Understanding Codependency And Family Roles In Addiction

Understanding Codependency And Family Roles In Addiction

An estimated 21 million Americans have at least one addiction, with only 10% receiving treatment. However, this figure is only the tip of the iceberg. These addicted individuals inadvertently affect the lives of their loved ones, leading to codependency and altered family roles in addiction.

Without knowing it, some family members become enablers of addictive behavior. One of the most effective ways to address this unhealthy pattern is through addiction intervention — structured meetings between addicted loved ones and affected individuals. An intervention is a powerful tool that will help participants understand their unique situation and recognize destructive behaviors.

Read on to learn how codependent relationships affect families and how addiction intervention can transform lives. 

What Is a Codependent Relationship?

An individual abusing drugs or alcohol affects the whole family. Living under the same roof as an addicted loved one gives rise to different coping strategies. When it comes to addiction, family members tend to embody six different dysfunctional roles.

  1. The Addict: With potentially destructive tendencies, the addicted loved one usually becomes the center of attention inside a home. Addicted loved ones cope with problems using drugs or alcohol and stop at nothing to feed their addiction. They usually manipulate people around them, causing rifts within families.
  2. The Hero: As a perfectionist, this family member needs to present the family positively. Heroes will always try to create a sense of normalcy inside the home. Because of the need to make everything seem okay, they put themselves under a lot of pressure, causing them unnecessary anxiety and stress.
  3. The Mascot: This family member will always try to deflect difficulties with humor. Mascots try to suppress feelings of pain and fear by providing comic relief. Unfortunately, they often end up using substances to deal with suppressed emotions.
  4. The Lost Child: Usually shy or withdrawn, these individuals usually distance themselves further away from the family. The lost child will never mention substance abuse to avoid confrontation. These individuals will usually have trouble establishing meaningful relationships in the future.
  5. The Scapegoat: This family member offers the rest of the family a sense of purpose by providing them with someone to blame. Scapegoats will usually cause trouble to divert attention away from an addicted loved one. When they grow older, these individuals typically act out through violence or promiscuity.
  6. The Caretaker or Enabler: To protect the addicted loved one and the family, this individual will usually make light of any addiction-related situation. Enablers will make excuses for the addicted loved one and will never mention the disorder.


When it comes to addiction, the roles individuals play — particularly enablers — may turn into codependency. Here are some traits that characterize this concept:

  • Getting upset when other family members set boundaries
  • Rationalizing and justifying poor behavior
  • Ignoring personal needs and wants to please others
  • Having an exaggerated sense of responsibility for other people’s actions
  • Valuing other people’s thoughts and feelings more than their own

In a codependent relationship, family members make decisions based on what addicted loved ones need. Check out this study to learn more about codependency. 

The Negative Effects of Addiction Codependency

Codependent relationships give rise to many adverse effects for addicted loved ones and their families. Let’s look at three of the most common ones.

Alter Family Dynamics

Everybody has so much to offer the family, and those in codependent relationships typically give most of their love, time, and attention to addicted loved ones. Often, this will cause resentment and conflict with other family members.

Sometimes, codependency stems from personal needs and not from the hope of saving a loved one. When dealing with these situations, it’s best to identify the roots of dysfunctional relationships. If you find yourself dealing with an addicted loved one, it’s best to learn about addiction instead of attempting to address problems on your own.

Create Fear of Change

Sometimes, families find themselves avoiding substance abuse prevention and intervention. Some family members use many excuses for not pursuing treatment, such as it being ineffective, shameful, or expensive.

When families learn to cope with an addicted loved one, they normalize dysfunctional habits. They immediately think about the worst-case scenarios in seeking treatment instead of what addiction experts can bring to the table. Don’t be afraid of change and the unknown factors that come with it. Instead, focus on helping an addicted loved one get better.

Affect a Codependent’s Health

Individuals in codependent relationships with someone abusing drugs or alcohol increase their health risks, including:

  • Developing addictions themselves
  • Broken relationships with other family members and loved ones
  • Mental issues such as depression and low self-esteem

These individuals usually work extremely hard to provide for the needs and wants of addicted loved ones and end up neglecting their own.

The Benefits of Addiction Intervention 

Undergoing an intervention is one of the most effective ways to address addiction and codependency. Let’s discuss their benefits to families dealing with an addicted loved one.

  • Wake-Up Call: An intervention can serve as a reality check for addicted individuals and their families. It will help them understand codependency and family roles in addiction. One of the most powerful learnings in interventions is when family members realize that they need to take care of themselves first before helping a parent, sibling, child, or partner overcome addiction.
  • Reestablishing family dynamics: Relearning habits is not an easy task, but an intervention helps families establish boundaries for addicted loved ones. Sometimes, family members have to accept that an addicted loved one may experience homelessness, going broke, or being alone to get better.
  • The road to recovery: An intervention paves the way for a loved one to overcome addiction. It may be a challenging process that takes multiple attempts to succeed, but recovery from addiction will be well worth the sacrifices.

Start the Recovery Journey

Individuals abusing drugs or alcohol have many reasons for their behavior. No matter how much or how little they want to involve their families in their disorders, their addiction will affect their loved ones.

The best way to help a loved one going through addiction is to seek medical help. Showering them with more love, time, and attention than necessary might do more harm than good.

If you want to learn more about codependency, family roles in addiction, and interventions, please get in touch through (email) or (phone number). Regardless of addicted individuals’ condition, treatment is necessary to the recovery journey.


Learning Circle


Alvernia University


University at Buffalo




Mayo Clinic


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