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What Happens in the Families of Drug Addicts?

Simple Path Recovery on March 2, 2018

In TV shows that depict the pain of addiction, the focus is on the addict or the alcoholic. Most show images like a heroin addict overdosing or the alcoholic stumbling home when they talk about the addiction epidemic. These outlets do a great job at creating a picture of what it’s like to suffer from drug abuse. But what about the families of drug addicts?

Families of Drug Addicts and the Shared Disease

It’s hard to imagine that families of drug addicts have a disease too. If you’re not injecting drugs or spending all your money on booze, how could you be stuck in addiction? Most experts agree, however, that addiction is a family disease- it affects many more people than just the user or the drinker.

Here’s how it works. Addicts and alcoholics grow up in a family system. As they begin to get worse, the rest of the family adjusts to cope with their problem. Over time, the family forms a new dynamic as a response to active addiction. Relationships change, and new problems arise as each family member struggles to deal with their loved one’s addiction. Loving an addict is painful. It can cause resentment, enabling, fear, anxiety, and depression. These issues can all impact how the families of drug addicts operate.

Roles in the Addicted Family System

Experts in treating addiction agree that the roles that each family member plays can be shaped by addiction. For example, the sibling of an addict may start acting like more of a parent to try to help their brother or sister stop using. A parent may become an enabler to try to help their child avoid the tragic results of using drugs.

There’s a theory about how families of drug addicts form new roles to handle drug abuse. These “roles” include the following:

Hero: This person gets a lot of positive attention from the family. Their role is to make everyone feel better by succeeding. They may feel a lot of pressure to not “mess up” like their addicted loved one.

Scapegoat: This person gets a lot of the blame for the family’s problems. They may also be the addict. Their role is to help the family ignore their own problems and focus on “fixing” the scapegoat. They may feel rejected and misunderstood.

Lost Child: This family member is the one that no one needs to “worry about.” Their role is to relieve some of the pressure by fading into the background and appearing to not have any issues. They may feel ignored or unimportant.

Mascot/Clown: This is the “comic relief” of the family. Their role is to release tension by always joking, making the mood light, and entertaining the family. They may sweep problems under the rug or appear not to take things seriously. They may also feel that no one takes them seriously.

The Chief Enabler: This person usually tries to “help” the addict by making sure they don’t experience consequences. Their role it to avoid conflict and prevent any blow-ups. They may feel a lot of pressure or resentment.

Helping Families of Drug Addicts

All of these roles develop because addiction is painful, messy, and tragic. Family members fill in the gaps by ignoring their own problems, focusing too much on work, avoiding conflict, or any other ineffective coping skill. One of the major parts of helping families of drug addicts is helping them to break free from dysfunctional roles.

Therapy can help families of drug addicts to heal. This process can help an enabler set boundaries, or a mascot to get in touch with their true feelings, for example. Connecting with other families of drug addicts is also key. Support groups have popped up all over the country, and they can help the recovery process.

It may seem like the addict or the alcoholic is the only one with a problem. But the truth is that they aren’t the only one who needs help. Addiction is painful to watch, especially when it’s happening to a child, sibling, or parent. Families of drug addicts need to support to break free from their roles. At Simple Path, we offer therapy and healing for the whole family. To start your journey, call today at 954-532-9201.

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