Family Roles in Addiction

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Substance abuse kills more than 11.8 million people every year. While people spend most of their time focusing on the person dealing with substance abuse, the family tends to be put on the back burner.

In this post, we’re going to dive deeper into the family roles in addiction and how you should go about dealing with substance abuse in your family. Equipped with this comprehensive guide, you’ll be able to better understand your loved one’s addiction.

Take steps to ensure you’re getting the help you need as they get the help they need. We understand this situation can be overwhelming, and that’s why we’re here to help.

Addiction is a Family Disease

Family Roles in Addiction

As you read the heading of this section, you might begin to wonder how it’s possible for you to take the blame for someone’s addiction. We’re not saying you’re to blame, but there are ways that you can aid in a person continuing their addiction.

The most common role people hear about is the role of the enabler, but there are several other roles that you might fall into without realizing you’re doing it. We’re going to detail these roles for you to give you a better understanding of each one.

By identifying these roles, you’ll be able to identify the category you fall into.

Enabling Role

Since the enabler is the most common role to play, it’s the first one we’ll discuss. Enabling means that you deny an issue and do whatever it takes to keep the peace.

This could mean providing your addicted loved one with a place to sleep. Or it could mean giving them money, so they aren’t sick and don’t become angry when you say no to them.

The thing about enabling someone who is addicted is it doesn’t help them; in fact, it does the opposite. It furthers the theory that they aren’t doing anything wrong, which can cause them to sink deeper into their addiction without getting the help they need.


Are you the person in the family everyone else looks to as a beacon of hope? If so, you’ve taken on the hero role, which is a massive responsibility commonly taken on by someone like the oldest child.

In this role, you seek to be the person that creates a routine or sense of normalcy by being the person others can depend on. You desire to do everything right, placing pressure on yourself that you might not notice.

This can lead to issues in your life because of the increased stress you deal with. And the need to hide your problems from others to maintain your role as the hero.

Co-Dependent Addiction Role

This might sound odd, but some family members become addicted to the toxic cycle caused by someone abusing drugs and alcohol. As people are active in their addiction, they will throw themselves in a cycle of ups and downs.

In this role, you find yourself living for these dramatic ups and downs, giving in to the emotions they cause. Even if their effect on your family is a negative one, you can’t seem to keep yourself from being there for them whenever they call you for help.

It takes quite a bit of work to escape this cycle of co-dependency and notice the signs to ensure you don’t fall back into this type of cycle.

The Comic Relief Role

Several scholarly studies point to laughter is the best medicine for mental health and life stressors. The person in the family that acts as the comedian for everyone else takes on a significant amount of stress.

When times become tense, they lighten everyone’s spirits no matter what they are dealing with. This role is usually played by someone who enjoys getting approval from others and can be toxic as well.

This person should seek help because it’s not uncommon for them to succumb to a life of addiction as they get older and mature. Much like the other roles we’ve listed for you, this can affect a person negatively.

The Withdrawn Role

There’s always someone that gets left behind in the hustle and bustle that comes with a life of addiction. It’s typically the child who’s the youngest that this happens to.

Mainly because everyone in the family is busy worrying about the person in active addiction, there’s nothing left to give to the youngest child.

It’s essential to realize how your loved ones’ addiction influences everyone else in the family. They leave in their wake a series of people that will need help and therapy to move past the traumas they’ve endured taking on the roles they’ve taken on.

How to Move On From This?

When you’re seeking help and beginning to understand your role in a person’s addiction, you’ve got to be honest with yourself. If you’re not able to be honest with yourself, you’re not going to be open-minded as you move forward with seeking the help you need.

As you tap into the resources provided to families, you’ve got to begin to create a picture of the healthy role you’ll start to play. For example, if you’re an enabler, the more beneficial role you will take is not enabling your loved one.

You can still express that you love them and want to see them get help, but do so from a distance. Something we’ll talk about later on in this post is setting boundaries and sticking to them.

