What is an addiction?
There are many, many definitions of addiction. Most definitions share three characteristics:
1) A person feels compelled to participate in a particular behavior,
2) This behavior disconnects the person from their life, relationships and work, and
3) Faced with negative consequences of this behavior, a person is unable to stopped the behavior.
There is one significant difference between someone who is addicted and someone who is not. When an addicted person has a problem due to his addictive behavior, he doesn’t change his addictive behavior.
Addiction in the Family
What is enabling?
Enabling is doing for others what they are capable of doing for themselves. When we enable addicts, we prevent them from experiencing the consequences of their own actions. When we do this, we discourage them from learning from their own mistakes which, in turn, prevents them from realizing they have a problem.
The addict has made addiction their whole life. The normal, natural things every person needs to learn have been put aside. When we continue to reach in and do even the simple things for people we love, how will they learn to do for themselves?
How do we enable?
We enable addicts by doing things such as:
Paying their bills, making car payments, covering bounced checks, paying bail, paying traffic tickets;
Making excuses for their behavior, changing appointments, calling employers on absenteeism, writing late or absentee excuses to schools, covering up for missed family functions;
Providing the addict with money, clothing, housing and food;
Caring for the addict’s family by allowing them to live with us, taking their children to school, babysitting, etc.
What does enabling do for us?
Enabling gives us a false sense of control. We do what society tells us a "good" father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter or friend should do, but we are not getting the results we desire. We feel frustrated and resentful. Because the addict’s behavior does not change, we think we have failed.
Our actions, done with the best of intentions, have back-fired. We have not helped the addicted. The addicted is farther away from accepting their hopelessness and personal responsibility
What is the difference between helping and enabling?
We need to look deep inside ourselves to determine the difference between helping and enabling. "How do I feel when I offer my help? What’s in it for me?" Checking your motives will help you decide when you are truly helping or when you are enabling.
Can you enable an addict (or anyone) who is not using?
We can enable anyone, using or not. Our enabling behavior patterns are not directed solely toward the addict and/or the addict’s sobriety. Enabling deprives anyone of experiencing the consequences of their own behavior to have personal responsibility.
Remember, when taking personal responsibility for our own behavior each one of us must find our own path. Experience teaches us that it is useless to lay out a path for someone else to follow. We must each make our own way to our goal.
When we enable, we put other people’s needs before our own.
Here are a few ways that addiction impacts a family.
Addicted parents are distracted.
Let’s face it. An addicted person is much more interested in their addiction than they are with almost anything else. Children need attention and care from their parents. If a parent’s attention is focused on something other than the child, the child might never get the care he or she needs to develop a healthy sense of self. Further, human predators (sexual and physical abusers, pornographers, kidnappers, etc.) prey almost primarily on children whose parents are distracted. Further, distracted parents are less likely to notice the change in their children after a human predator has hurt them.
An addict uses up family resources.
Often when a person becomes addicted, the family rallies to help the addict get back on track. They might pay for alcohol and drug treatment and attorneys to clean up the wreckage created by the addiction. They might spend month’s worrying, caring, and attempting to help their family member “recover”. Still, every family has finite resources and addiction is not s
omething that is easily solved. More times than not, as the addict works through their individual recovery including multiple relapses, legal involvement, loss of work or what ever path his addiction takes. Eventually, a family’s resources – including money, patience, kindness and time – are used up. In the meantime, as the family focuses on rescuing an addicted person, family resources are taken from other children, siblings and relationships. This leaves children without their parent’s attention, siblings disconnected from sibling support, and parents separated from each other. Families, who use all their resources helping the addict, are left with only exhaustion, frustration and financial strain.
For every addict there is a codependency.
Co-dependent people are the nicest people you will ever meet. They are giving and loving. In fact, that’s the problem. A co-dependent person will give of himself/herself until all of his/her personal resources are gone. Often he/she will change himself/herself to become what he/she believes you want him/her to be. Inside, a co-dependent person usually feels invisible, unworthy and completely alone. He/She might believe that he/she will only be loved for what he/she does, instead of who he/she is. HE/She will then exhaust himself/herself doing and never understand if someone loves him/her. His/Her internal world is filled with resentment, self-loathing, shame and anxiety. At his/her worst, he/she must control every person, place and thing in his/her life.
