It has been said that alcoholism is a family disease. Why? Alcoholism affects the entire family—everyone in the family needs to get help. If you have a family member who struggles with alcohol or drug addiction, is there a healthy way to respond to them? Yes, absolutely! You must understand family roles, and understand what your next step should be.
What Are the Family Roles?
In looking at families of addicts, there are different behavioral roles:
The Dependent: this is the alcoholic/addict in the family. He or she has the real problem.
The Chief Enabler: this role is typically taken up by a spouse and is someone who enables the continuation of the dependent’s addiction/alcoholism.
The Enabler-in-Training: the oldest daughter may often take this role. When the Chief Enabler gets fed up with the task of caring for the alcoholic/addict, the enabler-in-training steps in and takes over the task.
The Hero: usually, this role falls to the oldest son. He often helps the family when they need help; the hero has to succeed to make the family look good.
The Scapegoat: this role is sometimes the second child, and it is the reverse of the second role. When tensions build, the scapegoat acts out and draws attention to themselves.
The Lost Child: if parents have a third (or more) child, there may be so much chaos that the third child gets lost; he or she becomes the loner in the family.
The Comic: whether this is the youngest child or another person in the family, most families of addicts will have one person who tries to provide comic relief. They try to break the tension in the family by saying or doing something funny.
What Is the Next Step?
First, get into a Life Recovery Group that understands alcohol and drug addiction. There are a variety of Life Recovery Groups—some meet online, while others meet in-person. You may need to go to several different groups to find one that is a good fit. Find a group that is geared toward helping family members of addicts. It should be a group where you feel heard, understood, and challenged to make changes in your life. You will need support in your life to accomplish the second step.
The second step is to practice tough love. How can you be tough while being loving? On one hand, you can be tough in following through with consequences you set with an addict; while on the other hand, you can be loving with your words and affirming your love for them. No matter what, avoid empty threats, as well as responding to your loved one by nagging them—it only leads to arguments and increased tension.
Whether your loved one gets help for their addiction and completely recovers or not, remember whom you should put your trust in—the Lord, as Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord will all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”
To discover more tools on how to help a family member struggling with addiction, get your copy of, Understanding and Loving a Person with Alcohol or Drug Addiction.