It’s often said that addiction is a family disease. Addiction doesn’t just affect the person with the substance use issue. It affects everyone close to her, and especially her family. Addiction makes you unpredictable and unreliable. The people around you constantly have to guess which you they’re getting. That can be especially stressful for children. There are certain roles that are common when living with someone with addiction.
The enabler is usually the partner or spouse. This is the person who takes care of what the addicted person neglects. The enabler calls into work to say the addicted person is sick when she’s really hungover and takes care of her responsibilities. The enabler has often learned this behavior from growing up in a house with addiction and taking care of her parents and siblings to keep everything going smoothly.
The hero is typically the oldest child. She’s an overachiever who works hard and gets good grades. She is often very responsible and takes care of her younger siblings. The hero is often a perfectionist and feels like if she works hard enough, she can keep the family together and create a normal life for herself and her siblings. Unfortunately, this puts an unfair amount of stress on the child, and she may be prone to anxiety and depression.
The scapegoat is usually the second oldest child. She is the one who gets blamed when things go wrong. And in families with addiction, plenty goes wrong. She sometimes resents the positive attention the hero gets and my respond by being rebellious, acting out, and doing poorly in school. In a perverse way, criticizing the scapegoat brings the family together. This only obscures the real problem in the family. The scapegoat may run away or become violent.
The mascot is usually the youngest child. While the hero tries to hold the ship together and scapegoat deflects blame from the addicted parent, the mascot tries to ease the tension with humor. The mascot often feels vulnerable and desperately needs validation from others. He uses humor not only to relieve tension in the family, but also to avoid feeling his own fear and pain.
The lost child
The lost child is usually the middle or youngest child. Her strategy is to avoid drawing attention. She is often shy, withdrawn, and prefers to spend time alone.
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