Family Systems & Addiction: Why Families Don’t Seek Help From A Drug or Alcohol Interventionist

Why Don't Families Get Help For Addiction?

The reasons that families don’t get help for addiction is because they are waiting; waiting for the right time, the right place, the right situation, the list of excuses can go on and on. Sometimes the waiting can go on forever, or until it is too late — and addiction claims the life of a loved one.

The reasons people wait to get help for addiction are as complex as the individual family members and their relationships with each other. 

Relationships within the Family System and the and the Family Roles that the family members assume within that system play the biggest part in why families wait to get help for a loved one who is a heroin addict, alcoholic, or substance abuser.

What are Family Roles in Codependent Family Systems?

A family is a complex emotional unit made up of individuals that function together as a unit. The family functions as a system, and individuals assume their own roles within that system.  Each member of the family does this naturally and subconsciously. Even though every family is different — the behaviors of each individual and the roles they assume are similar in all families. 

These family systems and roles existing in healthy and happy families as well as families struggling with mental health & substance abuse issues. The behaviors and roles usually become more pronounced in the bad times.


Family Roles, Enabling, and Addiction Guide: An Addiction Treatment Resource for Families

Use the Index to Jump to a Role

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The Substance Abuser & The Codependent Family System

The substance abuser is the individual in need of an intervention, addiction treatment, rehab and recovery. It is the duty of  a drug and alcohol interventionist to get and keep the substance abuser in recovery, even when friends & family members (identified by their family roles below) impede the recovery process.


The Enabler Abuser & The Codependent Family System

The Enabler role can apply to any member of the family system that is making it possible for the addiction to continue. Whether you are giving them money or just keeping them in a comfortable enough situation to keep using drugs or alcohol, you are enabling your addicted loved one.


The Apathetic & The Codependent Family System

The Apathetic is the family member that says they don’t care anymore or have given up. Do they really not care that their loved one is destroying themselves with drugs and alcohol? No, apathy is just their way of dealing with the situation. The apathetic is often a strong presence in cases where the addict has tried rehab multiple times and relapsed.


The Clueless & The Codependent Family System

The Clueless is the role of the individual in the family system who knows nothing – or pretends to know nothing – about the substance abuse. This family member may be legitimately clueless to the situation because they live far away from the substance abuser, or are not intimately close with the substance abuser. Some family members may be in denial or actively blocking what is happening – willfully clueless.


The Denier & The Codependent Family System

Substance abuse is a serious situation and addiction is a fatal illness. It is not the time to downplay or deny the symptoms, yet repeatedly in interventions a family member will deny what is happening. They don’t want to believe the stories of lying, cheating, dangerous situations, driving under the influence… it all is scary and painful. Denial is a powerful defense that can protect you from what you don’t want to hear, but can’t help your loved one overcome their substance abuse and addiction problems. 


The Inside Man & The Codependent Family System

The “Inside Man” is simply a phrase used for a family member who is trying to undermine the intervention. He or She is not a bad person, and in most cases the “Inside Man” does truly want what’s best for their loved one. They just feel that they know best and want to be in control and is often suspicious of outsiders wanting to help, even a drug and alcohol interventionist. 


The Guilty Party & The Codependent Family System

The Guilty Party is the one who feels guilty and shamed into thinking they are the cause for the substance abuse and addiction problems. The family is acting out their unresolved, untreated guilt and shame. The addict is punishing the guilty party and making them feel it is their fault. Whether this is true or not, the addict knows they can use it to their advantage.


The Hero & The Codependent Family System

Everybody wants to be the save the day, and everyone sees themselves as “a hero” in their own way. The role The Hero in the family system is a little different. This person is the over-achiever, and – much like the “Inside Man” – will work to undermine the intervention and recovery efforts, but do so because they think they know better. The Hero believes, “I’m going to be the one who fixes this.”


The Saboteur & The Codependent Family System

The Saboteur goes out of their way to sabotage the efforts for a drug and alcohol intervention, counseling and rehab. The reasons are wide and varied, but family members do this because there is some benefit to them. Interestingly, a common reason  family members sabotage efforts for treatment or intervention is because they are not ready for change themselves. This person may even feign support for treatment up until the last minute and then make excuses to delay or cancel treatment for addiction.


The Martyr & The Codependent Family System

The Martyr is the one who claims to: 1.) suffer the most 2.) help the addict the most 3.) benefits the most from the addiction continuing to use drugs and alcohol. This individual considers themselves to be a victim in the situation, and their close grip on the substance abuser means interventionists must first break through, intervene and counsel the Martyr before they can even begin to help with the alcoholic or addict.


The Redeemer & The Codependent Family System

The Redeemer is the one who is ‘making up for lost time.’ He or she is the one who ‘wasn’t there’ for the addict, feels guilty, and is now trying to make up for it. This person feels that the may be the cause of the addiction and now they need to redeem themselves by saving the day and fixing the situation – without any professional help whatsoever.


When Family Members Prevent an Addict from Getting Help

In family systems, everyone is affected differently. The number one reason that people bump heads when bringing up the addiction issues is because it hits their ego. Everyone wants to be right and have the solution that will fix everything, but family members have to realize that they don’t have the answer.

“If the family knew how to fix all of the problems they would have have been fixed already.”

That may sound harsh, and families often feel resentment when hearing this, but it is something that needs to be heard and accepted so that the whole family can move on with a real solution.

There is often one family member who assumes the role of “know it all” and thinks that they have all the answers. Quite frankly, it is most often a male family member, and most often the father. 

Dad Won't Get Help For Son or Daughter's Substance Abuse Problems

A father’s role is tough enough without having to deal with their child’s substance abuse issues. Fathers usually don’t have all the answers, nor are they supposed to. However, accepting this is difficult and is one of the many hurdles that family intervention counselors set out to overcome when meeting with families.

Father of Heroin Addict Intervention

Most often, the reason the father is avoiding the issues of substance abuse and addiction in a son or daughter because he wants save the day, but doesn’t know how to help. He doesn’t want to accept outside help from others. In cases where the addict has failed attempts at rehab in the past, it is often the father’s involvement that led to a failure to complete addiction treatment programs. 

If the drug and alcohol intervention is going to be successful, the interventionist needs to identify the roles — or potential role(s) — that each family member has or will assume. It can be beneficial for you too to know and understand the family roles and family systems associated with enabling and addiction within families.

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Mike Loverde

As a Certified Intervention Professional (CIP), member of NAATP, NAADAC, and accredited by the Pennsylvania Certification Board, Mike Loverde knows first-hand what it’s like to live life with addiction. By overcoming it, he had a calling to work with others who struggle with drug and alcohol addictions—the people who use and the families who feel helpless watching them decay.

With thousands of interventions across the United States done and many more to come, Loverde continues to own the intervention space, since 2005, by working with medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and others who need expert assistance for their patients who need intervention. To further his impact on behavioral health and maximize intervention effectiveness, Loverde is near completion of a Masters in Addiction Studies (MHS) accreditation, as well as a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC), and is committed to attaining the designation of a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).

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