An In-Depth Look at Dysfunctional Family Roles Caused by Addiction - Part One

For families with a loved one addicted to drugs or alcohol, daily life often revolves around worry, anger, and fear. Addiction affects the entire family unit emotionally, physically, and mentally. There may be added pressure to keep the family “secret” within the four walls of your home. 

As the substance use disorder (SUD) progresses, the addict’s unpredictable behaviors create dysfunctional family roles that other members may take on, often without even realizing it. This can happen to even the most stable of families, as addiction permeates their lives.

The myth that addicts only come from dysfunctional families is untrue. Addiction does not discriminate and it can affect anyone.

In Part One of our blog series about dysfunctional family roles, we explore three of the roles that commonly emerge when families are dealing with a loved one’s addiction, and how these roles can affect their future relationships.


The Caretaker

The caretaker is an enabler, always covering for the family member with a SUD in regards to their problems and responsibilities. They do these things to keep the rest of the family unit happy.

The caretaker also supports the negative behavior of the individual with the SUD by protecting them from the consequences of their actions. It may be a child who becomes a caretaker for their siblings or a parent whose spouse is the one suffering from the SUD, making them the sole caregiver for the family.

When children take on the caretaker role, they grow up quickly and miss out on their childhood. They become emotionally mature for their age and must learn to act like an adult to survive under their circumstances.

Siblings may look to their caretaker sibling for safety and guidance. Often, the child who assumes the role of caretaker will feel guilty and take the blame for situations where their younger siblings may get punished.

They may even take care of a parent with a SUD, walking them to bed at night when they are unable to do so. These responsibilities may continue for years, causing the caretaker child to feel more like a parent.

Even in adulthood, the caretaker child may find it hard to stop looking after their family members and loved ones. 

Because caretaker children were in charge and became the parent figure at such a young age, they may have received no emotional support from an adult figure.

Therefore, as adults, they may constantly seek the approval they did not receive as a child. If circumstances finally allow them the opportunity to let go and have fun as a child, they may have trouble because they constantly feel the need to be the responsible one. This can carry on into adulthood as well.


The Hero

The hero is the family member who always insists that everything is fine. They refuse to admit that there is any dysfunction in the family or that they cannot handle the pressures of addiction.

They will try to make the outside world believe that everything is fine in the family as well. It’s not that the hero is boastful or feels a need to impress others, insisting that everything is fine is how they cope with the trauma their family is facing.

The hero often has the best grades in the family and is successful in many other ways.

Because the hero cannot be honest with others or themselves about how bad things actually are, they often build up their guard and have a very hard time letting others get past it. This can make life difficult as they grow up and try to have romantic relationships with others.


The Scapegoat

The scapegoat role does not pretend that everything is alright. Instead, the scapegoat does the exact opposite, and they voice the family’s collective anger.

They often give the family a sense of purpose by providing someone else to blame for their issues, which protects the addicted family member from much of the resentment and blame. 

Scapegoats may be seen as rebellious and do things to shock their families, like getting tattoos or piercings, engaging in illicit behaviors, and associating with disobedient groups of friends just because they can. Males in this role tend to react violently, while females in this role typically run away or engage in promiscuous acts, which may lead to teenage pregnancy.

Not surprisingly, this role receives much of the misplaced blame that is not put on the family member with the SUD. Therefore, they may receive excessive punishments, since the blame for the family’s problems lies on them and their negative behaviors.

The scapegoat will likely leave the family as soon as they can. They are typically the middle or second-born children within the family and may maintain emotional stability.

The scapegoat acts out merely out of rebellion because of the dysfunctional family situation. They usually have problems with authority figures and are not good at dealing with emotional problems. However, they are typically adept at coming up with practical problems and having their own “street smarts.”

The scapegoat may deal with the detrimental effects of this role throughout adulthood, especially feelings due to growing up isolated, ignored, and blamed.


Is Your Family Affected?

If you can identify with any of these dysfunctional family roles, it is important to know that you are not alone. There is hope for a healthy and happy future for everyone involved in this environment. We help addicts and their families heal and recover together.


Renewal Lodge serves people who struggle with addiction, co-occurring disorders, and find themselves ready to accept help. Our specialists focus on meditation and holistic practices to help build a better recovery for you. We include your family and meet you where you are emotionally and spiritually to support your journey of healing. Call us now at 855-381-6224.

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