Kids Meet a Kid in Recovery from Addiction

“Were you addicted to alcohol?”
“I was, I was indeed, yup.”
“You were… so that means you stopped?”
Take a listen to this incredible open and honest conversation between a young person in recovery and an even younger person who is just learning about addiction. It’s an amazing insight into how these conversations can go.

Video: Lessons from the Child of an Addict

Sadly, children are often the first hurt by alcohol and drug addiction and the last helped. Children of alcoholics are four to nine times more likely to develop an addiction as a direct result of their family experience. Left untreated, these kids are more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health issues as teenagers and adults.

Our Essential Family Care Programs were designed specifically to address this, and help families break the cycle of addiction. Our Children’s Healthy Coping Skills Program helps children aged 7-13 come to terms with the impact addiction has had in their lives.

Ask a Family Therapist: If our family is not enabling, what are we doing?

Ask a Family Therapist: If our family is not enabling, what are we doing?

Ask a Family Therapist

with Sunil Boodhai, MSW (RSW), BEd., manager of Renascent’s Family Care Programs, therapist and counsellor.

Q: I’ve been reading your column and I like many of the things you have been saying. However, I feel like your responses are a bit simplistic. It’s easy to talk about enabling as a major issue when someone is an alcoholic, but not everyone enables. My dad is an alcoholic and my mom is clearly the enabler, but my youngest sister won’t talk about my dad and his drinking, and my elder sister is trying to solve the problems by always being there for my mom. Neither of my sisters are enabling my dad but nothing is getting better. Why is this happening?
– Ted

A: Hello Ted, and thank you for writing in. Of course, you are absolutely correct that there is always more than just enabling going on in a family situation like yours. The reason we at Renascent treat addiction as a family disease is because we know that even though everyone is not always enabling, each family member tends to take on specific and often overlapping roles in order to keep the family system functioning.  These roles create emotional and psychological strain because they are not genuine to the people playing them. In fact, each role exists and functions with the singular aim of keeping the family together by any means necessary, rather than addressing the real issue at hand. I’m going to outline each role here and hopefully some of this makes sense to you. Remember that no one person owns any role at all times. People can often change roles as the circumstances dictate, and sometimes one person can take on a number of roles at the same time.


1. Chief Enabler  You have identified your mother as the chief enabler of your father’s addiction. She would be the person making excuses for him, and not setting acceptable boundaries for him to follow. She is hoping that by being good to him, he will see the error of his ways and stop drinking. Many of her needs remain unfulfilled and even though she is stressed and tired, her focus stays on picking up the pieces from the messes made by your father. She has not accepted the seriousness of your father’s disease, and his disease is dependant on her enabling to continue.
2. Family Hero/Perfect Child  From what you’ve described, this role seems to be occupied by your elder sister. The Family Hero is usually the person picking up the slack left by the chief enabler, who leaves their usual responsibilities behind to focus on the addict. If your father has been drinking for a long time, your sister has often been your substitute mother. The Family Hero is an overachiever at school and always get good grades. They also participate in after school activities and are a shining light in the family of all that is good. The Family Hero is in constant pursuit of perfection, almost as a defence mechanism to the chaos at home. They want to be good enough to inspire the addiction to go away. They feel that if they continue to be perfect everyone will eventually notice and go back to being good parents in charge of a good family. The reality is that the Family Hero eventually crumbles under the intense pressure to keep being perfect, especially when all of their efforts go unnoticed and unrewarded. Your elder sister sounds like she is the primary supporter of your mother. They depend on each other to continue acting out their unhealthy roles while the addiction remains unaddressed.
3. Family Scapegoat  This person is the opposite of the Family Hero. The Family Scapegoat usually acts out defiantly and performs poorly at school and/or work. The Scapegoat knows that they will not get much attention within the current family dynamic and is not willing to work as hard as the Family Hero to be noticed. They seem to be surrounded by problems and often become the focus of the family looking for excuses to not focus on the addiction. In fact, when the addict is not intoxicated, they often look to this person as the source of all the problems within the family. This opinion is supported by the Chief Enabler because they do not want to blame the addict for any issues for fear of relapse, and the Family Hero blames the Family Scapegoat because the Hero believes the Scapegoat should know better. The Hero is often resentful of the Scapegoat because while the Hero is high-achieving and under-appreciated, the Scapegoat is low-achieving and gets a great deal of attention, even if it is negative in nature.
4. The Lost Child  This is the person in the family who fades into the background and gets no attention. They are assumed to always be okay, but are in fact painfully alone. This person shuts down their emotions and pretends to not have any needs. They do well enough at school and/or work to not put any strain on the family that is barely staying afloat. The Lost Child believes that if they make any noise by having any needs or asking for anything, they might cause the addict to act out. They often disconnect from the family and seek to have their needs met through friends and associates.
5. The Family Mascot  As the name might suggest, this is the person in the family who is never able to treat any situation seriously. They do not deal with emotions well and will rely on comedy and laughter for relief. Beneath this laughter lies a great deal of insecurity and instability that is never addressed. The Mascot receives a great deal of attention due to their jovial mood and offers the family fun and humour in an otherwise dire situation.


