Addiction is a complex and deeply personal issue, which can have a devastating impact on the family members of an addict. Addiction can affect everyone in the family differently, and each person plays a different role in the addiction based on their own personality and coping mechanisms. Here are the six different dysfunctional family roles in addiction, and what you can do to have a more healthy relationship with your addicted loved one. 


How Addiction Affects the Family

Addiction can have a huge impact on the family, both physically and emotionally. It can disrupt the family’s lives, causing confusion and chaos. Families affected by addiction should work on rebuilding their relationship after addiction has impacted it. This will require time, patience, and a lot of effort. However, with the right support and understanding, the family can come through this difficult time stronger and better equipped to handle future challenges.


Loss of Trust

Addiction can sadly lead to a major loss of trust between family members. In many cases, the addict will lie to or steal from family members, which is part of what causes this loss of trust. 

This broken trust then often leads to broken relationships – which only compounds the stress level for everyone involved. The process of rebuilding trust takes time and patience.


Financial Stress

Addiction can have a serious impact on the family finances. Addiction sufferers may be spending more money than they have and borrowing from friends or family members. 

In some cases, family members have to uproot their lives in order to care for their addicted loved one. This can cause a great deal of stress around money, and there may come a time when family members are no longer able to support their addicted loved one.


Emotional Distress

Addiction has a devastating effect on the dynamics of family units. It often changes the way in which responsibilities are divided, how communication is conducted, and the overall role of each member. 

This can have a negative impact on children especially, who are caught in the middle of this chaotic situation. Often addiction is seen as an individual problem that does not affect other members of the family equally, but this is not the case. 

As such, children may feel neglected or lost within their family system, making it difficult for them to develop healthy relationships later on in life. 

child crying while parents fight

Increased Anxiety

Dealing with an addicted family member will undoubtedly affect your mental health, and many family members experience heightened anxiety during this time of their lives. 

Anxiety can arise for a number of reasons. Family members may feel like they are unable to help their loved ones through the addiction process, and that despite their best efforts, their loved one continues in their addiction. 

There is also often a lot of stress and tension in the home due largely to the addict’s behavior, since an addict can often behave in a way that is unpredictable or hurtful. Addiction adds fuel on top of an existing firestorm by creating conflictual situations where everyone feels overwhelmed.


Understanding the 6 Types of Family Roles in Addiction

It’s important to understand how different family members respond to the addiction in their family. Ultimately, you need to identify which role you are playing in the addiction so that you can adjust and provide support to your loved one in ways that are actually helpful.

1. The Addict

The addict is someone who has lost control over their lifestyle and behaviors, due to substance abuse or a behavioral addiction. The addict’s life revolves around the drug or substances they are abusing and they have no sense of self-worth or identity apart from their use of these substances. 

They may become so consumed by the drug that all else falls away: family and friends become irrelevant, work ceases to matter, even sleep is disturbed as addicts aimlessly search for an easier high.

The addict can affect the family in the following ways: 


2. The Hero

The hero family members are often selfless and put their own safety at risk to try and help their addicted loved ones. They may feel a sense of obligation or responsibility towards the family, even if it means putting themselves into danger again and again. 

These heroes often exhibit behaviors that they believe will restore a sense of normalcy to the family – whether that is by trying to get the addict into treatment, reconciling with them, or simply being there for support during tough times.

The hero will often: 


man breaking up a fight between man and woman

3. The Enabler

The enabler is someone who thinks they are helping the addict, but really they are allowing them to continue in their addiction without experiencing any consequences. 

They may provide excuses for their loved one, or give them money anytime they ask. The enabler’s main goal is to keep the family together, even if it means sacrificing their own health and well-being. However, enabling the addict is not helpful to anyone, and will only end up making the problem worse. 

The enabler often behaves in ways such as: 


4. The Scapegoat

The scapegoat is a role often played by family members in order to divert attention away from the addict. This person becomes the target of blame and anger from other family members, as they are seen as causing similar chaos to the addict. 

Often, this individual is pushed to their breaking point and leaves home in search of solace or understanding.

The scapegoat can exhibit the following behaviors: 


Although these behaviors are frustrating to deal with, the scapegoat likely acts in this way as a response to the stress and chaos that the family is dealing with.


