4 Dysfunctional Roles in the

Family Dynamics of Alcoholism


Often times an alcoholic exists before the children.

If so, since birth the children have compensated in some form, to alcoholism. 

The elephant in the room is as ordinary to them as the kitchen sink.

The alterations of their character are engrained and it becomes difficult to move outside of what they perceive as safe.

They often feel empty, isolated or feel that something is off inside them.

This post will explain a more contemporary theory of dysfunctional family roles.

Traditionally, the most commonly identified roles within the family of alcoholism include the Enabler, The Hero, The Scapegoat, The Lost Child, and The Mascot.

To read more about the traditional roles click here.

But, another expert has coined four additional roles often found in an alcoholic family that might fit your family a bit better.


Family Dysfunction

Abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group


Family Dynamics of Alcoholism

Each role is an adaptation to an unpredictable environment and carries it’s own strengths.

Within the alcoholic household these roles help the family operate.

They will use their strengths to the point of dysfunction and this often continues until treatment.

As a family unit, the roles work together to compensate for the alcoholic, which makes alcoholism a family disease.

The family unit as a whole enables the alcoholic.

Acting outside of their roles is perceived as a safety risk and is not welcome in the family of alcoholism.

When family dynamics change it is possible that roles will change too.

Many people can relate to multiple roles at some point during their childhood.

An only child may have experienced all of the alcoholic family roles. 


“Until you make your unconscious conscious, it will direct you and you will call it fate”

Carl Jung


With that being said, here are 4 more roles that can be found within the family dynamics of alcoholism


The Responsible Child 

  • Similar to the hero. They are perfectionists with an inability to relax. Overachievers.
  • Often rigid in their thinking and have a fear of making mistakes.
  • They are not spontaneous and often feel the need to control their environment; which may be masked by people pleasing.
  • They are the one that “saves” the family; often responsible and “successful”.
  • Inside they typically feel inadequate and experience excessive guilt.
  • They often make excuses for the failing parent; making up for their mistakes & bordering on the brink of an enabler.  



The Adjuster

  • They’re easy going, flexible, a follower. They typically doubt themselves, have a fear of making choices and lack direction.
  • They are “a pleasure to have in class” or a “wonderful student”.
  • They often have low self esteem, to the point of an inability to progress in life.
  • They can be indecisive and often feel lost.
  • They’re sometimes a forgotten family member because of their easy going nature.
  • Despite being flexible they often are incredibly anxious and even have a hard time trusting others.
  • They may practice “relationship anorexia”; avoiding intimate relationships.
  • Because of their low self esteem they may be employed by organizations or bosses that mistreat them & tolerate lousy friends or partners.



The Act Out Child

  • Have difficulty expressing their needs and may not relate to others easily.
  • They’re usually creative with an ability to lead, but inability to follow direction.
  • They typically express anger inappropriately and act out.
  • They may be involved in risky behavior.
  • Usually seen as stubborn or headstrong.
  • They have some bullying tendencies but paradoxically are very sensitive.
  • They struggle to express emotions & often deflect when confronted with them.



The Placater

  • Exceed at caring for others but overlook themselves.
  • They’re kind, a good listener & always willing to help.
  • They forget their own needs, to the point of losing touch with their limits.
  • They often suffer from burn out, illnesses, or injuries because they ignore basic self care. 


“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.”


mental health, support, Family Dynamics of Alcoholism

  • Caring, Compassionate: Being attuned to others feelings becomes first nature, attending to their own is not.
  • Empathic: The Placater is understanding and accepting; someone had to do it.
  • Good Listener: Congenial and genuine, they can diffuse conflict and are easily the most valuable member in a team.
  • Sensitive To Others: This often is a weakness, being attuned to others must be checked in order to prosper in their own life. The ‘no crosstalk’ rule in groups can be a challenge at first for The Placater but it is essential in their recovery as their dysfunction often involves codependent behavior.
  • Giving: Attuned to others needs but often overlooks their own.
  • A Nice Smile: Smiling is a universal language. It makes you approachable and is contagious. The Placater has crafted a beautiful smile for good reason.

Claudia Black defines The Placater deficits as:

  • Inability To Receive: They must practice selfishness in order to adjust the pendulum of giving and receiving.
  • Denies Personal Needs: Often feel guilty for honoring their wants and needs. Invested in others to the point of losing their own identity.
  • High Tolerance For Inappropriate Behavior. Will confuse pity with love and often take a rescuing role. Tolerate abusive and unusual behavior.
  • Strong Fear of Anger or Conflict: Diffusing conflict is their personal duty and they feel they failed if it arises.
  • False Guilt: Carries a sense of shame. Overdeveloped conscience.
  • Anxious: Has experienced the worst case scenario and a life of unpredictability. Programed to put out fires. Over anticipates danger.

To read more about the traditional roles in an Alcoholic Family; click here.


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It Will Never Happen to Me: Growing Up with Addiction

More about the author below

Family Dynamics of Alcoholism

Claudia Black

Claudia Black Ph.D. is an addiction author, speaker and trainer, internationally recognized for her pioneering and contemporary work with the family dynamics of alcoholism and other addictions.


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For more information on Family Dynamics of Alcoholism:

Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families World Service Organization

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