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Substance use disorder (SUD), also known as addiction, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder. It is characterized by the American Society of Addiction Medicine as the “inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships and a dysfunctional emotional response.” According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), addiction “is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family’s unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics.” When one member of a family system is suffering, it affects and permeates through the entire system.

Six Dysfunctional Family Roles

Family roles in addiction are unconsciously created when the addicted person’s loved ones are trying to cope the addict’s unpredictable behaviors, state of mind, and overall state of being. There are six common roles individuals typically assume in a family of addiction:

    1. The Addict: The family member who has an addiction is the focal point of the family in an unhealthy and dysfunctional way.
    2. The Enabler: This person is committed to supporting the addict through whatever means necessary. Healthline, explains “the term ‘enabler’ generally describes someone whose behavior allows a loved one to continue self-destructive patterns of behavior.” The enabler may give the addicted person money, assume their responsibilities, lie to cover up for their loved one…etc.
    3. The Hero: This family member attempts to compensate for the addict’s behaviors by working as hard as they can to be a source of pride for their family. The hero will mature quickly and often assumes responsibilities that would not naturally fall to them.
    4. The Scapegoat: To divert attention from the addict, this family member will act out inappropriately, allowing the family to direct their negative feelings at someone other than the addicted person.
    5. The Lost Child: This is the quiet member of the family who aims to fly under the radar, avoid the turmoil as much as possible, and allow the rest of the family to have one less person to worry about.
  • The Mascot: The mascot is most often the youngest child or the person who is most naive about or oblivious to the addiction. This family member relies on humor and silliness to make light of the dysfunction and lessen the stress caused by addict’s behaviors.

It is important to note that these roles can be an extension of others and exist simultaneously.

For Information and Support 

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times. Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


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