Doing this will ensure you separate your loved ones’ addictive lifestyle from yours. This is the best way to protect yourself and your family from continuing to be a part of this chaotic cycle caused by addiction.

Dealing With Substance Abuse in the Family

Now that you’ve got a deeper understanding of the roles you and your family play in your loved one’s addiction, it’s time to discuss how to deal with it. One thing to remember is that if someone isn’t ready to get help, they will not be receptive to it.

However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get help and learn how to cope with addiction. 

These are just a few of the benefits you can expect when you put yourself before a person’s addiction.

Get Educated

The first thing you should do is educate yourself about addiction because before you can help someone, you’ve got to understand what they’re dealing with. As you educate yourself, you’ll learn how the body works as these chemicals are being pumped through it.

As well as what happens when an addict no longer has the substance in their system. It also reduces the chances of you blaming a person for staying addicted.

It’s easy to say that someone is weak or selfish, but as you educate yourself, you find that it has to do with the way the substance interacts with the body. You begin to understand your loved one on a deeper level than before.

This newfound education can help you hold onto hope that one day your loved one will seek the help they need to get and stay sober.

Attend Family Sessions

While most facilities provide care for someone addicted to drugs and alcohol, they also offer sessions for family members to attend. We encourage you to take advantage of these services because you’ll find out how much anger and resentment you’re holding towards yourself and your loved one.

In these sessions, you’ll be given a healthy environment to express yourself and the feelings you’ve been holding inside. Family therapy sessions can also help bring your family back together if it’s been torn apart because of the addiction of a loved one.

Family therapy has been created to get to the root of the problem and help everyone dissect and understand how you’ve arrived at this point. We won’t promise that it will be easy, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it to walk out better than when you came in.

If you decide to participate in these sessions, you mustn’t skip a session. Your family cannot heal and move forward if everyone isn’t committed to the process 100%.

Don't Have Any Expectations

If your loved one has taken the next step and decided to enter treatment, it’s easy to get your hopes up and believe this time is going to be the last. While it might be challenging, you’ve got to temper your expectations.

Treatment isn’t an instant fix; it will take time for someone active in addiction to learn the things they need to overcome addiction and stay sober. While it takes time for them as they work their program, it will take even longer before you begin to see outward changes in their behaviors and decision-making.

The recovery process is like a rollercoaster; there will be ups, downs, twists, and turns. If you set your expectations too high, you’re going to be disappointed when you arrive at these turns.
This is especially so if your loved one succumbs to a relapse, it will break you.

Instead, approach the process with the understanding that this is a journey they will be on for the rest of their lives. You’ve got to relax with the expectations you set.

Become an Advocate

You might be wondering why you should become an advocate when you’re not the one with the addiction problem. The reason is there are hundreds of families out there that who are experiencing the same things you’re experiencing.

They’re looking for other people they can talk to and relate to about their loved ones. As an advocate, you can be the person that spreads the correct information on a topic where there’s a ton of wrong information.

You can act as the common ground for people to come together and express their opinions on addiction. As an advocate, you can offer your words of wisdom and how you’ve been able to move forward with your life even if your loved one is still struggling.

Advocating for your loved one takes courage and strength because not everyone won’t want to hear what you have to say. However, there will also be one person who is touched by your words and uses them to help them.
Get Individual Counseling

If you’re the only one in your family that finds reasons to justify someone’s addiction or enables them, it’s time to get help for yourself. Individual therapy sessions aren’t offered to make you feel crazy or as if you’re a terrible person.

They’re in place to help you do more personal work because, in family therapy, you spend time discussing family wounds instead of your own. You can discuss your feelings of being overwhelmed and frustrated with the things that have taken place in your life due to your loved one’s addiction.

A private therapy session might also prove beneficial for your children that have been affected and feel more comfortable speaking to a therapist on their own.

Addiction and Family Resources

While the above are several things you can do to ensure you’re putting yourself first, it’s not the only resource you have. Several credible resources can help you resolve conflicts you’re having and need understanding about.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to research and find the resources provided in your area. Not every resource we will list for you can be found in your area, but several places are offering a way to attend virtually due to the pandemic.

