What are the Dysfunctional Family Roles and Addiction?

What are the Dysfunctional Family Roles and Addiction?

You've probably heard of connections between dysfunctional family roles and addiction, but what are they?

Addiction has recently been described as a family problem, affecting not only the addict but also the entire family.

Having a genetic predisposition to addiction is 50% of the risk for development.

So, as you can see, both the environment and genetics contribute to the development of substance use disorders.

Recent research has identified six dysfunctional roles that family members tend to adopt.

Perhaps you have a loved one suffering from a substance use disorder. 

Unfortunately, the family appears to be making matters worse rather than better.

Identifying your current role in the family dynamic may help you change your approach to your loved one.

For example, you'd like to demonstrate that you are here for them and supportive of their recovery.

Continue reading to learn more about dysfunctional family roles and addiction.

Also, be mindful that therapy is available to help the family heal.

Addiction Therapists in Colorado

Carrie Nelson, MS, LPCC

Carrie Nelson, MS, LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Arias Gonzales, MS, LPC, NCC

Arias Gonzales, MS, LPC, NCC

(719) 345-2424
Sherry Rice, LPCC, ADDC

Sherry Rice, LPCC, ADDC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Susan Taylor, LPCC

Susan Taylor, LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Bonna Machlan, Ph.D., LPC, CAS

Bonna Machlan, Ph.D., LPC, CAS

(719) 452-4374
Barbra Styles, LPC, LAC

Barbra Styles, LPC, LAC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Abigail Corless, LPCC

Abigail Corless, LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Marie Whatley LPCC

Marie Whatley LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Mallory Heise, LPC, LAC

Mallory Heise, LPC, LAC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 602-1342
Vanessa Curran, LPCC

Vanessa Curran, LPCC

(719) 345-2424

What Are Some Signs of Dysfunctional Family Roles and Addiction? 

Every member of a traditional family unit will generally take on a role to help the team get along better. 

However, when a family member has a substance use disorder, problems begin to spread to the rest of the dynamic. 

They may believe that their actions only affect them at first, but this is not always the case. 

In an attempt to cope with the stress that comes with addiction, family members often take on a dysfunctional role.

Co-dependency is a significant red flag in dysfunctional family roles and addiction. 

No matter what position the person is playing, there is a risk of enabling the person with the addiction.

Often, the family members all come from a place of love. 

Still, the added stress of the substance use disorder causes reactions that are often damaging rather than helpful.

Another sign of a dysfunctional family unit is when family members experience negative emotions such as guilt, shame, and anger. 

However, instead of communicating their feelings, they are afraid of drawing attention away from the person suffering from a substance use disorder. 

As a result, they may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking or lashing out at other family members, creating a vicious cycle of harmful rules and expectations.

What Are Some Typical Roles Played in a Family With Substance Use Disorders? 

There are some common dysfunctional family roles and addiction responses that people will play.

The most well-known roles that people take on are:

  • The addict
  • The caretaker/enabler
  • The scapegoat
  • The hero
  • The mascot
  • The lost child

Now that we have learned what the different roles are in a dysfunctional family suffering from addiction.

Let's discuss the characteristics of each part of the dynamic.

What Each Roles Look Like 

The Addict

The addict is the center of attention in the family. 

As a result, they may lie or cheat and blame other family members for their choices.

The Caretaker

The caretaker or enabler may be a parent or a spouse of the one with the substance use disorder. They may make excuses for their behaviors or give them money. While the caregiver intends to help, then often makes matters worse. To seek treatment, most people need to hit rock bottom. The caretaker often prevents them from hitting rock bottom by constantly bailing them out of sticky situations.

The Scapegoat

The scapegoat is usually a sibling who acts out to attract negative attention away from the addicted person. Because the family always blamed them for things as a child, the scapegoat often grows up believing that everything is their fault. Sometimes the scapegoat is the family's black sheep. As adults, they can't always tell the difference between people's good and bad intentions.

The Hero

The hero is often the firstborn child. They may believe that if they live up to perfectionism and excel in everything, they may divert attention to them and away from the one with the substance use disorder. If it is the parent with the issue, they think the parent will stop drinking or using if they are perfect. They are usually critical when they grow up and are overachievers. They frequently confront the person with a substance use disorder and believe that they can fix them.

The Mascot

The mascot is the one who uses humor to make light of the situation. They often find it hard to take anyone seriously as an adult because they are accustomed to brushing everything off as a defense mechanism. So, the jokes are a mask for their true feelings.

The Lost Child

The lost child is the one who uses their imagination to escape their reality. They are often incredibly creative and may grow up to be musicians, painters, or writers. They are self-sufficient and independent as adults. However, they are deeply affected by negative emotions. They prefer to avoid family drama. The lost child may grow up to be content alone, enveloped deep in their creative hobbies.

So how can adjusting these family roles help with recovery?

The Significance of Family Roles in Recovery

Relapse prevention and recovery outcomes improve when family therapy is included in the recovery process.

Addiction affects every member of the family dynamic, and so make the recovery efforts.

Family therapy is an excellent tool for correcting dysfunctional family roles and addiction. 

A therapist works with the members of the family dynamic to learn how to love and support the person suffering but not cross the line into enabling them.

Family therapy can assist the family alongside treatment by:

  • Teaching how to set boundaries
  • Communication skills
  • How to resolve conflicts
  • Discuss stigmas with addiction
  • Financial issues
  • Coping skills
  • Fixing broken bonds
  • Address any mental health issues
  • Address any other substance use disorders in the family

The loved one with substance use disorder requires a strong support system to succeed in recovery.

Healing the family and the individual may provide a strong support system option.

Suppose this is not possible for various reasons.

Then, support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous can be highly beneficial in the recovery process.

If the family remains dysfunctional or unwilling to heal, they can ultimately derail the recovery process.

How Can Family Members Help with Recovery After Treatment?

Positive social support is critical for long-term recovery. You can help your loved ones recover after treatment in various ways.

Following treatment, you can help your loved one in the following ways:

  • Refraining from using drugs or alcohol
  • Reinforce your continued support and encouragement for your loved one
  • Attend support groups and family therapy after treatment
  • Continue to work on maintaining healthy boundaries
  • Practice positive communication with your loved one
  • Express concern if you notice any relapsing behaviors
  • Hold your loved one accountable


Dysfunctional family roles and addiction can be a tough cycle to break. However, suppose each family unit member decides to support the person in recovery.

In that case, the entire family dynamic can begin to heal and move on with their lives.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder, reach out to a therapist and ask about family therapy treatment.



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June 21st, 2024

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