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What Should I Know About Family Roles in Addiction?

Alcoholics Anonymous is one place where people encounter 12-step meetings for help with addiction and recovery. Admitting powerlessness over alcohol and drugs is a profound statement that starts a person on a journey of finding themselves in recovery. Family plays an important role in this experience as they can support a loved one with addiction, but, often, are also in recovery themselves as they learn to navigate recovery with the loved one. 

Family Impact

Genetics play a role in addiction. A person’s risk for addiction is related to whether or not they have relatives with addiction. The risk is highest with cocaine and lowest for hallucinogens. When one family member has an addiction, others often follow. Addiction impacts more people than even statistics can follow. More than 24 million people in America ages 12 and older are dependent on alcohol or drugs. Only 2 million are receiving treatment. The high likelihood of relapse also works aginst families fighting addiction. They are likely to experience at least one relapse within four years of treatment. Family support can mean they relapse less but not necessarily for everyone. 


Family therapists have worked around a term that looks at homeostasis with families. This means they tend to desire stability. When change happens, it is disruptive. The early stages of addiction can place stress on other members of the family. When the person seeks treatment, families may fight to maintain the balance, whether or not it is dysfunctional. Human beings and relatives do not change easily. It takes time to shift. Families often carry on dysfunctional patterns because it is easier than making lasting changes.

Common Challenges

There are some common challenges families face addiction. Some of these include:

  • Codependent behavior: when a family member is controlled by the person with the addiction. They feel compelled to care for them, often sacrificing themselves or others to that end. Codependency involves someone who is compliant and wants to avoid rejection
  • Enabling behavior takes place when someone helps or encourages the person with the addiction. This person is often a codependent who might give the person with addiction hope that it leads to recovery. An enabler might lie for the person in recovery
  • Hero role: a family member may try to play hero, by being super successful above everyone else. They seem balanced but are often isolated from expressing their feelings
  • Mascot’s role: tells jokes and keeps the truth away from the situation. They often distract from what is going on
  • Scapegoat: engages in negative behavior to turn attention away from the person with the addiction. They have trouble at work or at school. They often turn to high-risk behaviors like drugs or alcohol
  • Lost child: a lost child is the family member who withdraws and emotionally checks out to cope
  • Caretaker; wants to keep people happy and feel responsible for keeping family going

Treatment programs address family roles, dysfunction, and healing. Inpatient and outpatient programs are available to treat addiction. An outpatient program takes place during the day and allows the person to return home, while inpatient keeps them there for healing. Family involvement is a key to healing during treatment. Everyone needs to address the issues at hand, the addiction of the loved one, and any other issues lying under the surface. When they visit, they can work on them in therapy, or just be with the loved one and not bring all the issues to the fore right then. Family is critical to success in recovery, as long as they will be a healthy part of the journey. 

The Guest House is based on a Therapeutic Communty model. We help people learn how to live free of addiction. Family can be the one you are born into or the one you create. If the family is not able to participate in a healthy way in recovery or is toxic, it may be best to keep a distance. It may be that a person recreates family from friends and other sober companions. However family looks for you, find people who support your journey and lean on them for support. If you are ready to heal from addiction, give us a call. Call us to find out more: 855-483-7800.