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Family Roles in Addiction

Everyone Suffers When Dealing With An Addict

By Susan Eileen Published 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 4 min read
Family Roles in Addiction
Photo by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash

You can barely turn on the news without hearing about the drug problem in America. Benzos, pills for anxiety, are quietly killing people, as fentantyl has soared to the top story on addiction. It seems that every family has been impacted the pill crisis gone wild. Let's talk about how the family reacts and interacts with one another once a family member has slipped into addiction.

Everybody deals with problems differently, and whether you realize it or not, you have certain personality traits due to your genes, your birth order at times, and your environment. There are five basic roles in families that have an active addict. They are the enabler, the scapegoat, the hero, the lost child, and the mascot.

The enabler is the person in denial of the addiction, the scapegoat is the person often blamed for the family drama. The hero is the overachiever or the perfectionist, and the lost child is the one that withdraws from the family. The mascot is the one that uses humor to alleviate the family tension. I feel this is one of those theories, that once you read it, you won’t look at your family the same again. I know I won’t.

I was the enabler in my family, but I don’t think I was in denial about the alcoholism. Interestingly, I don’t think I had an earth-shattering realization that my mom was an alcoholic, so it must’ve happened early enough that it was just always there, like the wallpaper in the house. My mother was in and out of psych wards, and attempted suicide on several occasions.

It was during one of her overdoses or suicide attempts, I’m not sure which, that I ended up at my first 12-step meeting. I had received a call from the hospital that I needed to be at a meeting. I thought it would be a meeting that I needed to be at for her health care plan. I entered and there was a room full of people and a woman standing up front talking about how housework was so dreadful that it made her drink. I’m not sure how any of what I listened to was helpful - except to the person speaking. The woman speaking got her story of her chest, but I certainly didn’t need to hear it, and I don’t know how it was supposed to my mother recover from her suicide attempt.

I did have an earth-shattering realization about my mother’s prescription pill addiction. One day she came day to say that she wanted to play on the trampoline with my youngest daughter. I thought it odd, but said nothing. She proceeded to go onto to the trampoline and abruptly threw herself off of it. Injured, she then claimed she needed to go to the ER for pain pills. It hit me like a ton of bricks that the trampoline fun was just a ruse for pills.

Suddenly, a flood of memories came back to me. Like infidelity, it rewrites the past memories you have. Suddenly, I realized that my mother wasn’t clumsy, she had been injuring herself for pain pills. It was just the shock I needed to stop the enabling and to let her journey toward sobriety to begin.

My brother was the scapegoat. He was blamed for the divorce to anyone that would listen. This is emotional abuse and it has left him with scars. As my mother would tell it, my father simply didn’t want another boy. They got pregnant to have a girl, me, and that was it. The fact I came with a twin was apparently distressing. But instead of owning their own shit, my mother would claim she would still be married if my brother was never born. It’s a truly awful thing to do to a child. Never underestimate the power of this abuse. He seems to be unable to have quality relationships to this day and has ended up in trouble with the law. An unloved child carries a burden that I can’t understand as a loved child.

My middle brother was the mascot. He has the most pleasant disposition of anyone you will ever meet. This guy would laugh his way through a dumpster fire. No matter what was happening, my aunt would say he could even have a diaper rash, and he would still be smiling. Never underestimate the power of a smile by the way. It’s probably why he is the most financially successful person in the family.

My oldest brother was the hero. He is a perfectionist and has a type A personality. By keeping up with their own personal goals, they are trying to give the illusion that everything is ok, but nothing is ok when a family is in active addiction. They end up with a controlling nature that will seep into their personal lives. This actually creates a tremendous amount of stress for the hero, giving them the feeling that they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Finally, there is the lost child syndrome, which is a child that withdraws from the family. I feel that all of my brothers eventually evolved into the lost child syndrome as they all distanced themselves from our hometown as much as possible, with barely any interest to come back, not even for weddings and funerals.

Because addiction affects every member of the family, it is suggested that the whole family receive therapy, not just one person. The reality of that is not promising, as people can barely get themselves to go to therapy, let alone the whole family. If you or a family member are in active addiction, start by educating yourself. During times of distress, you will feel a constant flight or fight syndrome going on. The best thing you can do is to come up a plan, maybe an intervention, if you're religious, talk to a pastor, or maybe just seek therapy yourself. Education is the best defense on any addiction.


About the Creator

Susan Eileen

If you like what you see here, please find me on Amazon. I have two published books under the name of Susan Eileen. I am currently working on a selection of short stories and poems. My two published books are related to sobriety.

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