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Living with Addiction-Fueled Dysfunctional Family Roles

Addiction is a systemic disease. It not only wreaks havoc on the mind, body and spirit of an addicted individual, it affects the family system as a whole.

Living with Active Addiction

Without intervention, active addiction destroys not only the chemically dependent, but their families as well. This is the reason most treatment centers have a family-focused component.

Living with active addiction is a chaotic existence for the addict and the family. Immediate family members begin to adjust their personalities and behaviors to accommodate the chaos. This process is known as maladaptation. Maladaptation works to keep the addict and family sick. Hence, the term dysfunctional – or sick functional – family.

Playing the Role

These sick functioning families are broken down into vital roles – each one responsible for a necessary component of the diseased system.

These counterproductive family roles are defined as follows:

  • Chemically Dependent – The addicted family member or loved one
  • Chief Enabler – Usually a spouse or significant other but can certainly be a child, if no spouse or significant other is present. It is the leading enabling role working to prevent negative consequences. Making calls to excuse him/her from work, bailing him/her out of jail, etc.
  • Hero These high-achievers tend to be over-responsible, which overcompensates for the family dysfunction. These family members often receive straight A’s, excel in sports, pursue higher college educations and land sophisticated careers. They provide positive distractions from the dysfunction and give the appearance of successful parenting.
  • Mascot Class clown, these family members make light of most situations in an effort to deny the avoid painful experiences. Many joke about devastating issues within the family, disguising the severity of dysfunction within the home.
  • Lost Child Rarely seen or heard, these family members typically retreat to a bedroom and bury themselves in books, TV, video games or music. This role basically devours a child, leaving the active addict with one less responsibility.
  • Scapegoat – This is the problem child. Constantly acting out, receives poor grades and disciplinary actions in school, possible legal issues, prone to angry outbursts, etc. Takes heat off the addicted individual and places negative focus on the child.

Additional Reading: How the Family Unit Can Impact the Outcome of Substance Use Treatment in the LGBT Community

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