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Roles Children of Alcoholics Assume

Children of alcoholic abusers develop roles and tendencies defined by the situation they live in. That environment tends to foster households where life is chaotic. Household members tend to feel not in sync because of having to act a certain way to cope with arbitrary rules. In addition, there may be conflict within family members; verbal, emotional or sexual abuse; violence; family secrets and any combination of these. Perhaps family secrets are the most insidious.

Silence in the Household

The unspoken “rules” that dominate a home where one or more alcoholics reside stem from denial.

Avoid Feelings: When emotions are expressed, they may be abusive, generate no positive results and are prompted by drunkenness. They may even be denied the next day. Children do not see emotions expressed appropriately. To cope, feelings that would normally occur in household members get switched off. It’s a survival mechanism that sidesteps hurting all the time.

Do Not Trust: When events get cancelled on a whim, when moods are unpredictable and when promises get regularly broken, children learn not to count on others. They feel that adults do not care enough to make a commitment and stick with it.

Keep it in: Not talking about substance abuse quickly becomes a rule for children of alcoholics. The family needs to deny a problem exists and that it’s connected to drinking. This spreads to not speaking about anything that’s unpleasant.

Coping Roles

While they struggle to cope with the situation, each family member assumes one of more of the following roles:

The Hero: They tend to be the ones who insist all is well. They may achieve great heights academically or professionally.

The Scapegoat: Angry all the time, the scapegoat is the one who gets in trouble. It’s a way of lashing out at the dysfunctional home situation. They also help the family to avoid dealing with the drinking issue. They are often identified as the “family problem.”

The Entertainer: This role has a low distress tolerance. They rely on their sense of humor to take away the family stress. They struggle with focusing and making decisions.

The Good Child: They smooth over upsetting situations by sensing what others are feeling even as they are denying their own emotions. They can tolerate inappropriate behavior and usually ignore their own needs.

The caretaker and the quiet child are other roles that are taken on by children in alcoholic families.

Adult Traits

As the children become adults, traits from these roles create troubled behavior. Adults have difficulty expressing emotions, have poor self images and low self esteem. Healthy relationships are difficult to sustain because they feel angry, depressed, isolated or even unlovable. Often, there is a sense of “growing up too fast.” This breeds a lack of curiosity or playfulness about living. It can also mean a certain constant wariness and distrust about life. Often adults strongly desire to live a good deal of distance away from their families. It’s a means of coping by not having to deal with it at all.

If someone in your family has a drug or alcohol problem, the time to get help is now. Pick up the phone and call the number at the top of your screen for an immediate, free consultation. Help is only a moment away…

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More