How Can I Better Support a Family Member in Recovery?

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Family dynamics change when substance abuse affects one person within the family unit. Members often take on one of five roles that are not conducive to a healthy recovery. As the situations worsen and it becomes more apparent that the individual struggling needs to seek treatment, the family dynamics can disintegrate even more. Educating yourself on addiction, the role that family plays in it, and being a supportive unit for your loved one will help you regain a sense of connection and communication between your family. 

Family Roles in Active Addiction

Substance abuse is a shock, which is why it is understandable for families affected by it to become dysfunctional and, at times, toxic. As the situation progresses, family members will most likely unconsciously take on one of five roles that worsen the situation. These roles are as follows:

The Hero

The hero is the person that takes on the responsibility of achieving and exceeding, despite what is happening around them. They don’t want to disappoint their family because of the already tricky situation involving substance abuse, so they work their hardest to ensure the person struggling still comes off as pleasing to everyone else in the family. It is not uncommon for this person to struggle themselves, often living in denial and feeling as though they are empty due to the troubling situation their family is in.

The Enabler

The enabler is the person living in denial, often covering for the person struggling, so they don’t have to reap the consequences of their addiction. They work their hardest to protect the person and the family by convincing themselves that their loved one doesn’t have a problem. They will often pick up the slack left by the addicted person so things still appear normal, or as normal as they can be. 

The Mascot

The mascot is the person that does their best to improve the situation and lift everyone’s spirits by using humor. The individual who takes on this role is often the most vulnerable of the family, wanting others’ approval so desperately that they do their best to put on a happy face despite the problematic situation. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for mascots to get older and turn to self-medication with drugs or alcohol. This continues the cycle of addiction in the family. 

The Scapegoat

The scapegoat is the person that everyone blames for the problems within the family unit. They take the brunt of the family’s anger and disappointment, often acting as a barrier between the family and the person struggling. As they get older, they may also engage in unpleasant behaviors. Men usually act out in violent ways while women run away or engage in unsafe sex. 

The Lost Child

This person is often unseen by the rest of the family, not having much attention from their siblings and parents. This results from the substance abuse that impacts the family, but it also affects the person who takes on this role. Over time, they tend to have trouble getting close to others and making decisions. Many lost children end up alone, isolating themselves from others. 

How Do I Break Out of My Role and Help My Loved One?

Most families that are impacted by substance abuse take on these roles. It is a natural response to something so shocking as you learn how to cope with your new reality. 

The first course of action you should take is meeting with a therapist, addiction counselor, or other health professionals who can teach you about addiction, its role in people’s lives, and how to support someone going through it. Education is the most powerful tool you can have because it allows you to understand your loved one. From there, you can learn how to take care of yourself and support them by attending support groups, family counseling, or meeting with a therapist on your own time. This way, you can become supportive in a healthy way for your family member and yourself. 

Remember to ensure you are taking care of your mental health first because you can’t help anyone when you are suffering. You cannot pour from an empty cup, so make sure you are stable enough to start supporting your loved one. 

Family members who find out their loved ones struggle with substance abuse often go into a state of shock. From there, the different family members may begin to subconsciously take on roles that are unhealthy to their loved one’s healing. The positions taken on by family members can often make the situation worse. There are typically five different roles that families take on: the hero, the enabler, the mascot, the scapegoat, and the lost child. Learning about these roles and how you may be acting within one of them can help you open your eyes and educate yourself to better support your loved one. It is essential to get help for yourself and learn to cope with your feelings. You can do this by attending support groups, family counseling, or seeing a therapist on your own time. The best thing you can do is meet with an addiction specialist or other mental health professional to learn about addiction and how you can be a supportive family member in the proper way. At Everlast Recovery Centers, we have seen our fair share of broken family dynamics when substance abuse hits. We can help you get your life back on track and help your loved one. Call us today at 866-DETOX-25.

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