May 31, 2021 Addiction

Families With An Addicted Loved One

Families of an addicted loved one may struggle in getting help for themselves. It’s not selfish to get support for yourself, as a matter of fact, it’s helpful and can make a huge difference. Whether or not your loved one has accepted treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, you can help yourself.

Millions of family members have been where you are.  You’re not alone. An important part of moving forward is to connect with others that have been in similar situations.  Hearing their stories of hope will help sustain you.

Why is addiction considered a “family” disease?

The disease of addiction is considered a family disease because the effects are far-reaching. Imagine family as a garden.  Each member has a unique role, purpose, and importance in the garden.  If a pest or animal gets into the garden- all plants are impacted.  The soil becomes dry, the plants begin to wilt, and before you know it the entire garden is sick.  Re-building a garden is a tedious and tiring process, but the rewards can be endless.

With addiction, the entire family can feel a sense of anxiety, fear, and irritability. This can create conflict and dysfunction. In other words, it’s not just the addicted person that suffers- everyone close to them does as well.

What dynamics develop in the addicted family?

Living with or loving someone with an addiction can leave the entire family feeling traumatized, on-edge, stressed, or isolated. Similar to veterans of war, each family member lives in a state of heightened stress, which wreaks havoc on physical and mental health.

In response to this increased stress and panic, each family member attempts to manage and cope the best they can.  Certain roles may develop as a result. Some family members will overcompensate, while others will isolate, or become rescuers.

Two friends having a conversation.

Roles in the Addicted Family

Here are a few of the most common roles played by family members in response to living with addiction. Keep in mind that family members may bounce between roles depending on circumstances.

The addicted loved one

  • Alcohol and drugs become the primary way to cope with problems and difficult feelings. In turn, they will stop at nothing to supply this need, resulting in negative behaviors.
  • Often viewed as “getting all of the attention”
  • Struggles with honesty to support their drug use
  • Family plans change due to crises involving this person (i.e. vacations, weddings)

The “Facilitator”

  • This person serves as a protector and denier, and their main function is “rescuer.”
  • They may unintentionally reinforce negative behaviors by doing for them what they can and should be doing for themselves.
  • They may have a parent with addiction and learned this behavior in childhood.
  • Comes from a need to feel important, no matter the cost.
  • Often a parent, grandparent, or spouse

The “Hero”

  • Tries to create peace within the family by overcompensating and perfectionism
  • Successful in almost everything, and doesn’t take mistakes lightly
  • Often does things for people without being asked
  • Draws attention away
  • Often a sibling
  • Has a false belief: “If I’m good, they won’t notice them”

The “Scapegoat”

  • The person who gets blamed for the whole family’s problems
  • Deflects attention by creating problems or “drama”
  • May perform poorly at school or work and get in trouble
  • May use substances
  • Their mistakes are often seen as a complete failure
  • Often says “nothing I do is good enough”

The “Mascot”

  • Class clown
  • Deflects stress by supplying humor
  • Sometimes the youngest child
  • Desperate for the approval of others
  • Vulnerable and fragile
  • Tries to ease tension and keep the peace

The “Lost Child”

  • Typically the middle or youngest in the family
  • Shy and withdrawn
  • Feel invisible
  • If there’s a fight or disagreement, they seclude themselves
  • Perceived as “good” because they stay out of the way and cause no problems
  • They are not always successful at avoiding family problems
  • Their goal is to avoid stress, and this breeds avoidance behaviors throughout life

The “Persecutor”

  • This person attempts to “fix” problems through control or “tough love”
  • Believes punishment will cure addiction
  • Often has their own history of substance use and were able to stop abruptly, without help
  • Becomes isolated from the family
  • Is actually very deeply hurt and doesn’t know how to help

Where to go for help: Families of addicted loved ones

ACA: Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families

ACA is a 12-step program for adults coping with the effects of neglect, abuse, and trauma in childhood. This is a great resource for those that grew up with an alcoholic parent.

Al-Anon Family Groups

Al-Anon is the sister program to Alcoholics Anonymous and was created by the wife of AA’s co-founder, Lois Wilson. Al-anon focuses on supportive family members or loved ones of an alcoholic.

Al-Ateen exists within the Al-anon structure and supports teens affected by a loved one’s alcoholism.   Ages 13-18 can participate in chat groups, meetings, conferences, and other activities meant to provide support.


Nar-Anon is the sister program to Narcotics Anonymous. It is a 12-step fellowship for the family and friends of addicts.

Co-Dependents Anonymous (CODA)

CODA is a 12-step program focused on helping those identifying as codependent with healthy and satisfying relationships.

SMART Recovery Family and Friends

SMART Recovery is not a 12-step program and helps concerned family and friends develop tools to support their loved ones.

Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL)

Parents of Addicted Loved ones provides hope and support through addiction education for parents dealing with an addicted loved one.

Chapter 9 Couples in Recovery Anonymous

Chapter 9 Couples in Recovery Anonymous is a 12-step program founded in 1982. Couples, as well as individuals in relationships, are welcome. The only requirements for membership are that the partners are in a committed relationship and that at least one partner is in another 12-step fellowship.

National Alliance on Mental Illness Family Groups (NAMI)

NAMI Family Support Group is a peer-led support group for any adult with a loved one who has experienced symptoms of a mental health condition, including addiction. Gain insight from the challenges and successes of others facing similar experiences. There are groups all over the country, in all 50 states.