Thursday, October 11, 2007

Role in families dealing with addiction.

Many people find their way to this blog through asking a search engine to find information about the roles people take on in an addicted family.

The classic model of what these are describe five basic roles. The Chief Enabler, the Family Hero, the Family Scapegoat, the Family Lost Child, the Family Mascot.

The chief enabler could be a parent, spouse, someone the addict works with. It is the person that protects the addicted person from the consequences of their addiction. The family hero is the person that makes the family look good from the outside. This could be a star athlete, a top employee at work, a family member who gets top grades in school. The scapegoat is generally the problem kid who gets in trouble at school or at work. The scapegoat has obvious problems. The lost child is the one that stays out of the way, socially a loner, avoids attention. The mascot is the class clown, a joker, uses humor to deal with stress, a social comedian.

What is the problem here? The main issue is that these roles are taken on as compensation for the family's inability to deal with what is really going on, typically a family members addiction. We look at the roles of enabler or scapegoat or lost child or even the mascot and we can see the down side but what about the family hero? The problem is that all these roles are compulsions that develop to buffer the individual from the craziness within the family. As I have mentioned in an earlier blog these are all forms of enabling because it help the family and the individuals to avoid focusing on the main issue.

These roles don't just go away. The person who has developed a role for themselves doesn't generally know that they are reacting to the addiction in their family through there role. When the chief enabler becomes angry and bitter, the family hero becomes a stressed out perfectionist and the scapegoat winds up an addict, the lost child becomes more socially isolated and avoids responsibility and the mascot becomes depressed and runs out of jokes they may wonder how they got to this place in their lives.

This is why it is important to understand what these roles are,and how they impact peoples lives. These roles are unhealthy survival techniques that are used by individual family members to adjust to living with addiction in the family. These roles are used to soothe each persons own anxiety but does absolutely nothing to impact on the main issue which is the disease of addiction.

The roles are another symptom of the disease of addiction as it effects the family. There is no healthy way to adjust to addiction in the family at some point the family needs to face it to get healthy.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is it odd that I am finding it difficult now that the addict in our family is recovering? My role is/was the enabler - Once I realized it, I was 8 yrs into it and the role was deeply defined. Of course I want my son to become healthy, but I feel lost somehow.
Is there any reading that you can recommend? I can see the other roles that the rest of the family plays, but they all seem to be flourishing and liking that they can shed the cloaks that they have been wearing.

Bob Brown said...

Some of the reading listed on my blog and many of the web sites will be of help. The question though is what are you looking for? Are you seeking a way to create a new identity in relationship to your son? Have you talked with your son about or other family members about your concerns. Do you have support? The recovery process fo family members is an ongoing challenge as it is for the addicted person. Many of the roles that we take on in stressful family situations are intensifications of tendencies that were already their. Be careful about comparing your recovery progress to your perception of others progress. This isn't a contest and the fact that you see the issue and want to grow is a wonderful thing. Get support, find someone you can talk with, don't just read about this in isolation.

Jeanette said...

I have been blessed with the ability to detach from my 23 AS. I go to meetings, let my son know i'll help him if he chooses to get help, etc. In other words, i'm a pretty model parent (mom) as far as all this. However, my son is now living with other family members of ex-husband (paternal uncle and grandmother) who will enable him to his death and have no intention of doing it any other way. I have explained a better way both with my words and with giving written material, but that has only caused them to dig in their heels. There are literally no consequences to son's drinking/drugging or any of his decisions. My fear is that, with them being family members, their enabling has cancelled out or neutralized the position i have taken with my son... is this a realistic fear? What are your thoughts on this? My children were not raised in a home with active addiction as the bio dad and I divorced when they were babies, and I had been an Alanon member when married to the bio dad.

Bob Brown said...

Jeanette,
As you know addiction is also passed on through genetics. The addict doesn't have to be "exposed" to the addicted parent. Their enabling does not cancel out or neutralize the position you have taken with your son.Dealing with people who are entrenched in enabling behavior is much like dealing with addicts. Your son still needs to get the same messages from you. You cannot manage these family members addiction to enabling anymore than you can manage your son's addiction to drugs. You also need to take care of yourself and maintain the quality of your life. You can continue to send those family members information if you want but keep it non judgmental and don't fall into a power struggle with them. The more you try to manipulate their behavior the more frustrated you will become. Remember the three C's; You didn't Cause it, You can't Control it, and You Can't Cure it.

