play out when a loved one is struggling with substance use:

> The Addicted Person

The “world” revolves around this person.  It seems they are always the center of attention.  Every family member walks on eggshells to avoid upsetting the addicted loved one. 

>  The Savior or Hero

The Savior or Hero is the shining star of the family.  They believe it is up to them to make the family appear normal.  The hero often ignores the substance use problem and goes to great lengths to uphold an illusion of a “happy family.”

>  The Mascot

The Mascot brings comic relief to the stressed family.  This person uses humor to deflect the pain and hurt experienced as a result of a loved one’s addiction.  Sadly, this behavior is often a maladaptive coping mechanism that doesn’t resolve anything.

>  The Lost Child

The Lost Child avoids conflict and suppresses their emotions.  They withdraw physically and emotionally and suffer in silence to avoid causing more problems in the family.  Someone who is playing the lost child role gives up self needs and often feels lonely, neglected, and angry.

>  The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat may try to divert attention away from the issue and away from the family member who is addicted.  By acting out and drawing attention to themselves, they deflect attention away from the real problem.  The Scapegoat often feels shame and guilt.

>  The Caretaker or Enabler

The Caretaker or Enabler tries to keep the family in balance and goes to any length to cover up the real problem.  They make excuses for the addicted loved one’s behaviors.  They are not willing to hold the addicted family member accountable for their actions.  Attempts to avoid the problem prevent the addict from seeking treatment since their behavior is unpunished.

Supportive Roles of Family Members During Addiction and Recovery

family can also be a vital part of the recovery process for their loved one.  Each person can play a role in helping the loved one build confidence, regain self-esteem, and learn to share their thoughts and feelings.  

Rather than passing judgment and watching everything the loved one does while in recovery, family members should offer encouragement and demonstrate trust.  When new boundaries are established and the expectation of accountability is set, the person in recovery will feel stronger in their recovery efforts. 

Family therapy in addiction treatment helps family members learn how to:

  • Offer support without enabling
  • Set boundaries and stick to them
  • Help the loved one by helping themselves
  • Avoid lecturing and blaming
  • Be involved in the recovery process

Addiction is referred to as a family disease because it affects everyone.  For this reason, recovery should be a family endeavor.  Everyone who is affected by a loved one’s addiction should participate in the recovery process.

Family Therapy Programs at Design for Change Recovery

At Design for Change Recovery, we understand the complex family role in addiction and recovery.  We realize that a strong and supportive family structure is vital to helping someone recover from addiction.  

When someone enters our facility, we emphasize Family Therapy as part of a comprehensive approach to treatment.  Our goal is to help family members understand addiction and the role they play in a loved one’s recovery.  

It is important for families to effectively manage their feelings of guilt, shame, anger, and blame.  In this way, the whole family heals and can work together for a healthier family dynamic.

If you have a family member who is struggling with substance use disorder, contact our Lancaster, CA facility today to learn more about our fully-accredited, evidence-based treatment programs.   


The Complicated Role of Family in Addiction and Recovery