Affects of Addiction on the Family

Affects of Addiction on the Family


“My family is my strength and my weakness” Aishwarya Rai

Addiction affects millions of families a year. Millions. An addict/ alcoholic’s (I will use the work addict from here on out because to cover every substance is laborious and there are so few differences from one type of addiction to another) family member not only impact their immediate family but also their extended family and friends. It is frustrating to care about someone with an addiction. It is painful and heartbreaking to love an addict.

Normally those that live with someone addicted will at first deny that the addiction is a concern and justify it. “They only do it occasionally, they keep working so it’s not that bad, they are with a bad group of friends, it is a phase.”
Then they get angry, “just stop it, I hate you for using, I want you out.”
Eventually, there is a feeling of defeat. “I have no control, my life is horrible because of your use,” and “I give up and I am just going to be miserable and live with it,” or “I am leaving and detaching from this person permanently.”
Families can do many things to improve the situation for themselves; in fact, the family has to focus on themselves. Changes can occur in a family when one person makes some changes. It might not push the person into sobriety, but it can make those around them feel less chaotic. The family needs to be able to process their own pain and anger and allow the addicted person to process their own feelings while learning how to stay clean.

In families where a member has an addiction, there are certain roles within the family which members act out. The roles often seen are: the caretaker, the hero, the scapegoat, the mascot and the lost child.

The following is a brief description of each role:

The “caretaker” is normally the person who “cleans up the messes.” They work hard to make the family look normal and they take care of the using person. The caretaker is often expresses exhaustion; they are anxious, angry and waiting for the next use to occur. They spend much of their time consumed with the addict’s addiction. They have little time to feel or even consider how they feel.

The “hero” has many accomplishments. They excel in academics, athletics, and careers and through their successes ensure that the family looks good. However, while they enjoy success they have, there is a nagging fear they are not good enough, they fear failure and losing everything.  They have a significant amount of anxiety that dominates their lives.

The “scapegoat” (my personal favorite role) is the person in the family that becomes that focus of the family that becomes the focus because they are seen as the “problem.”  They are not the addict. They are not addicted but may become so later. They are the child in the family that is often getting into trouble and creating stress for bad behavior. Their behavior takes the focus off the addition. Because so much of the focus is on the misbehavior of the child that the addiction is not addressed.

The scapegoat understands, to some degree, their role and has a difficult time with understanding they are good despite their bad behaviors. This belief can lead to addictive behaviors and continue the cycle of addiction.

The “mascot” is funny and cute and they are known for being funny and cute. This role’s issues center around being unsure of what they feel because they spend so much of their lives covering up their feelings. They frequently will feel they need to be the center of attention to take the focus off of the addict. When they are not the center, they feel empty and alone and begin to antics to become the center again. Like many of the roles, this is an exhausting and lonely role

The “lost child” is often said to be the easiest. They “disappear” in the family. They spend a significant amount of time alone because they feel they don’t matter. They work hard to not put demands on the family. The lost child is often withdrawn, aloof, angry and very hurt but because they are so quiet, no one hears their pain.

While every family unit is different, this is a general description of the roles that are displayed. However, these roles can be changed and families can change. If addiction is impacting your family, please seek out professional help.

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