The key to understanding these roles is that they are not just labels, they are learned behaviors that are employed by people within a family system. These behaviors are essentially survival techniques that family members employ in an attempt to escape the pain, fear and confusion that addiction is causing in their family system and gain some control over the chaos in their lives. The problem is that these behaviors provide short term relief but in the long run are destructive. and if they are not understood and the underlying feelings dealt with they may become compulsive behaviors that negatively impact each family member for years to come.
The textbook "labels" for these behaviors are the Chief Enabler, The Hero, The Scapegoat, the Lost Child and the Clown. Definitions for these are easy to find on the internet or in book about addiction. So, what about family roles.
When people are stressed they will respond in some way and they will respond in some way for survival. Remember these are behaviors, reactions to overwhelming stress. the Hero behavior is about finding control outside the family. It could be in school, in sports or other area. The scapegoat behavior is being the anti-hero. This behavior is about gaining control by acting out the chaos they feel inside the family and themselves. The lost child behavior is about staying out of the way, lying low, not sticking your neck out. the clown behavior is about laughing on the outside and crying on the inside, using humor to deal will anxiety. That brings us to the chief enabler. All the behaviors related to the family roles are a form of enabling behavior because they are a result of not understanding addiction and not being able to honestly talk about it within the family. The chief enabler is the person who displays the most focused and direct enabling behaviors such as paying the addicted persons bills, making excuses for them, preventing open discussion of addiction in the household and at the sometime trying to manipulate the addict into changing through begging, threatening, pleading, walking on eggshells, etc., etc.
Enabling behaviors are a direct result of attempting to control fear and anxiety by performing some behavior that the addicted person wants. This reduces anxiety for a short while but it always returns.
Here is the secret to recovery: Anyone who is in recovery must pass through some level of suffering to be successful. Recovery is about becoming comfortable with handling uncomfortable feelings. This is true for both the addict as well as the family members. Attempts to avoid doing what is uncomfortable by employing enabling behaviors to shield the addicted person from the consequences of their addiction only results in more pain and are a roadblock to possible recovery. They also shield the family from honest communication and dealing with the pain they have been experiencing.