The earliest research on families affected by addiction was done in the late 1970ís. The focus at first was primarily on A.C.O.Aís (Adult Children of Alcoholics). The behavioral and emotional traits that these individuals exhibited were later identified as CO-DEPENDENCY. Many times these people tend to get involved in unhealthy relationships that are emotionally destructive, one-sided, and abusive. Because of co-dependency being a learned behavior it can be passed on from one generation to another. CO-DEPENDENCY can affect anyone who is in relationship with a person struggling with an addiction. Similar behaviors are sometime seen in individuals in relationships with the mentally or chronically ill.


This is a family where CO-DEPENDENCY has produced a set of restrictions that does not allow for the open communication of feelings or the opportunity to resolve interpersonal struggles. This results in family members having to deny the emotions that are present; SHAME: ANGER: PAIN: FEAR. In order for this family to exist the individual members must take on  unrealistic family roles to survive.


Caretaker- (Chief Enabler):This role is usually filled by the spouse. They present as very responsible and serious but assigns blame to self easily. They may be feeling inadequate, hurt, angry, and fearful. They strive to keep the family together and surviving 

Hero- This is the child who present as successful, high achiever, good athlete but feels inadequate. He/She is attempting to bring worth and some sense of pride to the family that is suffering.

Scapegoat- This child is the rebel. Presents angry, defiant, and sometimes hostile. He/She is sometimes involved with a bad peer group and may already be experimenting with drugs and/or alcohol. This individual is struggling with hurt and guilt because of the familyís condition.

Lost Child- This child appears to be a relief to the family. Never a problem, quiet, and keeps to his/herself. This individual is withdrawing from the family issues by isolating and becoming a loner. Tends to struggle with making decision.

Mascot / Clown- This child attempts to provide humor and comic relief to the family. They present immature and in need of protection. Fear is strongly represented in this childís emotions.

In the dysfunctional family there is a denial that any problems exist. Family members develop survival behaviors that repress emotions and personal needs. This can inhibit the healthy development of emotions and identity.

Itís not hard to see that addiction can also be seen as a family disease. Whether the addict seeks treatment or not, the family is in need of treatment. If these effects are not treated, the individual family members stand a high risk for future emotional and physical struggles. (ulcers, depression, promiscuous life style, addiction, suicide, criminal life style, anxiety, shortened life span, eating disorders, etc.)

If in reading this material you have identified a need for yourself or family, I encourage you to contact an addiction treatment center, mental health center, addiction counselor, and/or family support group in your area.  Or feel free to contact us at the Jeremiah Project.

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