Alcoholism or any type of addiction affects everyone in the family in some way. Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, a respected expect in the field of addictions and codependency, identified six primary roles in an alcoholic family as a way to highlight the effects of alcoholism on the alcoholics spouse and children.
You’ve probably heard it from at least one alcohol rehab center in Denver, alcoholism affects everyone. Some people may be affected by friends, and some people may be directly impacted by their own families. Below describes each person’s role in such a family situation. Understanding these roles may help someone encourage recovery, or go to recovery themselves.
I want to preface this article by saying that I know that labeling people doesn’t usually feel good and often it isn’t accurate. However, it can be useful in getting a general picture of the common dynamics in families dealing with addiction. Like anything else, please take the aspects of these family roles that apply to you and your family and leave the rest. Individuals and family systems are complex. In reality, people don’t fall neatly into categories. You may have played more than one role at different times in your life or you may identify with a combination of these traits and coping strategies.
Addicts having varying degrees of functioning or fulfilling their responsibilities. For most, addiction progresses with the quantity and frequency of their drug or alcohol use increasing. Drugs and alcohol become the primary way the addict copes with problems and uncomfortable feelings. Over time, addicts burn bridges and become isolated. Their lives revolve around alcohol and drugs – getting more, using, and recovering. They blame others for their problems, can be angry and critical, unpredictable, and don’t seem to care about how their actions affect others. We could also substitute other forms of addiction or dysfunction (sex addiction, gambling, unmanaged mental health problems) for drug or alcohol addiction and the dynamics are virtually the same.
The Enabler (Caretaker)
The enabler tries to reduce harm and danger through enabling behaviors such as making excuses or doing things for the addict. The enabler denies that alcohol/drugs are a problem. The enabler tries to control things and hold the family together through deep denial and avoidance of problems. The enabler goes to extremes to ensure that family secrets are kept and that the rest of world views them as a happy, well-functioning family. The enabler is often the addict’s spouse, but it can also be a child.
The hero is an overachiever, perfectionist, and extremely responsible. This child looks like he has it all together. He tries to bring esteem to the family through achieving and external validation. He’s hard working, serious, and wants to feel in control. Heroes put a lot of pressure on themselves, they’re highly stressed, often workaholics with Type A personalities.