When someone has a substance abuse problem, it not only affects them but the people who are in their life. Addiction can be tough on family members, friends, and co-workers. It can affect work performance, academics, and the ability to maintain relationships. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, “addiction stresses the family to the breaking point.” As the stages of substance abuse progress, it can cause unusual stress to the family dynamic. Family members may develop unhealthy behavior patterns in order to cope with their loved one’s addiction. Many times family members will also develop their own “family roles” as a way to cope with the addiction.

In this blog, explore the signs of addiction, the five family roles you might be playing in your addicted loved one’s life, and tips on how to find help for the addicted individual and yourself.


What is Addiction?

People with a substance abuse problem often have a complex brain condition that causes compulsive substance abuse despite the negative ramifications of using the alcohol or drug. The person with the addiction has an intense obsession with the alcohol or drug and will do anything to obtain it. It can get to the point of taking over their life and they continue to use even though it can cause problems.

Common symptoms of addiction include:

  • The inability to stop using alcohol or drugs
  • Continual use of alcohol or drugs despite negative health consequences
  • Using alcohol or drugs to deal with problems
  • Taking risks and participating in risky behavior
  • Initially taking large doses of alcohol or drugs and therefore having to increase use to get the same effect
  • Withdrawal symptoms including diarrhea, trembling, seizures, sweats, and sometimes violence
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Appetite changes
  • Financial difficulty


Risk Factors for Addiction

It is common for addicted individuals to participate in risky behaviors and use substances inappropriately. Some will develop a problem and others will not. Addiction can affect anyone; it is not linked to one particular group.

Some risk factors for substance abuse include:

Genetics: There is a relationship between substance abuse and genetics. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says, up to half of your risk of addiction is based on your genes. You are more likely to experience addictive behaviors if you have a family member who has experienced addiction.

Environment: There are environmental factors that can contribute to your chances of becoming addicted to substances. Lack of parental involvement can play a role, as well as peer pressure. Young people who are dealing with abuse or neglect will use substances to cope with their emotions during the process.

Early Use: The age a person begins using drugs or alcohol can determine whether they become addicted. A survey conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism determined that young adults between the ages of 18-24 are the most likely to have an alcohol use disorder or other drug addiction.

Drug Used: Depending on the drug of choice, addiction can come on slowly or quickly. For example, drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines are more likely to cause addictive effects than alcohol or marijuana.


Family Roles

When addiction happens, it doesn’t just affect the person who is addicted, anyone in that person’s life can feel the impact. Substance abuse can be damaging, causing trust issues and disrupt communication. There are both positive and negative roles family members or friends portray during the addiction process.

Examples of family roles include:

The Hero: A person in the family that exhibits the most prestige. They look good, are successful and they don’t let the family down. They try to overcompensate for the shame that is caused by the family member who is addicted. They might try to cover up issues relating to the loved one’s addiction.

The Mascot: This member of the family tries to provide relief with friendly banter or comic relief. Sometimes for the addicted person, there is humor or fun aimed at them in order to divert, otherwise negative attention.

The Lost Child: This person may act out in a physical or emotional way. They may be the person that is supposed to avoid conflict so things don’t get worse. Although it may not be obvious, they carry a lot of the burden and suffer deeply.

The Scape Goat: This is the person in the family who has been blamed and often causes problems and concerns in order to divert the attention off of the addiction.

The Rescuer: This person usually makes excuses for the addicted person’s behavior and is unable to hold them accountable for their actions. They try to smooth things over and try to stall any consequences or shame.


Healthy Roles of Family in Addiction

Although there may be situations where family acts negatively toward their addicted loved one, it usually comes from a place of love. Family members don’t always know the right move or understand how to handle the situations that they are being confronted with. It can be hard to approach the addicted individual and discuss substance abuse issues and treatment options. It can be especially challenging if the addicted person does not want help or is unaware of the problem. Regardless of what role you play for your loved one, addiction can be properly treated when the appropriate steps are taken.

Tips to help you confront your loved one and find treatment:

  • Don’t wait: It’s never too late to start a conversation with your loved one about their addiction and seek help. You don’t want to wait until they hit rock bottom.
  • Plan an intervention: Plan a conversation before reaching out to the addicted individual.  Seek treatment options and talk to a professional.
  • Tell them the truth: Talk to your loved one about the addiction. Avoid putting blame on them or forcing guilt. Just express your concern.
  • Take the fear out of the detox process: Have resources prepared and share them.

Check out more tips on how to approach your loved one about treatment here.


Once you made the first step to help find the right program and treatment option, it’s time to think about your own recovery process. Most treatment programs will offer a group to help family or friends. At Las Vegas Recovery Center (LVRC), we provide a Family Renewal Program for family members, friends, or other loved ones. In family groups, you will learn tools to help recover from the trauma experienced by your loved one’s substance abuse. Our educational classes and peer support meetings will also provide resources to help you aid your loved one’s recovery process after treatment.

If you are looking for more information, LVRC is here to help. We are just a phone call away at all times. Call us at (888) 219-1158.

Once you do so, you will be in contact with one of our admission counselors who will answer any of your questions or concerns.