Addiction and effects on family

A lot has been documented on addiction and how it affects the addict and the different pathways to recovery and treatment. Very little is documented on addiction and recovery on the family. Most families feel lost on how to handle addiction when it shows up in the family. Addiction and effects on family are a family affair. Addiction is referred vastly as the family disease because when it happens, everyone is affected. The attention on recovery however has historically focused on the addict neglecting the recovery for the rest of the family.

Every person in the family is affected by the addicted person. When there are younger children than the addict, addiction has more impact on them and may put them in danger if they look up to the addicted sibling as they may also opt to use subastances.

Since every family and family dynamics are different, the effects of addiction on the family are unique to the family. This makes it difficult to assign a global addiction and recovery treatment for families.

Family addiction roles

In every family, its natural for each member to play a role in the functioning of the family unit. Adding addiction or substance abuse to the family has been shown to have several roles emerge for the siblings and parents to maintain balance to survive the effects of addiction. These unique roles include:

The addict: The addict is the center attention of attention even though not in a positively. They are likely to have overwhelming shame guilt and even remorse over the pain they have caused the rest of the family. There are may addicts that will not be willing to stop the use in spite of the remorse. Most of the addicts may not want to cease their substance abuse in spite of the remorse. This may cause a lot of emotions including anger and resentment from the rest of the family.

The enabler: Mostly the spouse or parent. Takes care of the addicts unattended responsibilities and mostly in denial about the magnitude of the addict’s problem. They will defend and make excuses for the addict.

The mascot: This person takes humor to lighten uncomfortable situations to cope. They will use this role to maintain stability and some relief in the family.

The hero: This role is taken by an older child. This person tends to be an overachiever keeping a confident and serious demeanor. As addiction progresses, they won’t be able to keep up as they tend to assume the role of the parent and tend to be perfectionists at a very early age.

The scapegoat: This child will constantly get in trouble at home and in school as they don’t have respect for people in authority and they are defiant. This person will get in trouble with the law in adulthood if this is not addressed.

The lost child: This child is normally isolated from other members in the family and will have an inability to develop relationships. The lost child will avoid difficult issues by engaging in fantasy to get away from uncomfortable and negative environment.

My Family: The effects of addiction on the family

Addiction for my sibling happened when I was a little over 10 years old I was the oldest of my other siblings. I never really understood the effects of addiction on the family. I took on the family responsibilities as I knew best. Until in my late 30s, I didn’t realize that my whole life since I was a teenager, I was playing the role of a hero. As my addicted sibling seek help for recovery, I realize now I have my own recovery to deal with.

Understanding the effects of addiction in my family and the role that each of my sibling assumed helps me to be more accommodating when one of them is always getting in trouble with the law or when the other seem to struggle socially in making close friends or maintaining any meaningful relationship.

This makes addiction and recovery for families much more complex than it seems on the surface. The longer the addiction has been, the firmer these roles have formed and recovery is much harder as these roles have formed. Addiction family counseling will be needed to regain some normalcy and most importantly to avoid the addiction to continue eroding the family function. The sooner after the addiction this can be gained the better.

This maybe costly and most people would opt to just let it go. Educate yourself on line or get professional training to be able to handle this for yourself and those close to you not just to help the addict but also the rest of the family and the assumed roles.


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  1. I have never actually looked at addiction through this way before. We always focus on the addict and not on the lives the actions of the addict has actually negatively affected. Taking a closer look to those I know where addict I see exactly what you have described in this post. Those affected by the actions of the addict should be treated just as much as the addict is treated because their lives can actually be altered due to the addictions of their family members.

  2. You’re right about a lot of stuff in this article. I think more and more people are becoming aware of how serious addictions are, and people who don’t have an addiction can suffer greatly when someone they love is battling an addiction, if that makes sense?

    I think it’s important for addicts to get professional help and not try to do it on their own, if they have already tried it and not succeeded. 

  3. Family dynamics are easily one of the most complex relations in our society. And unfortunately no matter how much you try as a parent some times it’s impossible to avoid certain situations that can result in cases like you describe in your article. Most people don’t pay the necessary attention and this can have detrimental effects to the family. Pay attention and seek help if you cannot handle it yourself is always the best course. We should never turn a blind eye to such situations!

    • Totally agree. Turning a blind only procrastinates. some things you cant sweep under the rag. Thanks!

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Zikora. Sorry to hear you had to go through that experience… I also know of some people who have gone through similar experiences. You’re right that it takes a toll on the family and you tend to take on different roles. In saying that, I think family support is very important in recovering from addiction. While there may be various ways to cope, agree with you that counselling and education is indeed important. 

  5. hi Zikora, I’m happy for you that you have managed to recover from your own dealings. I will definitely share this to a friend of mine who is experiencing the same within his family. I know he can relate very much to this post and hopefully can do cross-check on himself and take action to gradually recover not only for himself but also for his family’s good. Thank you for sharing! 

  6. Wow, what an informative article! I never stopped to think about the implications of addiction on the family unit. Nor have I ever realized that these different roles are assumed my family members. Keep up the good work! I look forward to seeing many more informative articles such as this one!

  7. Awesome post! I like how you lead into your article with the very first couple of sentences…when you mentioned that too many people don’t see how addiction affects family, which I’ve seen it firsthand for myself with certain people. It’s so important to not mistake someones kindness and remorse as a sign of someone finally turning around the corner for change. It’s a sign of understanding but usually not a sign of quitting their habits. I respect so much about what you shared in your own personal journey and that you learn so much from seeing things on the outside and just observing. Thanks for sharing your awesome and eye opening Article with me!

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