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Is Your Family Dysfunctional? How to Understand Dysfunction in Addiction Recovery

At Royal Life Centers, our intensive therapy will treat addiction and help to heal any unresolved feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. We understand that many of our guests may come from a family history of alcoholism or addiction, which is why our staff of therapists will help you explore each aspect of your life, including your family and familial roles. No family is perfect, but do you see your family as dysfunctional? Addiction affects the whole family, not just the addict, so your addiction may have caused your family to become dysfunctional. The recognition of some family views and roles can help the healing process in addiction recovery, so our clinical team is here to help you heal from any perception of dysfunction or family alcoholism.

Family Dysfunction

Families that may be dysfunctional or alcoholic commonly have members of the family that choose a distinctive role in the family system. We know that addiction affects the entire family, so even if your family is not characteristically alcoholic or dysfunctional before your addiction took hold, your alcohol or substance use disorder may have caused your family members to take certain roles.
The six family roles in a dysfunctional family are as follows:

  • addict
  • enabler
  • golden child
  • mascot
  • scapegoat
  • lost child
  • Dysfunctional or alcoholic families develop inconsistency, unpredictability, chaos, and a lack of safety. Denial plays a large role in keeping a family dysfunctional. Each family has unspoken family rules, for example, some rules could be:

  • don’t talk about the addict’s drug or alcohol problem
  • don’t tell anyone outside of the family about family problems
  • pretend to be okay, act like nothing is wrong
  • don’t talk about your emotions
  • never bring up the family’s problems
  • don’t acknowledge the dysfunction
  • These rules are purely an example, not every dysfunctional or alcoholic family will have these unspoken rules. Usually, unspoken rules are put in place by the behaviors of the parental figures in the family system or the addict/alcoholics behavior. All roles will adhere to the unspoken rules of the family, as acting outside of the unspoken rules will seemingly cause further issues.
    As outlined by Sharon Martin in her dysfunctional or alcoholic family roles info graphic, posted in 2017, below are the six family roles.

    Family Roles

    Addiction is a family-wide illness, and it can cause dysfunction in your family system— whether or not it has been dysfunctional in the past, it may be now. We’ve outlined the 6 Family Roles in a dysfunctional or alcoholic family, for you to get a better understanding of your family system. By reading our account of family roles, you will know how to understand dysfunction while you are in addiction recovery.
    Here are the six family roles in a dysfunctional or alcoholic family:

    1. The Addict
    2. The addict copes with uncomfortable feelings and problems by using drugs or alcohol. The addict is the center of attention in the family. The addict often blames others for their problems, can be angry or critical, unpredictable, and careless when it comes to how their actions affect others. The dynamic of the addict role can also apply to someone in the family who has unmanaged mental health issues or another addiction like gambling.

    3. The Enabler
    4. The enabler role tries to reduce harm and danger. The enabler takes on the responsibility of being the caretaker. Behaviors of the enabler role are making excuses for the addict, or trying “help” the addict by doing things for them. The enabler tries to gain control and keep the family together by avoiding problems and stay in a deep denial that drugs or alcohol are the problem for the addict. The enabler tries to keep everyone happy, and ignores any problems. The enabler often goes to extremes to hold an image that the family is happy and well-functioning.

    5. The Golden Child/Hero
    6. The golden child takes on the responsibility of making the family look good. The golden child is the overachiever, often a perfectionist . This child is usually very responsible, and tries to bring esteem to the family by external validation and achievements. The golden child ignores the family problem and dysfunction, and presents things in a positive manner. This child is hardworking, highly stressed, and often a workaholic. The golden child puts a lot of pressure on him or herself, and wants to feel in control.

    7. The Mascot
    8. The mascot role is the family member who often tries to reduce family stress with comedy. The mascot often uses humor to lighten situations, as humor often becomes his or her defense against feeling fear or pain. The mascot will often make inappropriate jokes about the family problems. The mascot takes on the role of trying to cheer everyone up.

    9. The Scapegoat
    10. The scapegoat role is blamed for all of the problems in the family. The scapegoat will act out and distract attention away from the addict. The scapegoat will rebel, make noise, and divert away from the problems of the addict. The scapegoat is often rejected and doesn’t “fit in”.

    11. The Lost Child
    12. The lost child role is the family member who kind of disappears into the background. The lost child is reserved and quiet, and is careful to not make anymore problems. The lost child doesn’t get or seek attention in the family. This role is for the family member who is isolated, spends most of their time doing things alone, and copes by remaining invisible in the family. The lost child stays under the radar.

      Recovery

      Recovery from addiction is a family effort. This includes improving the family dynamic, and tending to any internal problems that each family member may be contributing to. Our addiction treatment provides healing, and many opportunities to explore the impact addiction has had on you and others so that you can change your behavior. The recovery process all starts with insight, positive changes rely on insight to identify the problems in the first place. Our addiction treatment centers also offer services for family members, which you can learn about more by following this link. People in recovery from substance abuse need to consider the family roles that their family members have taken as a result of their addiction, which is why we provide intensive therapies to explore these dynamics.

      Our Treatment

      Royal Life Centers provides treatment programs that are designed to follow guests through the stages of the recovery process. Our treatment options include: medical detox, a residential inpatient program, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), an intensive outpatient program (IOP), an outpatient program (OP), sober living and graduate housing. Upon arrival to our facilities, guests will be matched with a case manager and primary therapist. Guests also take an active role in their recovery, by working alongside their case manager and therapist to develop a treatment plan specifically tailored to meet their needs and goals. At Royal Life Centers, we provide guidance and support through each step of recovery. We will teach guests skills and tools that will help them rebuild a healthy, happy, and meaningful life in sobriety. Drug addiction and alcoholism affects the family of an addict, just as it affects the addict. Family healing is a part of the recovery process. If you have an alcoholic parent or are an alcoholic parent, we can help you break the cycle of dysfunction. Children of alcoholics have the opportunity to break the cycle of a dysfunctional or alcoholic family. We can help you. Because We Care. For recovery support, we can direct families to local support groups that can help them recover from the impact addiction has had on their lives.
      References:
      Addiction and Codependency. Fairfield Behavioral Health Services, www.fairfieldbhs.org/sites/fairfieldbhs.org/files/Family%20Roles%20in%20Addiction%20(1).pdf.
      If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, please reach out to our team of addiction specialists at (877)-RECOVERY or (877)-732-6837. Our team make themselves available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.

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