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The early stages of addiction can place a lot of stress on other members of a family, resulting in unhealthy coping skills. But soon, this can become the new normal for a family. When the individual seeks treatment or successfully completes treatment, families can fight to maintain that homeostasis, and dysfunctional behaviours can remain.
Family members can experience common issues and fill similar roles to cope with addiction. Two of the most common problems are co-dependency and enabling.
Co-dependency occurs when a family member is controlled by the addict’s behaviour. Family members often feel compelled to take care of the addict to the detriment of their own wants and needs. The co-dependent is excessively compliant, wants to avoid rejection, is oversensitive and remains loyal.
Enabling takes place when someone helps or encourages the addict, either directly or indirectly. An enabler might also lie for the addict or hide the addict’s behaviour from loved ones.
To cope with the addict’s behaviour, family members can develop, to some degree, certain co-dependent roles.
The more well-known roles are:
The Hero: The hero tries to make the family look good, often by overachieving and being successful. This person seems balanced, but often feels isolated and unable to express his or her feelings.
The Mascot: The mascot tells jokes and keeps things on a superficial level to turn the focus away from the painful truth of the situation. Although this can distract others, the mascot is often fearful, embarrassed and angry.
The Scapegoat: The scapegoat engages in negative behaviour to turn attention away from the addict or to react to positive attention that the hero receives. The scapegoat often turns to high-risk behaviours.
The Lost Child: The lost child is the family member who withdraws from the situation. He or she cares deeply, but emotionally checks out to avoid trouble and drama.
The Caretaker: The caretaker wants to make everyone happy and feels responsible for keeping the family going. As a result, the caretaker enables the addict by taking over the person’s problems and duties.
Family members play a critical role in the treatment process and are strongly encouraged to attend meetings at a support group, which can help them address their loved one’s addiction while also giving them the opportunity to interact with other families going through the recovery process.
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