When you think of a system, there are things that might come to mind such as a car or the solar system.  Regardless of what you think of, a system is simply a set of connected things, which all have a purpose and function.  The family is a system connected through biological, psychological, and social effects and each member of the family has a purpose and function.  The family is a broadly used term that can mean members who are related through biology or it can mean the individuals who reside in one environment.  Family members are defined by their emotional connection to each other and usually behave interdependently of one another.

The family as a system is an important idea in matters related to addiction.  The one who is an addict serves a function but may be the one who feels more emotionally isolated from other family members.  The family system will adapt to the addict including their behaviors and emotions; however, family members may take on a specific role to help reduce the stress.  Living with an addict is not easy and uncertainty can exist in the home.  Through certain roles the non-addicted individual can learn to function amongst the chaos.  It is important to note though that the addict also takes on a role to distract other family members away from their addiction.  This individual is known as the scapegoat.  All problems in the family are the result of the addict’s behavior.

There are other roles that family members adopt to relieve the dysfunction in the home.  The enabler is an important role as it keeps the addict from accepting responsibility for their actions.  The enabler will protect the addict to avoid embarrassment and to avoid conflict.  The enabler feels the need to have some control over difficult situations and will often “clean up” after the addict.  The enabler also makes excuses for the addict, which can minimize the consequences of the addict’s behavior.  The enabler may truly believe that they are helping the addict but what they are doing is the opposite.  Enablers need to learn to let go and allow the addict to experience consequences of their behavior.  Enablers might have a difficult time if the addict decides to enter a program of recovery.  When this happens, the enabler will have to adopt a new role as the enabling role will no longer serve its purpose.  The enabler can learn to help the addict but in more productive ways.

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