Family Roles In Addiction Treatment | How Families Support & Hinder Recovery

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on April 28, 2023

Family plays a significant role in the life of someone with addiction. Whether it’s through beneficial support or actions that hinder the person’s progress, family is key to addiction recovery. It’s why including the family in addiction treatment is so vital.

Any healthy family has members with different roles, including families where someone is living with addiction. Unfortunately, these roles often create a dysfunctional family that can hinder the recovery journey for the individual with addiction.

Dysfunctional family roles include the person with addiction, caretaker, the hero, the lost child, and the mascot.

Dysfunctional Family Roles In Addiction Treatment

When someone in a family struggles with addiction, it can affect the whole family unit, sometimes for the worse.

While family members can support the person with substance use disorder by listening to them, taking them to support group meetings, or removing alcohol or drugs from the home, family members can also hinder that addiction recovery and trigger the individual to relapse or further their addiction.

Family members often take on a specific role that doesn’t help the family or the addicted individual. Members may change roles at different times or even take on multiple roles at once. 

The way family members can hinder recovery, as well as their own lives, is why professional treatment, family therapy, and family support for the entire family is crucial. Everyone’s mental health is important, not just the addicted family member.

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Individual With Addiction

The person struggling with an active addiction is the focal point of the family. 

Whether consciously or not, family members begin to spend more time and energy dealing with this person than any other. This could be by helping or enabling them, but whatever they do, they make this person the center of the family.

The more this person continues their behaviors and addiction, the more family members will take on different unhealthy roles and vice versa.

Some of the behaviors that may define someone with addiction include:

  • continued substance use despite negative consequences
  • neglecting responsibilities at work, home, or school because of substance use
  • blaming others for their problems
  • cravings for the substance
  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms when unable to use

The Caretaker

The caretaker, also known as the enabler, is the person who covers for the loved one with an addiction. They cover for them when they have problems or when they don’t take care of their responsibilities. 

The caretaker is primarily looking to keep the family happy. However, while they may have good intentions, they’re also shielding the addicted person from experiencing the consequences of their actions.

It is the enabler who has the greatest impact on the family system when someone is living with addiction. This person often lets other family members take a backseat in their life so they can focus solely on the addicted family member, and this can be very harmful.

The Hero

The hero devotes their time and attention to covering up for the person’s mistakes so that the family maintains the appearance of being “normal.” 

The hero is a perfectionist or overachiever and will do whatever they can to ensure dysfunctional behavior is not seen by anyone outside the family. The rest of the family may also rely on this person to the detriment of everyone else.

Even when the affected person receives help, the hero may feel the need to participate and plan the whole recovery process. They must be involved so they can maintain the “perfect” image.

The Scapegoat

The scapegoat is the direct opposite of the hero. They act defiantly toward the rest of the family but are also looking for attention from the other family members who are focused on the addicted person.

When they act irresponsibly, they gain attention and, ultimately, distract from the addicted person’s behavior. Like the other roles, the scapegoat is trying to draw attention away from the person struggling with substance abuse, but doing it in a more self-destructive way.

The scapegoat is also likely to participate in substance abuse themselves.

The Mascot

The mascot often tries to lessen the stress caused by addiction in the family with humor. They may feel powerless to help the family and use comedy as a coping mechanism. 

However, when they are by themselves or sitting still, they can often feel anxious or depressed. They may also have issues handling problems and developing healthy relationships on their own.

The mascot offers the illusion of normalcy, but they’re actually diverting attention from the chaos created by the addicted person.

The Lost Child

The lost child is often a quiet individual who flies under the radar of the family while other members are dealing with the person with the addiction. 

The lost child stays out of the way and essentially disappears into the background. They usually don’t get their needs met and struggle with loneliness and sadness. They may also be dealing with a mental illness of their own.

How Families Support Addiction Recovery

Although dysfunctional family roles are an issue, family members can play an important role in their loved one’s recovery. 

For example, family members can be open to support groups, mental health counseling, and family therapy. Offering any time of support goes a long way in addiction recovery, and having a healthy and supportive family system increases the chances of successful, long-term recovery.

If you or a loved one are looking for substance abuse treatment in Ohio, Ohio Recovery Center is here for you and your family. We offer a variety of addiction treatment programs including family therapy, inpatient drug rehab, and aftercare support

For more information, please call our helpline today.

  1. Alvernia University — Coping With Addiction: 6 Dysfunctional Family Roles
  2. Psych Central — How Addiction Impacts the Family: 6 Family Roles in a Dysfunctional or Alcoholic Family
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Resources for Families Coping with Mental and Substance Use Disorders

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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