Roles Within the Addicted Family

There are several roles that are played within the family that has a member who has an addiction. These roles work together to protect the addict and to adhere to the unspoken rules of the addicted family: Don't talk to each other about the addict‘s behavior, don't trust one another, and don't tell anyone outside of the family about what is going on. Several roles can be played by the same person, or family members may share roles, depending on how large the family is. The roles within the addicted family are as follows:

The Addict: This is the family member that has been identified as having the problem with a compulsive behavior such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food, etc. The addict is unable to see what is really going on in the family due to the amount of time and energy spent on maintaining his or her habit.

The Enabler: This is most often times the significant other of the addict. The enabler's main function is to cover up what the addict does by making excuses for the addict's behavior, calling in to work when the addict is hung over, and generally making it easier for the addict to continue what he or she is doing. The enabler works tirelessly to ensure that everything appears to be "status quo" to people outside of the family.

The Hero Child: The hero child is sometimes called the "mini enabler." The hero child is usually the oldest child in the family and is often a straight A student and overachiever. The main function of the hero child is to distract from the behaviors of the addict. The hero child thinks that if others can focus on his or her accomplishments, then the behaviors of the addict will be overlooked or forgotten.

The Scapegoat: The scapegoat is often the "black sheep" of the family. The main function of the scapegoat is also to distract from the addict's behaviors, but the scapegoat accomplishes this by acting out and getting into trouble. The scapegoat often takes the blame for the addict's behavior and is told "he/she would not have a problem if you didn't act this way." The scapegoat is most likely to have his or her own problems with compulsive behaviors and may become an addict later in life.

The Lost Child: The lost child often goes unnoticed amidst all of the other crises within the family. The function of the lost child is not to make waves or do anything that would cause anyone else in the family to pay attention to what he or she is doing. The lost child avoids the drama within the family by not being an active participant of the family.

The Mascot: The mascot is often the youngest child in the family and is doted on by other family members. Other family members may also try to protect the mascot from what is happening within the family because "he/she is too young to know what is going on." The mascot can also serve as a distraction from the addict's behavior by being cute and charming.

There are many groups dedicated to the family and friends of addicts, including Al-Anon and Alateen. Addiction affects everyone in the family and has, therefore, been called a family disease. While it is important for the addict to get help, it is equally important for family members to get help so the family may recover as a whole.


Jessica Parks is a certified alcohol and drug counselor in the state of Illinois and has her M.A. in art therapy counseling.

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