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Addicted Family System | Clearbrook Treatment CentersAddiction is a family disease and there are many people generally involved in the dysfunction besides the addict.  For the addict to get better, all members of the family need to be willing to grow and change as well.  Knowing your role in an addicted family system can help you break the destructive patterns that allow addiction to continue.

Roles Of The Addicted Family System

While all family dynamics can be different, there tend to be 6 common roles that will show themselves inside of an addicted family system.


We are all familiar with this role.  It has become the center of the family dynamic. The entire addicted family system will base their actions, feelings and even thoughts around this one individual thereby making them the “world.”

Other family members are going to unconsciously take on roles to balance out the dynamics.  When, and if recovery begins for the addict or alcoholic, all the family members will need to get treatment of some kind to make the home less dysfunctional.


The enabler always means well and thinks they are helping, but generally, their efforts will be counterproductive.  Most often, the enabler will be the closest person to the addict.  They allow the addiction/alcoholism to continue with no consequences thinking that is what will be best.

Very often the enabler makes excuses for the addict.  This can happen at school, work or even with other loved ones.  The enabler often takes care of responsibilities that were meant for the addict as well.  They will pay bills or complete the household tasks.

Most often, the motivation behind the actions of the enabler is selfish despite their thoughts of helping the loved one.  It is too painful for them to face the reality of the relationship they are in.  In an effort to avoid that pain, they must do things to protect themselves instead.

In the end, the enabler will be left with feelings of anger, resentment and exhaustion.  In return, the addict isn’t any closer to getting help.  If anything, they think there is nothing wrong because they have someone willing to always pick up the broken pieces.


Often, the hero will be the oldest child in the addicted family system, but that isn’t always the case.  The hero will be the overachiever in every sense possible.  It starts at school with them being model students and continues into their careers.

In the family life, the hero is the one that everyone looks at with pride.  Despite the amount of dysfunction happening all around, the family has something positive to look at. In addition, the hero’s job is to make everyone look good within the family.  They can ignore the problems and help the family to focus on something else.

As a child, the hero may take over the responsibilities for the addict father to lessen the burden on the family.  In turn, he could even become the surrogate mother when she can’t get the support she needs from her spouse.

Heroes are often distinguishable because they will seem to have it all together.  They are often praised for being mature and responsible.  On the inside, this person rarely feels good about themselves.  They’ve spent too much time sacrificing their own emotional needs to take care of what they need for themselves.  Every ounce of energy they have gets put into trying to protect their loved ones.


In a dysfunctional family, someone will need to take the blame.  One child, often times the second, will typically take on the role of a troubled child.  Their bad behavior can then be acknowledged by everyone in the family.  This takes the focus off the problems of the addict and allows the family members to focus on someone else.

In a dysfunctional way, the scapegoat will bring the entire family together.  The addicted family system comes together so that they can feel better about whom they are in comparison to what the scapegoat is doing.  Having a scapegoat to look at keeps everyone in the family from facing their own problems or addictions.  Any anger or frustration that is felt over the addiction will be released onto the scapegoat inadvertently.

Lost Child

When surviving in a home that feels unsafe, there might be a child, sometimes the third, who decided the only way to survive was by keeping a low profile. This child won’t receive as much love as the rest of the children and can often go unnoticed.  Sometimes, they even disappear for hours on end.

They won’t ask questions that could upset their loved ones and they know by keeping to themselves they avoid attracting any attention.  The lost child will give up on all their own self-needs. This will cause them to live their lives feeling unimportant and uncared for, as well as guilt, neglect, anger and loneliness.


Often the youngest child in the addicted family system will become the mascot.  The family has been in a serious state of dysfunction by the time this child comes into the family.  To feel better, other family members will coddle this child and he will quickly become a source of amusement.

Older siblings are going to want to protect this younger child thereby making it worse.  They will withhold information from the mascot or pretend that everything is fine.

Oftentimes the mascot can become sort of a jester.  They will make inappropriate comments or jokes and hurt people’s feelings.  A mascot will feel embarrassment, anger and shame, but use their comments to deflect those feelings.  These actions are capable of hindering the recovery of an addict.

Why Treatment is Important for the Entire Family

Even though each of member of the addicted family system believes they are doing what is best for the addict and others involved, they are actually creating more hurt and pain with their actions.  For the addict to fully start to recover, the entire family will need to look at their role and change their behaviors.

There are great family treatment programs for addiction and many rehabs even offer counseling programs.  The family unit will only remain as sick as the people in it.  As recovery takes place, each person will find themselves walking out of their defined roles into a happier and more secure place.  This creates the peace the addict needs to stay well and focused on their own recovery.

Contact Clearbrook Today

To find out more about the steps you can take to heal your own family, be sure to reach out to a qualified addictions counselor.  They will be able to offer the guidance and suggestions you need to start healing your family.  Imagine the joy and peace that can come when all the members of the family unit work together for healthier and more loving relationships.

For 45 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been providing quality treatment to the chemically dependent person, while also offering educational services to the addicted family system. If you or someone you know is currently struggling with addiction, or you are a family in need of help, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. Please contact our Admissions Specialists today and see how we can help.




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