A family of six living in Los Angeles is making their way, inch by inch, towards sobriety. Joshua, age 43, the father of four children has been an alcoholic for 24 years. It wasn’t long after he married Susan, age 40, that he started to drink more heavily.
His drinking didn’t become destructive, as addictions do, until three years later when Susan had the first of their four children. Perhaps his drinking worsened because Susan’s attention went to the children and not him. Perhaps it was the growing pressure to provide for his family. Whatever it was, his drinking began to affect the family. Over the years, as their children got older, and as everyone in the family got used to Josh’s addiction, certain roles family roles began to develop. The way they related to one another, because no one really knew how to talk about the elephant in the room, became co-dependent and dysfunctional.
Research shows that typical patterns and roles in a family of addiction will develop if sober help is not implemented. These are patterns that have been observed by clinicians time and time again. They are discussed below.
The family member who has an addiction is often the center of attention. The world seems to revolve around the addiction and the member of the family that seems to be the “problem”. However, the addict is the center of attention in an unhealthy and dysfunctional way. The other members of the family unconsciously attempt to compensate for the problem in a variety of ways, which lead to the different roles that each family member might play. Sadly, because these compensatory roles are created out of a perceived need for survival, the other family members might take these family patterns into other relationships later in life.
This family member wants to make the family look good. He or she will ignore the addiction in one way or another. The Hero is the perfectionist and uses his or her overachievement to cover up for the problem in the family. The Hero’s aim to excel in life is a way to block emotional pain and family disappointments.
Instead of excelling and overachieving, another member of the family will attempt to steer attention away from the addiction by creating other problems. He or she will rebel, act out, or misbehave in order to keep eyes off the real problem in the family.
The Lost Child
This is the “good” member of the family who remains distant and ignores the problem altogether. He or she will get lost in books or personal activities and tends to be quiet, reserved, and “out of the way”. Although this is not an attention-diverter, the Lost Child will give up his or her needs in order to stay out of the chaos of the problematic family relationships. The Lost Child will often not marry and will have difficulty with maintaining intimate relationships.
This is often the youngest of the family who tries to get everyone to laugh. He or she is the jokester, unconsciously attempting to make light of the dysfunction in the home. The Mascot might perpetually avoid problems, even in adulthood, and eventually turn to alcohol or drugs as a continued way to avoid problems.
This is the enabler in the family. He or she is the one who facilitates the addiction by “helping” the addict in an unhealthy way. The Caretaker might do things for the addict that he could be and should be doing for himself. This member of the family feels the need to keep the family functioning and will take on more responsibilities than he or she can handle.
Central to the roles of a family with addiction is codependency and powerlessness. The belief in being powerless in life leads to a dysfunctional relying on others for things that one can and should do on their own. To the extent that powerlessness is woven into the fabric of a family’s daily functioning, it can lead to patterns of caretaking, low self-worth, controlling, denial, poor communication, weak boundaries, anger, and lack of trust. Fortunately, becoming aware of these roles and patterns can facilitate changing family relationships. They can help with facilitating healthier relationships – but the addict must make the decision to find sober help.
Today, Joshua’s family of six continues to attend family therapy. Josh and Susan are learning about their relationship while the children are learning how the addiction created a feeling of powerlessness in them. As therapy continues, as Josh remains sober, and as he continues to attend Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, this Los Angeles family will find their way to long-term sobriety through maintain sober help best practices.
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