5. The Mascot

Having an addicted family member can be a difficult experience for anyone, but the mascot will try to make light of the situation through humor. Despite this strength, they are often vulnerable and desperate for the approval of others. Mascots are often susceptible to developing an addiction as well, since they have a hard time coping with difficult situations. 

Key characteristics of the mascot include: 


6. The Lost Child

This family member, although not necessarily a child, feels abandoned by the rest of the family due to the present addiction. They typically withdraw from society completely and appear to be completely ignoring the problem at hand. They often get lost or forgotten amidst all the chaos that the family is experiencing. 

The lost child tends to:


None of these family roles are healthy, and none is better than the other. No one chooses their role intentionally, but it’s important to identify what role you are playing so that you can make the necessary changes.  

family roles in addiction infographic

The Dangers of Enabling the Addict

It can be difficult to accept that a family member is addicted to drugs or alcohol, but it’s important to do so in order to protect them. When family members enable addicts, they’re placing themselves in harm’s way. 

Enabling an addict is essentially unintentionally making it easier for the addict to continue in their addiction by continually doing things for them that they can actually do for themselves. 

When a family member enables an addict, they are not only putting themselves in danger, but are also making it more likely that the addict will abuse substances to the point where it becomes dangerous. 

Additionally, enabling an addict can give them false hope that they can escape their addiction without help. It’s important to be honest with your loved ones about addiction and its dangers so you can support them in the best way possible. Remember, addiction is a disease that requires professional help, and family members cannot fix or cure it.


Signs You Are Enabling Your Loved One

Enabling your loved one can have a number of negative consequences. If you think you may be enabling them in some way, it is important to take action and get help. Here are a few signs that indicate you might be enabling your loved one: 

Once you start becoming aware of these signs, it becomes easier to change the situation for the better.


How to Stop Enabling the Addict

Enabling someone who is addicted can have disastrous consequences. It’s important to be aware of the signs that we are enabling someone, and take action accordingly. 

In order to effectively stop enabling an addict is to let them feel some of the consequences of their addiction. Are you paying bills on their behalf or providing them with food and shelter? Don’t do things for them that they can do for themselves. If they have bills to pay, then they need to get a job. They will never do this if they know they always have your safety net to fall back into.

handing someone money

Setting boundaries with the addict is also essential for protecting yourself and the family, and teaching the addict that they cannot walk all over you. 

It’s also important to have open and honest conversations with the addict about how their addiction affects you and the rest of the family. Remembering that addiction is a disease can help us approach it in a more compassionate manner. 

When you stop enabling an addict, it can help them realize that they need professional help to treat their addiction. Rather than making it seem like they don’t have a problem, try to help them see that they need treatment, and that seeking treatment is not a sign of weakness. 


How to Effectively Set Boundaries With the Addict

In order to have healthy boundaries with your addicted loved one, you need to be clear about what is and is not allowed. It is important to have open and honest communication with your loved ones about addiction. This allows you to build a strong relationship while also being able to handle any difficult situations that may arise. 

Examples of healthy boundaries include:


Don’t try to fix or save the addict – let them face their addiction on their own terms. Be honest with yourself and the addict about what you are willing to tolerate before setting boundaries together. 

two men having a serious conversation

What to Do if the Addict is in Denial

If you are a loved one of an addict, you know that denial can be a very difficult phase for them. Denial is the refusal to accept reality, and addicts in denial typically don’t believe that they have a problem. This makes it hard for them to take action and recover. Here are some tips on how to help an addict in denial:

Talk openly about your concerns – Let your addicted loved one know that you care about their well-being and want to help them get better. Try to explain how their actions affect you, without placing blame on them. Open communication is key during this stage of recovery.

Be patient – It may take time for the addict to admit there’s a problem, but patience is critical during this process. Don’t force or pressure them into making any decisions right away; let them come to terms with what they’re dealing with on their own timetable. 

Encourage positive behavior changes – If possible, try encouraging small behavioral changes instead of big lifestyle overhauls at this stage of treatment (this will likely be more effective). For example, encourage the addicted person to attend therapy sessions or participate in addiction support groups as often as possible rather than quitting altogether.


