Family Roles In Addiction Worksheet

Guide families in building a supportive dynamic to aid clients struggling with substance use through their recovery journey.

By Gale Alagos on Jun 03, 2024.

Fact Checked by Nate Lacson.

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What is a dysfunctional family?

A dysfunctional family is a family unit where the relationships and interactions between members are characterized by unhealthy patterns, lack of support, and an inability to effectively address and resolve conflicts. In these families, communication is often strained, boundaries are unclear, and emotional needs are frequently unmet. This can create an environment that fosters codependency and enables problematic behaviors like substance abuse. (O'Shea Brown, 2021).

Recognizing the signs of a dysfunctional family, such as chronic discord, emotional/physical abuse, or a lack of nurturing, is an important step in understanding the context in which substance use disorders may arise (Klostermann & O'Farrell, 2013). Healthcare practitioners can better support individuals and families in navigating the complexities of addiction recovery by gaining insight into family life and dynamics.

Printable Family Roles In Addiction Worksheet

Download this Family Roles In Addiction Worksheet to facilitate understanding and intervention in familial dynamics, promoting holistic approaches to addiction treatment for healthcare professionals.

How does drug and alcohol addiction affect the entire family?

The effects of drug and alcohol addiction ripple far beyond the individual struggling with the substance. Addiction can also wreak havoc on families and affect their loved ones, who may experience a range of emotional, psychological, and behavioral challenges as a result of their family member's addiction. Here's a closer look at how addiction impacts the entire family unit:

Disrupted communication

Addiction can make open and honest communication nearly impossible. The addict may lie or manipulate to hide their substance use, while family members may walk on eggshells to avoid conflict.

Emotional strain

Witnessing a loved one struggle with addiction can be emotionally draining. Family members may experience feelings of worry, anger, shame, and helplessness.

Financial burden

Addiction can be expensive. The addict may steal money or neglect financial responsibilities to support their habit. This creates financial strain for the entire family.

Enabling behaviors

Sometimes, in an attempt to maintain peace or avoid conflict, family members may unknowingly contribute to the addict's behavior. This could involve making excuses, providing money for drugs, or cleaning up after messes.

Increased risk of abuse

The stress and chaos of addiction can increase the risk of verbal, emotional, or even physical abuse within the family. Children raised in homes with addiction are especially vulnerable.

Impact on relationships

Addiction can be a family disease and damage relationships between family members. Trust gets broken, resentment builds, and social isolation can become a coping mechanism.

What are the roles of a dysfunctional family?

In dysfunctional families affected by addiction, family members - whether they may be spouses, parents, or siblings - may unconsciously adopt specific roles to cope with the instability and stress. These roles can become ingrained patterns of behavior that perpetuate the dysfunction and hinder the family's ability to practice conflict resolution. Understanding these roles can help healthcare practitioners provide more targeted support and intervention.

The addict

This is the family member struggling with a substance use disorder. Their behaviors are often centered around obtaining and using the substance despite negative consequences. They may project feelings of blame and experience denial, manipulation, and a lack of responsibility for their actions, which can further disrupt the family dynamics.

The enabler

We begin with the enabler as the first of the six family roles in addiction beyond the person who abuses a substance. The enabler is a family member who, through their actions or inactions, allows the addict to continue their substance abuse with fewer consequences. This might involve covering up for their behaviors, providing financial support, or making excuses for them. Enablers act out of love, fear, or a desire to keep the peace but also reinforce the addiction in the process.

The hero

The hero is usually someone who overachieves and appears responsible and successful. They strive to bring a sense of normalcy and accomplishment to the family to counterbalance the chaos of addiction. The hero strives to "fix" the situation or the addict. They may take on excessive responsibility, excel in school or work to compensate for the addict's shortcomings, or try to control the situation through ultimatums or threats. This often leads to burnout and resentment.

The caretaker

Caretakers take it upon themselves to keep the family functional, emotionally support every member, and often put their own needs last. They are the peacemakers and the emotional backbone of the family, constantly trying to soothe tensions and maintain a positive appearance. They may be overly involved in the addict's well-being and try to control the situation.

The scapegoat

The scapegoat is the family member who is often blamed for the family’s problems, detracting attention from the person with the addiction. This role typically involves acting out or displaying negative behaviors, leading to further distraction from the underlying issues of addiction. This can further lead to low self-esteem and rebellious behavior.