Joyce said...

This is very good information.
May I suggest, however, that these roles are not just relegated to families with addiction, and that the addiction itself may be a symptom of the dyfunction already present in the family. I have seen this play out in families where alcohol is never used, and in situations where food is the addiction.
So I believe learning about these dynamics is good for everyone to learn since, being human, we all have weaknesses to some degree.
Is there anywhere you would suggest I could find information of dealing with these types of families? Because I'm aware they can lash out if their code is violated - even unknowingly.

Anonymous said...

This is really refreshing to read all of these bloggs, I thought I was alone. I have been attending CoDa meeting for the past year, but my relationship with my fiance is has gotten worse. Today I found myself desperate for help... Knowing what tough love is has me really confused. When is enough, enough and when do you say "No"?

Anonymous said...

Hello. I am a recovering addict and my mother was my chief enabler. Now that I have been clean for almost a year, her behavior is really strange. When I was an addict, she would do anything to help me, even bailing me out or giving me money. But now that I am doing so well, she seems to start drama with me and never wants to help me in any way and has yet to say, I am so proud of you. It's like shes addicted to my addiction and what came along with it. Does this make sense? I feel as if she almost wants me back on drugs so she can save the day and have ppl say, oh poor you, i am so sorry for you. It makes me feel awful. She doesn' really involve herself in my cleanliness at all. Can you provide some links to info on this behavior and is it common? Thank you so much.

Clincal Director/Interventionist III said...

http://treatementvsjailcoastalwellness.blogspot.com/view/magazine

Check out this link for any families with loved ones needing help judicially if they are chemically dependent/dually diagnosed.
Sometimes they are sitting in County Jails for months and months and NO solution to their addiction is available..( they just swear off to never do it again) then they may be facing a prison sentence of which we can maybe help avoid.

mikey a said...

Im an addict. 25 years addicted to heroin. The thing families "need" to know (in my "humble or maybe not so humble" opinion) is the very thing they sooo dont want to know. That is there is a solution,but it has little to nothing to do with you. I'm clean ,and have been for awhile because using became too painful. For me the only motivation to get clean was pain. Our egos don't want to know that . Certainly we want your help,because it keeps us from having to change. I was an addict of olympic caliber. When left alone with noone to rescue me guess what? I accepted the responsibility for where I was,and more importantly for where I was going. When you don't know anyother options even athiests pray. Left with no one else to use ,no where else to look,..I looked up. Actually it saved my life. The addict does need. Only what he needs,...you don't have. Pray for him/her. Pray for pain.

Anonymous said...

As an adult 32 I am now seeing the affects of my mom abusing prescribed meds. she has alot of health issues. I found her Mon morning laying in a hard sleep in her own urine...she could not even walk or stand up on her own..she was more concerned about if I had called anyone and told them..yet she also was blurting out random things that made no sense. so I called 911 after 2hrs of no change. she is now mad and feels betrayed..my father who Ive never seen enable her is truely the chief enabler and now want to say im wrong if I think shes an addict but he always says she takes to many meds. I dont know what to do now.my moms n the hospital and she was very quiet when I saw her..so i decided after hours of crying not to go since she thinks I betrayed her and let her be alone. I have truely witnessed her in rare form lying to the doctors, lying to me and acting crazy. am i doing the right thing by falling back.

Bob Brown said...

Anonymous adult 32...
First there is no "right thing" here. We do what we are capable of doing I believe that it is important to act in a way that is healthy for you and is based on what you want for yourself. If you need some emotional space then backing off is fine and if you want to visit your mother visiting is fine. What she thinks about your actions is not important. Of course she will tell you that you betrayed her, that is what addicts do. No addict would tell you otherwise. You do not have to react to those comments and it is better if you don't. Interact with your mother in a honest and loving manner. Just keep in mind you can't cure her or manipulate the outcome for her. Go to a support group for family members.