How do unhealthy roles in family addiction play out in real life? Let’s take a look at a real-life family, the Drakes, who are caught in the painful dysfunction that accompanies a substance or behavioral addiction. (Names have been changed to protect the family.) Each family member suffers in a different way. What can they do to recover?

Person with Addiction

Josh, the father, has Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD, formerly called alcoholism).  He has two DUIs, and he has recently lost his job because he was intoxicated at work. This was his second warning. With the loss of his job, Josh is now home all day. He spends part of his time at a local bar, and part of his time at home, always drinking. He can put away 12-16 beers daily. In denial, he blames his family for loss of his job. He believes his wife, Kathee, and his kids cause him to drink, and that drinking is the only thing that gets him through the day. He is not currently looking for a job and is depending on Kathee’s income to support the family.


Kathee, the mother, is the codependent. She works full-time and is trying to keep the family together. She has three children and struggles to help Josh cope with his drinking. She has quit trying to confront him about his drinking as he gets very angry and scary. To prevent Josh’s fits of rage, she now brings him beer.  Of course, this doesn’t prevent all of his angry outbursts, which occur over the smallest issues. She’s so embarrassed by the family situation that she’s stopped asking for help. She’s angry, hurt, and constantly scared. She covers up her true feelings and puts on a happy face wherever she goes. She is also the primary caregiver to their three children.


Caitlin, 17, is the oldest child. She copes with the family by achieving. She is among the top five in her senior class and is also a good athlete. However, Caitlin is very upset about the situation. She is angry at her mother, and her father, and has trouble having fun. She has become quite rigid in her perfectionism. She is also ambivalent about going to college. She longs to get away from everyone but feels guilty about wanting to leave her mother and younger siblings to cope without her help.

Mascot And Scapegoat

Marcus, 15, is the middle child. He is a combination mascot and scapegoat. He’s always been funny and is known as the class clown. He tries to deal with the family problems by laughing and making fun of life. His mascot behavior is starting to get him in trouble at school for acting out, mostly by disrupting the situations at school. He is beginning to have a permanent seat at the principal’s office. In addition, his grades are falling. Josh has now started to blame Marcus for his drinking, making Marcus the newest family scapegoat. Kathee is beginning to believe Josh’s shameful claims and also blames her son. Blame and shame push Marcus to act out even more.

Lost child

Caroline, 12, is the youngest. She is basically ignored by the family because she tends to stay in her room as a way to escape the family struggles. She’s actually learning to isolate by doing solitary activities such as being on the computer, playing online games, and reading. She doesn’t cause any problems but her emotional needs are being neglected. Also, she doesn’t really have any friends at school.

Can This Family Be Saved?

Of course it can. But for change to occur, every member of the family needs help. Josh needs treatment for his alcohol disorder, but he may not be willing to get it. If he does not want treatment or counseling for the marriage, Kathee can make positive changes to help herself and her children. She can seek help through Al-anon or Nar-anon to understand what’s happening and how to find solutions.

Kathee can find also therapist. She can encourage her teens to attend Al-ateen meetings and find therapists to help them understand and cope with the family situation. She can contact Families Anonymous or Codependents anonymous. All of these resources can set this family on a track for better relationships whether Josh quits drinking or not.

It’s not easy to step out a roller-coaster situation, and things often get messy before they get better. But recovery works for the millions of people willing to ask for help by contacting the above groups and exploring treatment options in their area.

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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