Ted, these are the roles often adopted by various members of a family when addiction becomes a disturbing factor in the family. They function as a rather unhealthy system that is designed to prop up, enable, and manage the behaviour of the addict. However, each family member performing their role has essentially forgotten about themselves and their own true goals and desires. They are living their lives in reaction to the actions of the addict, rather than in response to their own personalities, strengths, hopes, and dreams. The system is built in such a way as to allow the addict to continue their substance use. Only when the system changes can the family regain themselves and no longer live in reaction to the addict. Family members need to begin living authentically, making the choices that are right for them and without giving any consideration to protecting the addict or anyone else in the family. I hope this explanation of common family roles has allowed you to see that beyond a single person being an enabler, there is often a complex system created out of survival, and it will hamper any possible improvement and healing for the family or the addict.


To learn more about Renascent’s various Family Care Programs or to submit a question of your own, contact Sunil at or 416-927-1202, ext. 3010.


8 Really Good Reasons to be Involved in Your Family Member’s Addiction Treatment

8 Really Good Reasons to be Involved in Your Family Member’s Addiction Treatment

by Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D.

Why should family members be involved in the treatment process of their alcoholic/addicted family member? Let me count the ways. The benefits of family treatment could go on and on, but here are eight good reasons.

  1. You learn that you are not alone. Family dynamics of addiction and recovery are pretty predictable. As the disease progresses for the addict, they as well as their kin become more and more isolated. Shame also isolates and keeps hurting the band of survivors silent about the disease. Spouses and parents may also have a compulsion to keep the secret in order to protect the addict from consequences that could affect the whole clan (i.e., financially, career, legal, etc.). Because the dynamics of addiction are played out in silence and isolation, each person feels that they alone have experienced the shame, guilt, hurt, sadness, loneliness, compulsion to take control and doubt about their own sanity that comes with addiction.
  2. You have an opportunity to recover from your own pain. No one escapes from an alcoholic system unscathed. It does not happen. Any close collection of people that has an addicted member has pain. While the relatives of the addict are focused on the afflicted’s pain and survival, they tend to ignore, downplay, or minimize their own pain. They are often oblivious to the negative effects on their own lives. They are negatively affected not only by the behaviour of the addict, but by their own attempts to cope and problem solve.
  3. You have an opportunity to make decisions based on strength rather than fear and desperation. The chaotic environment of the alcoholic home creates an acute stress reaction in all residents of the home. Each household member tends to get stuck in “survival mode.” Decision-making often occurs in the context of identifying the least damaging or the least scary options. Relatives often see themselves between the hard place and the rock, with no attractive alternatives. In treatment, spouses and parents are able to identify alternatives previously not considered and to begin to make choices based on knowledge rather than emotion.
  4. You get to find yourself again. Spouses often complain that they have lost themselves in the process of their significant other’s addiction. They find that they have become people that they not only never intended to be, but that they do not like. They often come to realize that they have acted outside their own value system by lying, manipulating and shaming the addict to get them to change. In treatment, these spouses have an opportunity to learn new ways to communicate and problem solve with their addicted significant others.
  5. You get to learn what is and is not your responsibility. In the treatment process, you get to learn how to let go of that which is not yours. You have an opportunity to learn to be assertive and choose your own activities. You become empowered to take responsibility for your own behaviour while allowing others the dignity to be responsible for their behaviour. Spouses often come to identify that they have been compelled to “parent” their addicted spouse during active addiction. One of the most freeing aspects of family treatment is learning how to let of that.
  6. You get to learn about alcoholism and other drug addictions. Most people buy into some antiquated ideas, myths and stereotypes about alcoholics and addicts. Treatment dispels those myths. Family members get to meet folks from all walks of life – brilliant, creative, charming people who are captains of industry, lawyers, doctors, mechanics, artists, house painters, entrepreneurs – who also happen to be alcoholics/addicts. Addiction is no respecter of person or position. Old notions of who is and who isn’t alcoholic/addicted will be challenged. Incorrect information that you may have learned from your family of origin (or others) about addiction being a “choice,” a “character problem,” or a “moral dilemma” will be replaced with factual data from the current knowledge base. You will have an opportunity to learn about the family dynamics of addiction and recovery so that you will know some of what to expect in early recovery. You will come to know and accept that your loved one’s addiction is not your fault and that you cannot make them relapse. Principles of cross-addiction, a very important concept for continuing recovery, are reviewed. You should also leave treatment armed with knowledge about the symptoms and process of relapse. This is crucial information to have.
  7. You will learn a new language. Significant others entering a treatment program often remark that there seems to be a common language being spoken in treatment, and that they feel like the “uninitiated.” A common recovery language is helpful for the addict and the family, so that they can better understand each other. Otherwise, family members often feel left behind, or like they are “on the outside, looking in.”
  8. You will also have an opportunity to learn about principles of family dynamics and the qualities of family systems that operate to work against continuing recovery. You will come to understand how system processes and characteristics that evolve over time to incorporate the illness into the balance and functioning of that system, also operate to keep things the same in recovery. If only one person in the system gets help, it can be difficult for the recovering person to maintain their positive changes in the midst of the old family rules, roles, and established patterns.

Not only is participation of significant others in addiction rehab important for the recovery of the addict and the family members, most family members leave treatment feeling blessed that they had an opportunity to experience the learning and healing process afforded them.


Copyright © Peggy Ferguson. Reprinted by kind permission of the author. More of her writings on the family dynamics of addiction and recovery can be found at


Renascent offers a suite of Family Care programs, including Children’s Healthy Coping Skills and an Intensive Family Codependency Retreat. Learn about our Family Care programs here, and email Sunil Boodhai or call 416-927-1202, ext. 3010 for more information.