The mascot

The mascot role is played by a family member who uses humor or childlike behavior to diffuse tension and distract from the family's problems. This role can prevent other members of the family from addressing the underlying issues. The mascot uses humor as a coping mechanism to deal with the stress and pain within the family. By making light of the situation, the mascot seeks to relieve tension and bring some sense of joy or normalcy to the family dynamic.

The lost child

The lost child is the silent, withdrawn member who avoids family conflicts and issues related to the addiction. They find solace in being socially isolated, becoming invisible within the family to cope with the neglect and lack of emotional connection. Members in the lost child role may cope by becoming self-sufficient, engaging in solitary activities, or being emotionally detached.

How does our Family Roles In Addiction Worksheet work?

Our Family Roles In Addiction Worksheet serves as a valuable tool for addiction therapists to seek understanding and healing within families affected by substance use disorders. Here is a step-by-step guide to make the most out of this template:

Step 1: Introduce the concept of family roles

Begin by explaining to the whole family that in dysfunctional families affected by addiction, members often unconsciously take on specific roles to cope with the instability and stress. These roles can become ingrained patterns of behavior that further perpetuate the dysfunction.

Step 2: Identify the roles

Present the family with a list of the common dysfunctional family roles, such as the Addict, Enabler, Hero, Caretaker, Scapegoat, Mascot, and Lost Child. Encourage each member to reflect on which role they feel they have adopted or which roles they observe in their family. Note that some members may also play multiple roles in the family.

Step 3: Explore the characteristics of each role

For each role identified, have the family members focus on and describe the behaviors, thought patterns, and coping mechanisms associated with that role. Discuss how these roles may have developed as a way to manage the family's dysfunction.

Step 4: Recognize the impact of the roles

Guide the family in understanding how the adopted roles can perpetuate the addiction and hinder the family's ability to address the underlying issues. Emphasize the importance of breaking free from these ingrained patterns.

Step 5: Develop strategies for change

Encourage the family to brainstorm ways they can begin to shift their roles, rebuild relationships, and establish healthier dynamics. This may involve setting boundaries, improving communication, seeking support, and addressing the root causes of the addiction.

Step 6: Provide resources and support

Offer the family guidance on accessing additional resources and professional help, such as family therapy, support groups, or educational materials, to help them navigate the recovery process and create a more nurturing, stable environment.

Family Roles in Addiction Worksheet PDF example (sample)

Our Family Roles In Addiction Worksheet PDF outlines and explores the roles that family members often adopt in response to addiction. It provides insight into the dynamics at play and offers a foundation for therapeutic intervention. This can be especially helpful in recovery planning and family therapy. Our template is then optimized for both printed and digital use.

If this tool is helpful for your practice, check out a filled-out sample of this worksheet to serve as a guide for your clients. See the preview or download this as a PDF by clicking on the link below!

Download this free Family Roles in Addiction Worksheet PDF example here

Family Roles in Addiction Worksheet PDF example (sample)

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Fairfield Behavioral Health Sciences. (2019). Roles in addiction. Fairfield Behavioral Health Sciences.

Klostermann, K., & O'Farrell, T. J. (2013). Treating substance abuse: partner and family approaches. Social work in public health, 28(3-4), 234–247.

O’Shea Brown, G. (2021). Dysfunctional family systems. In: Healing complex posttraumatic stress disorder. Essential Clinical Social Work Series. Springer, Cham.

Why do family members adopt these roles?
Why do family members adopt these roles?

Commonly asked questions

Why do family members adopt these roles?

Family members adopt these roles as coping mechanisms to deal with the uncertainty, stress, and emotional turmoil that come with addiction. These roles often emerge subconsciously as individuals try to provide stability, avoid conflict, or divert attention from the addiction.

Are these roles unique to substance addiction?

No. These roles can emerge in any family dealing with chronic stress or dysfunction, including mental health issues, chronic illness, or behavioral addictions. They are strategies to cope with emotional pain and instability.

Can these roles change over time?

Yes. As family dynamics evolve and individuals within the family grow or respond differently to the addiction, their roles can change. Therapy and family healing processes can also lead to a shift in roles as healthier coping mechanisms are developed.

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