Family members want to do everything they can to help a loved one with an addiction and help them get back on their feet. Even though their intentions may be in the right place, sometimes family members can hinder the recovery process, whether it be knowingly or unknowingly.

Especially in 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, where success in the program is helped by repairing relationships with family and friends, families should understand their role in the recovery process and how they can be a source of support for a recovering addict.

Dysfunctional Family Roles

Addiction is a family disease. Some families may be genetically predisposed to addiction, and even though not all family members struggle with addiction, the entire family struggles as they adapt to loved one’s substance abuse struggle.

Often people assume specific, or even multiple, roles within the family unit to maintain stability in the family. When substance abuse issues arise, the family roles usually will shift and can negatively affect everyone. Addiction is isolating and secretive; this may create tension between family members. These are common roles within families:

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The Enabler

Most often, this person enables the person using drugs or alcohol to keep peace within the home. They may minimize the severity of their loved one’s problem and will continue to make excuses for them without seeking professional help, hence enabling their addiction.

The Hero

The hero is usually, but not always, a parental figure or the eldest child and takes on the most responsibility. Heroes strive for perfection and are often overachievers. Because they want to be the one to repair every situation, heroes may take it upon themselves to try and fix the problem and may be resistant to professional treatment.

The Guilty

This is anyone who blames themselves for their loved one’s addiction. Usually, putting someone in treatment will make them feel even worse because they are afraid their loved one’s substance use is their fault, or they feel guilty they could not help.

The Denier

Sometimes, parents or family members will refuse to face their loved one’s reality and deny the addiction altogether. This can prevent an addict from receiving professional treatment and hurt them in the long run.

The Saboteur

The saboteur may feel jealous about the attention the person using receives, even negative attention, and act out or undermine any intervention efforts.

The point of addressing these dysfunctional family roles is to illustrate how a family member’s behavior can negatively affect their loved one and recognize how this can help or hinder the recovery process. No one will fit perfectly into each role – more often than not, people will see a bit of themselves in several of these roles. When a family member realizes how their actions can be hurting themselves or the person recovering from a substance use disorder, they can begin the process for their own recovery.

Help for Families of Addicts

For families struggling with substance abuse issues, family therapy is a great tool to create a safe space for open dialogue. The goal of family therapy is to have family members understand how they impact the person with a substance use disorder, bring clarity to the situation, and fosters conversations of forgiveness. While these conversations may bring up intense emotions, family therapists can monitor and control the situation.

Once a family can truly understand their dynamic, and how their actions and attitudes may harm themselves or their loved one’s recovery process, they can begin to move forward.

Do you fear that you are hurting your loved one’s recovery process? You are not alone. We are here for you and we are here to help.