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  • Writer's pictureBryan Owens

Important Facts About Addiction & the Family

Too frequently, addicted persons can be treated as though they are the cause or source of the problem. If they would just get their addiction under control, then everyone would be happy.

It can be helpful to remember that Addiction does not occur in isolation. Just as a takes a village to raise a child, it can take a village to address the particular needs of an addicted person.

Following are some descriptions of types of families that deal with addiction in different ways:

The Functional Family: Families are able to sutain family connection and successfully navigate the challenges that come with living with a user.

The Neurotic-Enmeshed Family: The user’s addiction and behavior disrupt the normal family processes, and as a result of the user’s underfunctioning, other members of the family begin to overfunction in attempt to maintain the family system.

The Disintegrated Family: The consequences of the user’s choices have become so severe that the family has separated.

The Absent Family: The affected family members have given up on the hope that the user will change, and oftentimes will lose contact altogether.

What Was Your Role in the Family?

When a family deals with addiction, it is common for each family member to embody a role in negotiating with the family around the addiction. Knowing your role in the family is an essential step to change, healing, and recovery.

The dependent - the person who uses the substance, whose behavior and addiction becomes the central focus of the family conflict.

The enabler - inadvertently helps maintain the family functioning in support of the user’s addiction.

The hero - often the oldest child, attempts to hold the family together and bring them up single-handedly through achievement.

The scapegoat - begins diverting attention away from the bad behavior of the user to take the negative attention for bad behavior on themselves.

The lost child - attempts to provide relief from family conflict by trying to be as little trouble as possible.

The mascot - attempts to lift the family up through laughter and fun.

The development of family roles are individual in that the family member experiencing the role and its effects is a uniquely individual experience not shared by anyone else in the family and it becomes the framework from which they think, behave, and respond.

The family role one takes has much potential for a feeling of isolation as the relation with other members of the family are strained by the varying responses to the user’s addiction.

Likewise, the development of family roles are relational in that they all are formed and informed by one another, and there is a sense in which, as the roles manifest and take shape, they often do the work of separating or weaking or catastrophizing the family bond. And if this persists long enough, it can lead to family disintegration.

With some help, you can identify your role and do your part to change the ways you may be inadvertently contributing to the family dynamic.

- Content derived from Substance Abuse and the Family by Michael D. Reiter.

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