12-Step Group

One thing we’re sure you’ve heard about when it comes to addiction treatment is the 12-step program. The 12-step program is precisely that, 12-steps, and at each step, a person in recovery will work through something different.

The first step in this program is accepting they have a problem and acknowledging that something needs to be done about it. After that step, they must do several other things, such as making amends and learning to forgive themselves.

These steps aren’t just for people who are in recovery it can also be used as a treatment method for family members. They offer meetings called Families and Codependents Anonymous, where you can share your story and get support from others in the same position as you.

National Institute on Drug Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse or NIDA is a reputable group that can provide you with reliable and current data about substance and alcohol abuse.

Not only do they do the research for you, but they’ve also ensured that the format in which they present it is easy for people to understand. This can be used as a way for you to gain more understanding and educate yourself about substance abuse.

You’ll be able to find resources on several topics, including recovery options and other things that pertain to drug abuse.


If you find you don’t have time to attend one of these traditional family treatment methods, you can always listen on the go. Several podcasts cover the topic of addiction, such as the Let’s Talk Addiction & Recovery podcast.

You can tune in to hear various topics that cover recovery, treatment, and addiction.

How to Help Your Loved One

We understand after you’ve done things to aid in your personal healing, one thing that remains on your mind is how to help your loved one as they battle their addiction. This can be tricky because you’ve got to ensure you’re not giving in to one of the toxic roles we discussed earlier.

You might face some resistance from your loved one, but that doesn’t mean you give up on trying to help them.

Stage an Intervention

Not all facilities offer this, but some will work with your family to stage an intervention. Before an intervention takes place, they will seek to educate you and your family about addiction.

The interventionist will also talk to you about what will happen during the intervention. As you create your intervention team, leave out people who might hijack the intervention and turn it into a blame game instead of focusing on why you’re there, which is to get your loved one to treatment.

Before the intervention, you’ll also give thought to your bottom line. This is something you’ll need to stick to if your loved one doesn’t agree to treatment when it’s offered.

Have a Conversation

Sometimes someone with an addiction issue continues with the belief that they are hiding it or don’t have a problem at all. You must sit down and have a conversation with them to let them know it’s an issue.

Listen to what they have to say during this conversation, even if you don’t agree with a single word. Don’t try to argue with them because it could mean they don’t stick around to listen to what you have to say.

Once they’ve finished saying their piece, you can offer them the resources you’ve collected about treatment and other ways for them to get sober. Even if you come into the conversation with the best intentions, be prepared for things not to go your way.

This could mean they refuse treatment or remain in denial about the fact that they have a problem to begin with.

Set Boundaries

If you don’t set boundaries, what will help to push your loved one towards treatment? If you continue to enable them and act as their safety blanket, they won’t see anything wrong with how they’re living their lives.

After you work to come up with the boundaries you set, stick to them. If your loved one knows you’ll give up if they bother you enough, the cycle of chaos will continue draining your energy and everyone else’s.

If you feel yourself faltering, remind yourself why you set this boundary to begin with. We understand you don’t want to see the person you love struggle, but what good does it do if you allow them to tear you apart too.

Take Care of Yourself

This might not sound like it’s helpful if you’re dealing with a person with an addiction, but if you’ve got an addicted spouse, it’s precisely what you need to do. You’ll find yourself getting lost in their addiction instead of focusing on your needs.

Do something you’ve not had time to do and put yourself first. Doing this will help you find the strength to deal with their addiction and get them the help they need.

Family Roles in Addiction: Finding Healing in Chaos

Alcohol and depression treatment is available to you if you are in need. There are so many different treatment options available to you, and it can be challenging to figure out what works best for your situation.

If you are looking for help with quitting alcohol and depression or a withdrawal from alcohol and depression, reach out to us now. We at Inland Detox are here to get you the proper help you need to get you back on your feet. To learn more about our programs, contact us now.


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