The Dangers of Becoming Codependent

Codependency is a term used to describe the way some people become too reliant on others, and is typically an imbalance in a relationship where one person is always the “giver” and the other is always the “taker.”

This can have serious consequences for families, as codependency can lead to major relationship issues, and one person taking advantage of the other. 

wife turning away from husband on his phone

Signs of Codependency

Codependency is a problem where people tend to take on too much of the responsibility for an addict. People who are codependent with an addict are often enablers. 

They may feel like they need to always be taking care of the addict even if it means neglecting their own needs and well-being. As a result, codependents often lose their sense of independence and self-esteem, and they feel like their worth is tied to caring for their addicted loved one. 

Signs of codependency include: 


Additionally, they may also find it hard to function normally without their addicted loved one around. If you are experiencing any of these signs, it might be time for you to seek help from a professional.

Codependency is dangerous because it puts the codependent person at risk of developing an addiction, and they may experience loneliness because they don’t have meaningful relationships outside of the codependent relationship. Codependency can lead to a variety of mental health issues.


How to Break Free From Codependency

Breaking free from codependency is not an easy task, but it’s definitely possible. In fact, by recognizing the signs of codependency and taking action to break free, you can start on the right foot. 

Practice independence – In order to break free from codependency, you need to establish your identity as an individual, and set personal goals for yourself. You need to realize that relationships with no balance or boundaries will never thrive. 

Practice clear, direct communication – Leave as little room for interpretation as possible. This will prevent there from any miscommunication and keep you from doing things that you don’t have the time or capacity for. 

Practice self-care – In order to have the capacity to take care of others, you first need to take care of yourself. Make sure that your mental and physical health is doing well so that you don’t feel the need to be so dependent on others again in the future. Taking care of yourself is not selfish. 

Get support – Speak to other family members, or get professional help in dealing with your codependent tendencies. Devote yourself to practicing self-awareness, and get in touch with your own needs and emotions. 

If you’re worried that you or a loved one may be codependent, the best way to start addressing the problem is by talking to a therapist. They can help you identify the signs and symptoms of codependency and provide tips on how to deal with them.


Support For Family Members

Family members are often the first ones to reach out for help when someone is struggling with addiction. However, it’s important to realize that you are not responsible for your loved one’s recovery. At the end of the day, you can only do what you can for yourself to ensure your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing don’t suffer too much. 

In the midst of trying to help your loved one, it can be easy to forget that sometimes you need help too, and there is no shame in that. Don’t be afraid to ask for support, whether it be from a counselor, a support group, or relying more on friends and family. 


Individual Counseling

The family member who is struggling through this challenging time is likely longing for support and guidance. However, they may feel like they are unable to ask for help out of fear of being judged or feeling embarrassed. 

Individual counseling can provide just the support these family members need to gain the strength they need to cope with their current situation. It will allow them to open up about what’s going on and process the emotions that come with it. In doing so, they will start putting themselves first – an important step towards healing in their own unique way.


Family Counseling

Family counseling can be a great way to help multiple family members cope with addiction. It is important that they are given the support they need so that the counseling process can be effective. 

In addition, it is essential for family members to be educated about addiction – what it is, its effects on them, and how to deal with it. Counseling sessions can also help rebuild relationships within the family unit and improve communication between family members.

couple attending counseling


Support Groups

Support groups are an excellent way to connect with others who are going through the same thing. These groups provide a safe and supportive environment, where members can share their experiences and learn from each other. In addition, they offer a confidential space for discussion which is perfect for people seeking solace or guidance. There are a variety of support groups for family members of addicts that meet both in person or online.


Get Help for Addiction

Addiction can have a devastating impact on the family, as addiction often takes precedence over family dynamics. However, family members can support one another through addiction by providing emotional support and listening to each other’s concerns. 

If you are a family member of someone with addiction, it is important to talk to someone about your feelings. We hope you now have a better understanding of the different family roles in addiction, and are more aware of what role you may have taken on. If you have an addicted loved one, and are wondering how you can best support them, speak to our addiction counselors who can help guide you on the right path.