Family Dynamics Around Addiction and Recovery

Addiction of any kind and the recovery process affects family dynamics in multiple ways. People assume different roles throughout the process and grapple with the addiction on an individual basis. The best route is not always separation as that can leave the individual suffering from substance abuse without the resources to recover and at risk of other negative sequelae like homelessness. The first step to healing is the acknowledgment of the role you have assumed in the dynamic. Below is a list of some roles family members assume in a household that struggles with addiction. 

The Addict

This represents the person or people struggling with addiction. Their illness tends to have negative repercussions for those around them. Whether the family is dealing with stigma or the actual interworkings of addiction and its consequences, the dynamic hinges on the actions of this individual.

The Scapegoat

This represents the person who acts out to get attention and counteract the attention that the addict receives. They may break the law or behave recklessly all in an effort to subvert attention. This individual may also develop an addiction themselves. 

The Comedian

This represents the person who tries to make light of the difficulties through humor. After an incident like a parent receiving a DUI while dealing with alcoholism, this person might crack a joke to ease the tension. Unfortunately, however, this person is not dealing with the difficult emotions that addiction can bring up in a family and solely working to satisfy others.

The Caretaker

Also sometimes called the enabler, this represents the person who is always looking out for the addict. They might take care of the addict when the addict is sick and help them to cover up their addiction somehow. Like others in the family dynamic, their ultimate goal is to keep everyone around them happy – sometimes at the expense of themselves.

The Overlooked

This represents the person who stays out of the public eye. They try to fly under the radar with an unassuming presence and quiet spectacle. Most people in the family dynamic are unaware of their opinions on anything related to addiction. They may separate themselves from the family dynamic over time. 

The Prim and Perfect

This represents the person who tries to keep an outward display of perfection for the family. They may collaborate with the caretaker to hide and enable the behavior. Often, this person may assume an obsessive and compulsive personality disorder where they prioritize order over the recklessness of their reality.

Whether you are the addict, the scapegoat, the comedian, the caretaker, the overlooked, or the prim and perfect, there is an opportunity to break from the family cycle and seek help. By confronting the main issue that the family is dealing with, you can come to terms with the role you have assumed and decide how you want to change your participation. We recommend anyone who’s dealing with addiction or who assumed a role in a family dynamic should seek therapy to break the cycle. That being said, here are some simple tips on how to break the cycle.

  • The addict should seek treatment to better his or herself and break the roles that have been created within the family. For this, the sooner you can confront your problem – the better. If you are able to overcome the addiction while children are still in the home, you can repair your bond and set an example of sobriety for them going forward.
  • The scapegoat should find appropriate ways to get attention in the household. Instead of acting out, perhaps they can become more engaged with the other roles to unlearn the coping mechanism they developed over time.
  • The comedian should air on the side of seriousness when discussing topics related to addiction. By talking about the situation in a deliberate way, you can address the issue head-on.
  • The caretaker should practice self-care. Instead of tending to the sole needs of the addict, they should tend to their own needs for a change. The addict has developed dependence not only on their drug but also their caretaker. By removing yourself from the situation, you give the addict a greater possibility of getting better. 
  • The prim and perfect should embrace the rough around the edges. Instead of trying to cover up the mess inside the home, this person should embrace the uncertainty of having other people know the truth. It can be freeing to go against the stigma and expose the reality of the situation.

These patterns can be quite difficult to overcome. They require a level of vulnerability that many people never reach. That being said, if you can acknowledge your role and how you plan to overturn it, you will likely find yourself in a happier place.


Those living with the illness of addiction and their family members tend to assume different roles in the family dynamic. In a given family, roles can include the addict, the scapegoat, the comedian, the caretaker, and the prim and perfect. To begin to change these dynamics, the addict should seek treatment, but also identify who might be playing each role in their life. At our residential facility located in beautiful Denver, Colorado, we treat addiction and co-occurring mental illnesses. With the help of trained professionals, you can begin recovery and help heal your family. At our facility, you can come off drugs in a safe environment and then learn the skills to stay aware. With our therapeutic services, you will learn the skills to cope with life stresses in a healthier manner.  If you are looking for the support we can offer you, do not hesitate to reach out at (303) 952-5035.