6 Common Family Roles in Addiction

Written by Jackie Calkins

Addiction is a family disease that affects the person in the addictive pattern, the rest of their family, and the people they surround themselves with. 

Family members must endure the chaos of addiction while living with someone with a substance abuse disorder (SUD).  Dealing with the chaos can cause them to adopt coping strategies that may create lasting adverse effects. 


What Are Family Roles?


The addiction specialist Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse has identified six different roles that family members tend to embody when someone in their family develops a substance abuse issue. Each role provides an example of the negative effects the disease of addiction can have on the spouse and the children. 


6 Common Family Roles in Addiction 


The following roles give information and a brief understanding of each of the roles that a family member can play when someone in the family becomes addicted. 


1) The Addict – The individual with the addiction is at the core of the family. This person is the source of all the family’s conflict as drugs and alcohol become their main go-to for coping with problems and complicated feelings. Once an addictive behavior is formed, they will do anything to ensure they have the supply they need to maintain their substance abuse. 


2) The Enabler – This person’s main role is to deny at all costs that their loved one has an issue. Their main goal is to smooth everything over. They will often cover for the addicted person to ensure they don’t feel the consequences of their actions. 


3) The Hero – The family’s hero is the person who has it all together. They are hard-working, overachieving, and a perfectionist. They work hard to restore peace to the dysfunctional family from the background. 


4) The Scapegoat – S/he will divert attention away from the addict’s behavior. This is the typical problem child who acts out and can be very hostile or rough around the edges. 


5) The Mascot – This person is the family comedian who uses humor and silliness to lessen the stress and anxiety caused by the addict’s actions. 


6) The Lost Child – S/he will keep a low profile. They’re usually very quiet and let other members of the family deal with the addicted member’s behavior. 


Codependency and Substance Abuse 


The importance of knowing these roles is that they will likely lead to codependency. As everyone else makes decisions on what the addicted person needs, codependency leads to aversion and lack of self. 

In the end, people stop being themselves and start identifying themselves only as the role they play. Codependency is a habitual system of thinking, feeling, and behavior toward ourselves that causes pain. 


Signs and symptoms of codependency: 

  • Unable to define what ‘normal’ is 
  • Trouble following through on a project 
  • Difficult time having fun 
  • Judgment of yourself or others with zero mercy 
  • Low self-esteem that’s projected onto others (Why can’t they get their act together!?) 
  • Confusion and a sense of inadequacy 
  • Fear of anger until it builds up and explodes 
  • Confusing love and pity 
  • Looking for a “victim” to help 
  • Need for control 
  • Lies when telling the truth would be easier 


Help for Families Dealing with Addiction 


Substance use disorder can weigh heavily on a family. Once a family is in the midst of this struggle, they must commit to healing together. There’s no easy way out of an additive pattern. 


Call JourneyPure at the River today at (615) 410-9260 to learn more about treatment options for your loved one and your family. There are effective healing options, and we can point you in the direction you need to fit your unique situation. 



Alvernia University – Coping With Addiction: 6 Dysfunctional Family Roles

National Library of Medicine – The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice

Sharon Wegscheider Cruse – Family Roles