Who becomes co-dependent?
Children and families of addicts.
Playing a role for life
Addicted families organize around addiction. Children know to look for their parents at the bar. Wives work to support their alcoholic husbands. Husbands buy drugs to keep their addicted wives “happy”. Children who grow up in alcoholic and addicted families learn to behave in predictable roles to keep the family functioning. Addicted family roles include: the scapegoat, little parent, hero, mascot, chief enabler, and lost child.
Most children, who grow up playing one of these family roles, continue in that role as adults. Children who played the role of mascot become adults who struggle for someone to take them seriously. Many family heroes get to the end of medical school, law school or business school and wonder “Is this all there is?”. The child who is the family scapegoat will grow up to be scapegoated at work. Lost children often disappear from families never to return. And little parents often choose not to have children, significant relationships or long term work because they are exhausted from raising their siblings.
These roles are most often seen in the workplace because we tend to recreate our childhood environments at work. Lost children are usually the people who get “forgotten” on their birthday and overlooked for promotions. The work hero is the person who strives to be the very best employee the company has ever had. While the mascot’s ideas are never taken seriously, he does continue to facilitate fun and games. Of course, the little parent sends around birthday cards and arranges the work picnic. We have all seen the chief enabler working late, never saying “no” and facilitating even the most unreasonable deadline. Remember that guy that “needed to be fired” so that everyone else’s job was better? Well, after he was fired, someone else took his place as the scapegoat. It happens every time.
Children of alcoholics and addicts will continue to act out their family role as adults. If you see yourself in any of these descriptions, you are probably continuing to act out your childhood role as an adult. This only leads to disrupted relationships, difficulties at work and long term unhappiness. Further, many people suffer and stay stuck rather than shift their family role.
How to heal
Addicted families have their own set of problems. In order to heal, you must first acknowledge the addiction. Talk with your family. Other family members may be ready to talk about it.
Look at your childhood family role. Are you continuing to act that out? These roles were very adaptive when you were a child growing up in an alcoholic or addicted household. Playing your role helped you fit into the family and survive. As an adult, this role is no longer necessary or helpful.
Once you have acknowledged that you are playing a role, it is important to learn and understand why you are playing this particular role. Spend some time reviewing material about addicted family roles. Use your journal to write about the disadvantages of playing one of these roles and the advantages to not being authentic. Look at your extended family. What other roles do people play? Who plays a role similar to yourself?
Some prefer to adopt the motto “Never look back.” Others cling to the past or use it as an excuse for today’s dramas. This can be good or bad, depending on the situation.
Though often unrealized, help for codependency, alcohol and drug addiction should many time be a family affair. As people read through the addiction family roles presented they can often identify the person in their life who plays each role. Roles though present in situations without addiction, often become more apparent when an addict is present. Members will unknowingly take on specific stereotypes that can many times be classified as:
The Lost Child.
The Caretaker (Enabler).
The following information on each role, defines how many people are instructed when taking basic steps to begin overcoming roles individually. Each role is given a brief description for understanding one basis of family addiction recovery. A summary follows with information on how and why the roles lead to codependency. In a more functioning household, children often move fluidly between roles. When a parent is addicted to alcohol or drugs, the entire family is set up around the addict and their addiction. Children tend to follow designated roles as the family acts out the drama of addiction. Children develop these roles due to family dynamics. For a child in an addicted household, he or she will usually only fulfill one role. The parents and family will not acknowledge any behavior outside this family role.
So what are addicted family roles?
Addiction and the Family Role 1, The Addict
The person with the addiction is the center, and though the key to alcohol and drug addiction recovery, not necessarily the most important in family recovery. The "world" revolves around this person, causing the addict to become the center of attention. As the roles are defined, the others unconsciously take on the rest of the roles to complete the balance after the problem has been introduced. Recovery many times on this person.
Addiction and the Family Role 2, The Hero
The Hero is the one who needs to make the family, and role players, look good. They ignore the problem and present things in a positive manner as if the roles within the family did not exist. The Hero is the perfectionist. If they overcome this role they can play an important part in the addiction recovery process.
