Those of us who have been connected to someone abusing drugs or alcohol have been changed as a result of that relationship. But what specifically are the changes that occur? Different people change in different ways, of course, but we at Family First Intervention have observed several common traits or “roles” that people assume within a system surrounding a substance abuser.
The particular role someone takes in the life of a substance abuser is usually influenced by two primary factors:
- Strength or intensity of the emotional connection
- Length of time of the emotional connection
Six Fundamental Rules of Family Roles in Drug Addiction
We’ve identified six fundamental rules about the roles of the family in the life of someone who abuses drugs or alcohol:
- These roles develop as a reaction to the addiction itself.
- These roles are generally dependent upon the role assumed by an individual within the family. For example, are you a parent, a spouse or a brother of the addict in question?
- The strength or severity of these roles is dependent upon the length and closeness of the connection to the substance abuser.
- These roles generally exist only in relation to the substance abuser.
- These roles are not negatively intentioned, but rather emotionally driven reactions to an uncomfortable situation.
And, most importantly:
- If recognized and acknowledged, these roles can change or disappear entirely, which then lessens the power and chaos of the addiction.
The Primary Family Roles
The names or descriptions of the most common roles surrounding a substance abuser are listed below. The first label in each situation is the Assumed Role, while the second description has to do with the person’s Actual Family Role.
- The Guilty Party = Parent or Spouse (usually mother)
- The Redeemer = Parent or Spouse (usually father)
- The Ally = Aunt, Uncle or Sibling
- The Denier = Parent
- The Enforcer = Parent
- The Left Out (the Punisher, the Saboteur or the Hero) = Sibling
- The Helper = Friend
- The Martyr = Spouse
- The Clueless = Younger or Much Older Relative
- The Unaffected = Distant Relative or Friend
The Role of Fathers in an Intervention
In the following YouTube video, Family First Intervention Founder Mike Loverde speaks about the unique role of fathers in an intervention. Please watch the 1 minute, 19 second video to understand the critical influence fathers have over this process.
A New Way of Looking at Family Roles in an Intervention
In the past, some experts have made valid attempts to describe the various family roles assumed within an addictive family system. However, these descriptions usually exclusively apply to children within a dysfunctional family where the parent is the primary substance abuser. In order to more fully describe all roles surrounding any addict, we have sought to expand upon previous theories.
With addiction, there are very rarely absolutes. What we seek to do is describe some of the most common roles assumed. The degree to which these roles are assumed is directly related to how much involvement or contact one has with the substance abuser.
In other words, if the majority of the family has had limited or no contact for the last several years, then most of the roles would be inactive or even nonexistent. However, if the family were to surround the substance abuser, these roles would, after a period of time, re-manifest themselves or become manifest for the first time.
Roles Are Only Relative to the Substance Abuser
For each of these roles, there is rarely ever a conscious “evil intention” or desire to harm. In each case, the individual assuming a certain role feels quite justified in their behaviors, feels they are being helpful to the situation, and is often surprised that others behave differently. When learning about each of these roles, some may feel very uncomfortable with the descriptions or labels. Others may feel that they relate somewhat to a particular role, but not entirely.
As a rule, these roles exist only in relation to the substance abuser. In other words, someone who is in denial that their loved one’s addiction exists isn’t a “denier” regarding all other people and situations. They are only a denier with respect to the substance abuser.
Read more about the importance of individual family roles in a substance abuse intervention.
Identifying Roles in an Intervention
The purpose of detailing these roles is not to assign blame or to criticize or invalidate anyone. Rather, the goal is to understand our behaviors, how they develop as a result of a loved one’s addiction and, most importantly, how they are interfering with the ideal harmony within the family system.
One of our primary goals in a drug or alcohol intervention, then, is to change the family dynamic into a healthy, harmonious system where everyone works together. Seeing how our roles may actually be creating challenges is of critical importance. This isn’t the time to lay blame on certain family members. An intervention is a difficult process, but it can also be the most illuminating.