Addiction is a family disease, we have heard it over and over, but making sense of it can be tricky. Substance abuse recovery isn’t something done alone, as they say, “It takes a village to raise a kid”, the idea rings true when trying to make recovery a reality in a family dynamic. Addict’s best recover with the support of family, friends, and the recovery village created around them when they finally reach treatment. When one member of the family unit is struggling with addiction, it is safe to say they didn’t get there all on their own. Each family member has a particular role within a family battling the disease of addiction. These roles the family takes on can be helpful, but equally as harmful to the addict and their ability to get sober. There is a fine line between support and enablement when dealing with an addict in active addiction. The trick here, and biggest struggle families face, is finding their place within this fine line. Most parents or caretakers live in fear when their child is using, and will often do anything to try and keep them safe and alive, even if it is hindering their ability to recover.
The family will usually adapt to the chemically dependent person. They do so by acting out their unhealthy roles to help reduce stress, and to deal with the uncertainty brought on by addiction. With no immediate end in sight, the family tends to focus solely on keeping the family “functioning” among the craziness and fear the alcoholic/ addict has bestowed on them. Family members tend to lose sight in, and focus on their own lives, as they become all consumed in getting the addict better. They tend to look over how their loved ones struggle is affecting them, and their ability to take care of themselves. This type of behavior is called codependency, it is much more common then one might think, and is a disease in itself.
There are five roles that play out in families struggling with addiction and codependency- the enabler, the hero, the scapegoat, the lost child, and the mascot. The enabler is the one who protects and cleans up after the addict and the wreckage they have caused. The hero attempts to draw the attention away from the addict, in hopes that their “too good to be true” behavior will somehow motivate the addict to stop using. The scapegoat creates other problems and concerns in an attempt to deflect the attention away from the real issue at hand, the addict. The lost child ignores the problem completely; they keep to themselves, and are perceived as the “good” child by staying out of trouble. Lastly we have the mascot, they are the jokester, the family member who uses humor to escape and deflect from the alcoholic/ addict and their addictive behaviors. Most people don’t even know these roles exist; but to achieve recovery it is crucial to understand everyone’s part in the problem. In the long run this will make for the best chance the family has of getting healthy, and benefiting the addict’s recovery.
Family roles in addiction can be one of the strongest supports of recovery, if the actions and interactions can become healthy and positive. Understanding addiction, learning why the addict is stuck in addiction, and becoming proactive with your involvement will yield the best chance for a successful recovery. The Haven and most other substance abuse treatment centers offer family groups, and family counseling as a way to get the family involved and on board while the alcoholic/ addict is in treatment. This is a great foundation in which to bridge the gap between the family’s inability to understand, and the addicts ability to let them into their recovery process.