The underlying feelings are fear, guilt, and shame. Hero. This child fulfills the family values. If the family values emphasize the need for advanced education and careers, this child can be the perfect student. If the family values are criminal in nature, this child can become a professional criminal. Addicted parents often brag about the hero child.
Inside, the hero feels tremendous pressure to achieve. It feels as if the entire family is depending on them to be successful. They will often put aside their needs in order to achieve. This child is particularly vulnerable to addiction due to the disconnection from himself/herself.
Addiction and the Family Role 3, The Mascot
The Mascot’s role is that of the jester. They will often make inappropriate jokes about the those involved. Though they do bring humor to the family roles, it is often harmful humor, and they sometimes hinder addiction recovery.
The underlying feelings are embarrassment, shame, and anger. Mascot. This is the fun and funny child. They are the life of the party. In fact, many family occasions cannot begin until the mascot arrives. The mascot child often “lights up” the room.
Inside, the mascot is terrified of family conflict. This child feels responsible for everyone getting along and will often intercede in family arguments with jokes to distract from the argument. While popular in school, this child struggles with any form of intimate relationship due to their fear of conflict.
Addiction and the Family Role 4, The Lost Child
The Lost Child is the silent, "out of the way" family member, and will never mention alcohol or recovery. They are quiet and reserved, careful to not make problems. The Lost Child gives up self needs and makes efforts to avoid any conversation regarding the underlying roles.
The underlying feelings are guilt, loneliness, neglect, and anger.
This is the forgotten child. The lost child is often left places or otherwise forgotten. In turn, this child becomes involved in their own world of books, fantasy or television. A lost child may have an entire world filled with friends and activities that the family knows nothing about.
Inside, the lost child feels very sad and alone. She is invisible to almost everyone in the family. Often, in adulthood, the lost child may completely disconnect from the family literally creating her own world.
Addiction and the Family Role 5, The Scapegoat
The Scapegoat often acts out in front of others. They will rebel, make noise, and divert attention from the person who is addicted and their need for help in addiction recovery. The Scapegoat covers or draws attention away from the real problem.
The underlying feelings are shame, guilt, and empty. o Scapegoat. This is the
problem child; the child who absorbs the family conflict. As a young child, the scapegoat might be blamed for things that he has not control over. This teaches the child that they will be in trouble no matter what they do. Therefore, by adolescence, the scapegoat acts out the family anger through aggressive acts, criminal behavior and difficulties in school. This child seems to always be in trouble.
Inside, the scapegoat feels hopeless and trapped. There is very little this child can do without getting into trouble. The scapegoat believes that something is significantly wrong with him.
Addiction and the Family Role 6, The Caretaker (Enabler)
The Caretaker (Enabler) makes all the other roles possible. They try to keep everyone happy and the family in balance, void of the issue. They make excuses for all behaviors and actions, and never mention addiction recovery or getting help. The Caretaker (Enabler) presents a situation without problems to the public.
The underlying feelings are inadequacy, fear, and helplessness.
As with any recovery, it is sometimes necessary and helpful to gather information, to better understand what others are seeing or feeling. For a family, information and help must be sought for the whole family before the recovery can be complete. Information and understanding may be all that are necessary to bring about recovery, but a specialist might also be necessary, since there may be grief and loss to overcome in the process. The quiz section outlines some of the negative effects roles have and leads into codependency.
The chief enabler is person who makes the addict’s life work. They generally absorb the consequences of the addict’s behavior. While the chief enabler is usually the other parent, it is not uncommon to have children fulfilling this role by working jobs to provide for the family, buying drugs or alcohol for the addicted parent, and enabling the addict to continue in his or her addiction.
Inside, the chief enabler feels very out of control. Their life revolves around the addict and the addict’s behavio
r. Because the chief enabler lives in response to another person, they are unable to live out their own wishes and dreams.
Addiction and the Family Role 6, Little Parent
This child usually functions as a surrogate parent. While the parent is immersed in their addiction, the little parent may take on the parenting of younger children and sometimes begin to parent the parents.
Inside the little parent feels overburdened by the responsibilities they have been given. While they gain esteem from the love they give and receive, they miss opportunities to be children themselves.
Addiction and the Family Roles – A Short Quiz
Healthy Family System:
Self worth is high.
