Family Roles in Drug Addiction
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When we think of drug abuse, addiction or the phrase substance use disorder, much of the time it's easy to point the finger at the one who is considered the addict. This person may be viewed as the only problem of the household. What's interesting is that there are other roles involved besides the identified substance user.
Think of family as a large teeter-totter: if one person gets off, the other person falls to the ground. So, if one person were to struggle with substances as a new role in the home, more than likely the rest of the family will fall into newer roles as well.
Below are are the 6 common roles in families when it comes to substance abuse. This will be considered a generic post as I did not dive into any particular substance.
Those struggling with substance abuse didn't necessarily start there. Whether it was alcohol, opioids or something else, these substances may have been used as a primary way of coping to begin with.
Eventually, the coping grew into something you had to have that very hour, and then hours turn into days, and days into months and so on. Those in this role tend to isolate themselves as they become "the problem" at home that everyone points their finger at. From the user's perspective, the easiest thing to do at that moment is to rely on the substance that was there for them in the first place.
The family hero is the overachiever and go-getter of many things. They do their very best to bring the family together by means of establishing hope and normalcy with the idea it would distract everyone from what's really going on.
The issue here is the hero may eventually become burned out, tired and may feel like a let down if they don't do everything right, all the time. This puts deep pressure on them which could be bothersome in the long run.
Similar to the hero, the enabler's focus is on the family's image. Their goal is to defend individuals in the family struggling with substances. In other words, denial and making excuses go hand in hand to achieve this role in order to maintain that the family has it all together.
Most often, the person who is perceived as the caretaker of the family may take on this role. Overtime, the enabler seems to convince their self that there isn't any situation going on whatsoever. This could affect the family later on if relapse occurs because the enabler may fall right back into their role of saving.
The Lost Child
Just as the middle child might feel lost between the youngest and oldest, the lost child may claim the same feeling. This role involves feeling invisible and separate from the rest of the family.
When substances are present, the lost child isolates themselves because they don't get much attention nor do they look for it. Overtime, this could affect how they develop peer relationships with others outside of the home.
Just like the addicted role, the scapegoat role involves being blamed for the problems of the family at large. The scapegoat may also try to draw attention by acting out rebelliously in front of others as well.
Similar to the enabler, the scapegoat diverts attention away from what is really going on. This may be because they are feeling shame, guilt, loss or empty inside at this time (often times in relation to the individual using substances). Overtime, this could affect their willingness to express themselves toward other family members.
Picture the class clown, this is essentially the role of the mascot. Humor is an indicator of taking on this interesting role. This role may be taken on by the youngest child (not always) as they may feel the most vulnerable during this chaotic process.
When using comic relief as a deflection technique, the mascot can subdue feelings of pain, fear and stress. Much of this is internalized overtime and could have negative consequences if not released in a healthy manner.
Do you think you can identify with any of these roles? If by chance you relate to any, it's not necessarily the end of the world, you're just better informed now. Just remember, this can be overcome. You can do it.
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Remember, your strength and resiliency through this difficult process is something to be proud of. Seriously.
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