How Family Members Help or Hurt a Loved One in Active Addiction

The Crucial Roles of Family Members
By Donna Marston CRSW

Not only are family members emotionally and financially impacted by their loved one’s active addiction and recovery, they can also impact their loved one getting better or they can make things harder for them when the loved one is dealing with their addiction or working a recovery program.

Your unwavering support is a lifeline in the storm of addiction.
Banyan Treatment Center

When a family member is in active addiction, everyone in the family consciously or unconsciously takes on a role and it’s important for them to identify their role so they can learn better coping skills, how to be supportive instead of damaging, how to set healthy boundaries, instead of moving the finish line and how to adjust their mindset to be positive rather than negative.

The only person you can change is yourself!
Melody Beattie
– Codependents No More

Family Roles:

  • Person with a Substance Use Disorder: They are often in the center of the family’s attention. Once addiction enters into the family dynamics, family members unconsciously takes on roles to attempt to complete the balance in the family.  The underlying feelings the person with the SUD has is, shame, fear, feeling unloved, and insecure.
  • The Unhealthy Helper: They attempt to keep everyone happy and the family in balance, typically this is the Mother or Father. They avoid talking about the issues until their lives also become unmanageable.  They avoid the issues at hand, they are often in denial – “Not My Child”, they make excuses for their loved one’s behaviors and actions.  Their underlying feelings are inadequacy, fear and helplessness.
  • The Hero: The family member who needs to make the family look good, often the perfectionist in the family. They ignore the problem and present things in a positive manner as if the roles within the family did not exist. Their underlying feelings are fear, guilt and shame.
  • The Scapegoat: They often act out in front of other people, they are typically the truth tellers, the rebel. Their underlying feelings are shame, guilt and emptiness.
  • The Lost Child: They are quiet, reserved and careful not to make problems. They are the silent “out of the way” family member, who will never mention alcohol, drugs or recovery.   Their underlying feelings are guilt, loneliness, neglect and anger. 
  • The Family Clown: They bring humor to the family roles that is often harmful humor, sometimes their jokes keep the person with the SUD from seeking help. Their underlying feelings are embarrassment, shame and anger.
  • The Controller: Tells their child how to stop using drugs, how to work a recovery program, when they are only repeating what they hear, they’re not walking the walk and working on getting themselves emotionally healthy.
  • The Destroyer: Is the harshest critic, the destroyer tells their loved one that they don’t have the right to exist. They are emotionally cruel.
  • The Guilt-Tripper: They attempt to control their loved one by saying hurtful things.
  • The Molder: Attempts to mold their loved one into doing their recovery program the way they think they should even when they don’t know what recovery is.
  • The Perfectionist: Tries to keep themselves and their loved one from the hurtful criticism of society so that their family looks perfect on the outside looking in.

Do any of these family roles make you say ouch? If you answered yes, then it’s important to seek professional help, or a family support group to help you with better coping skills and how to have a healthier relationship with the person who is in active addiction even if they aren’t emotionally healthy.

Family dynamics hugely impact a loved one’s addiction and recovery, it is so very important for families to recognize and understand their roles so that they too can be part of the healing process.

When your loved one enters treatment, find some sort of recovery program like Al-anon, Codependents Anonymous or Families Sharing With Out Shame. It is so important for family members especially the parents to work a recovery program too so that they won’t be toxic to their loved one’s recovery, plus it allows them to stop destructive patterns and language.

The worst part about anything that’s self-destructive is that it’s so intimate. You become so close with your addictions and illnesses that leaving them behind is like killing the part of yourself that taught you how to survive.
Lacey L.

You can be an anchor that helps to stabilize your loved one’s recovery or an anchor that contributes to them sinking further into their addiction.

                                            When You Know Better, You Do Better!

New Hampshire Family Resources:

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