Communication is direct, clear, specific and honest and feelings are expressed.
Rules are human, flexible and appropriate to change.
It is natural to link and be open to society.
Each person has goals and plans to get there, and should be supported by the family.
Rules in a dependent or addicted family
Dependents use of drug is the most important thing in a family life.
Drug use in not the cause of family problems, it is denial which is the root.
Blaming others, don’t make mention of it, covering up, alibis, loyalty of family enables.
Nobody may discuss problem outside the family.
Nobody says what they feel or think.
If the second set of rules describes your family, please continue.
Family Roles Lead to Codependency
Addiction and the Family Roles How the They lead to Codependency
The parts played by family members lead to codependency. Members make decisions concerning what the other person needs. Codependency leads to aversion and lack of self orientation in a situation where an addiction is present. Ultimately people "become" the part they are playing.
The goal in alcohol and drug addiction recovery is to bring each member as a whole into a situation where the problems can be dealt with. Individual talents and abilities should be integrated into the situation, allowing emotional honesty about the situation, without guilt or punishment.
The overall goal in overcoming codependency is to make each person whole. That wholeness is only truly found in accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.
People become familiar with and dependent on the role they play in families. In overcoming the family roles, you will begin to overcome issues, and what could be classified as the addiction to the role. While the conquering of the substance is important to the person with the addiction. A point to remember is the substance(s) is not the key to family recovery, removing the underlying roles are.
In beginning recovery, each family member must become proactive against the addiction to the role, and learn to become their true self. The goal is for each to person to become independent, and then approach the substance addiction recovery as a group of individuals, rather than as people playing a part. Whole, independent people can freely contribute to the recovery of the person overcoming the addiction, while a person playing a part can only perform the role.
Begin with yourself.
Find, and write a list of your strengths and weaknesses.
Build on what you have.
Let go of trying to be perfect and realize all people have some weaknesses.
A true person utilizes strengths, while building up their weaknesses.
Addiction recovery for the co-dependent role, is tough. You must be personally honest and decide what you like or dislike. This may be as simple as defining how you wish things were, without playing the part, and adding support or friends in areas, or as encompassing as rethinking the path of your life.
Refraining from forcing yourself to engage in activities, because of the codependency, is important to successful recovery from the addiction. There are many resources for co-dependent roles and overcoming these roles. Please, be honest in deciding if you have an addiction to a specific role in a relationship and find resources to help you in your recovery.
As you begin to understand, breaking the family role should become easier. Remember to be understanding of others also.
How much a family is affected by a substance use problem depends on how long they have lived with it, how advanced it is, how much shame and secrecy surround it, and the roles and responsibilities of the person with the disorder. If the problem is left untreated, family members will also develop destructive behaviors, such as denial, enabling, and co-dependency.
Because certain behaviors become routine, you may have trouble seeing how unhealthy they are, and how they contribute to the problem.
Denial occurs when family members do not recognize, or refuse to admit, that substance use is causing serious health, work, school, relationship, or financial problems. Family members are prone to denial about how serious the problem is, how it has "spread" through the family and affected family relationships, and how they themselves may contribute to the problem. As addiction in the family becomes more severe, the family’s denial may also, until the truth becomes so obvious and the crises so dramatic that denial doesn’t work anymore.
Enabling includes behaviors by family members that allow people with substance use problems to avoid the negative consequences of their actions. It can include many things, such as:
collecting money from family and friends to pay the person’s bills.
repeatedly covering up for someone at work.
moving someone when they pass out in the living room.
- staying silent in the face of repeated inappropriate or destructive behavior.
Enabling can be done by parents, siblings, co-workers, supervisors, neighbors, friends, teachers, doctors, or therapists. Although enabling begins as a way to protect the person from harm, the enabler eventually becomes part of the problem.
Like enabling, the term co-dependency refers to being over-involved in another person’s life, having a preoccupation with other people’s behavior and a sense of guilt when not tending to the other person’s needs. the "rules of codependency" as the following:
It’s not OK for me to feel.
It’s not OK for me to have problems
It’s not OK for me to have fun.
I’m not lovable
I’m not good enough.
If people act bad or crazy, I’m responsible.
In His Grace Forever,
Teddy Awad, CMHP
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