Addiction and Families

Last night, I was listening to Talk of the Nation on NPR. I know, I know, I listen to NPR a lot. Judge me if you wish, but I did get my undergrad in journalism, so I have to rep my former pursuits of sassiness.

Anyway, Neil Conan had two guest who were speaking about addiction, specifically how deal with a child who has an addiction. A lot of people called in to share their stories about their personal struggles with alcoholism, drug addiction, and process addictions (gambling, sex, etc.) and there was a common theme I noticed in each caller’s story.

“Addiction is a disease. It’s not just something you snap out of. It can consume your life. We need to understand how and why this happens if we’re ever going to stop it.”

Several callers mentioned the old-school style of dealing with addiction, which was usually a hearty dose of tough love. People said the addiction is often looked at as addict vs. substance/process. Most people view it this way. Unfortunately, this is a very superficial understanding of a much deeper problem.

I am personally very interested in addiction and feel strongly that I would like to work with this in my profession. Having dealt with it personally in my life, I feel like my empathy and cognitive understanding of how it really works would be a professional strength when working with addicts and their families.

So, what’s the deeper problem? What makes addiction so gripping and so hard to fix?

(how ridiculous is this picture?)

It’s because fixing addiction is like holding a mirror up to an addicts entire family and going, “Look, see how you messed up? See why this person is this way?”

Addiction is a family disease. Each member of the family plays their role.

Roles in an addictive family

The Addict: Usually the mother or father and the identified person with an addiction.

The Enabler: A term that is often thrown around in popular culture, but is a very real phenomenon. This is stereotypically the female partner, but that is not always the case. The enabler only knows chaos and only knows life with the addict. They are conditioned to operate in ways that encourage the addict to continue using. They know of no other alternatives.

The Hero: Typically the first child. The hero receives little to no attention unless they are doing well, usually with school and athletic achievement. The intent of the hero is to take attention off of the addict with positive attention.

The Lost Child: Usually the youngest. This child can be found in front of the TV or hiding in their room. They are often introverted and quiet. They see much more than they ever reveal.

The Mascot: Typically the middle child. This role is also intended to detract from the addict. This family member is the funny one. They break the tension in the room.

The Scapegoat: The sole purpose of the scapegoat is to take on all negative attention form the addict. The scapegoat is blamed for everything (as the name suggests) and often has an addiction of their own. If a family does not come to counseling for the addiction, they often come because of the scapegoat claiming it is he/she who has “the problem”.

The Takeaway

I’m not going to throw facts at you. You may know how common addiction is, you may not. The reality is that it’s a family disease and once it starts, it doesn’t stop. With every generation, it becomes more common and more severe.

Addiction sucks.

Also, Angela wrote a fantastic post about thought record. It’s a great post about CBT and if you want a PDF to use to track your thoughts, she posted that, too!


Author: Jennifer Bingaman Mazur

I like writing about what I think about what I think. I also like writing about what other people think and what I think about that. Yes? Yes.

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