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Dysfunctional Family Roles: Growing Up With Addiction

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Growing up in a dysfunctional home with an addict or alcoholic can take a toll on a child’s emotional, physical, and cognitive development. When addiction is present in the home, dysfunctional family roles begin to play a part. Children will take on many different roles to cope with the unstable behavior surrounding them.  These dysfunctional family roles can lead to long term emotional problems as young teens and adults, relationship issues, and a potential problem with drug addiction and/or alcoholism.

Dysfunctional Family Roles

The dysfunctional family roles a child will use to cope with the environment and substance abuse of the addict and alcoholic will depend on the level of dysfunction in the home. Some children who play out these dysfunctional family roles may be introverted about what is going on in their lives, while others may be extroverted. Many children may engage in multiple dysfunctional family roles at different times in their life until they learn healthier coping habits. Let’s take a look at some of the dysfunctional family roles children may take on to cope with the stress of alcoholism and drug addiction in the home.

The Enabler or People Pleaser

One of the stronger dysfunctional family roles is the care taker and protector. They assume the household responsibilities and take care of the substance abuser, as well as other family members, including siblings.  The enabler is emotionally attached to the addict or alcoholic.  They have the intense desire to fix the problem and many times feel that the household will fall without their help. They may grow up with feelings of self-pity, low self-esteem, and codependency.

Traits of the dysfuntional family roles, the enabler: inability to receive, denies personal needs, high tolerance for inappropriate behavior, strong need for acceptance, avoids conflicts, false sense of guilt, anxious, and high anxiety.

The Hero

The dysfuntional family roles of the perfectionist will work hard in hopes that their accomplishments will make the family normal and seem less dysfunctional.  They are always seeking approval by being overly polite, strong willed, and following the rules.  They are the over achievers, but usually suffer from an inferiority complex.

Traits of the dysfuntional family roles, the hero: perfectionists, difficulty listening, anxious, inflexible, unwilling to ask for help, fearful of mistakes, control issues.

The Adjuster or Isolator

This is the child who disappears into their room or isolates from family and friends.  This child may display behaviors of that of an introvert. They may also find a healthy family or friend to escape to.  This child’s escape may also be some kind of fantasy world through video games, TV, or even make believe friends. They are quiet, shy, and withdrawn.  This child may grow up with extreme social phobias, and with a strong fear of people, places, and ideas.

Traits of the adjuster: followers, withdraws, fear of decisions, lack of direction, irrational thoughts, emotionally unstable, unable to set boundaries, and codependent.

The Scapegoat

This is the child that seems to get in trouble or is always messing up.  They may on purpose or inadvertently divert attention from the dysfunction taking place at home. They are disobedient and defiant with authority figures and friends.  They are usually full of anger, pain, and rage. This child may seek out drugs or alcohol much sooner than the other family roles.

Traits of the dysfuntional family roles, scapegoat: inappropriate expression of anger, inability to follow direction ns, self-destructive, intrusive, irresponsible, social problems, defiant, and rebellious.

The Mascot

They are the joker, class clown, or entertainer.  They are extremely immature and insecure, and use inappropriate joking to cope with stress or dysfunctional behaviors. They cannot cope with their feelings and will try to mask it with humor to cover the pain.

Traits of the dysfuntional family roles,the mascot: attention seeker, easily distracted, immature, difficulty focusing, poor decision making abilities, rarely serious, and uses jokes to cope with stress.

Adult Children Of Alcoholics Addicts

Children who act out in dysfunctional family roles and grow up in a home where substance abuse is prevalent will have a greater chance of growing up with substance abuse problems.  Dysfunctional family roles may be missed if one is not aware of the signs and symptoms associated with dysfunctional family roles. Many children will play different roles at different times throughout their lives, there is no one set role for how to cope with a dysfunctional home life. Many children as a adults may even display addict/alcoholic behaviors even if they are physically not addicted. They can become addicted to unhealthy people, behaviors, or even chaos.

How To Recover From Dysfunctional Family Roles

Children who grow up in an addicted home, and have taken on dysfunctional family roles, can recover.  There are many support groups out there to help those who have been affected or are being affected by addiction and dysfunctional behaviors like Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA), Alanon/Alateen (sister programs of Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) to name a few. Connecting with outside resources like therapy, support groups, and those who understand will help the healing process take place so that a normal way of living can be obtained. The Watershed also has a Family Outreach Program to help our alumni and their family members in recovery because we understand that addiction doesn’t just affect the addict or alcoholic. If you know someone struggling with addiction and feel like you may have one of the dysfunctional family roles, give us a call today, we can help you heal: 1-800-853-1614.

Written By: Watershed Ashling

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