Alcoholic Family Roles

One model that is helpful in identifying child behaviors is that of Sharon Wegscheider (1981). In this model children adopt various coping and enabling roles.


Little caretaker


The little caretaker role is often a carbon copy of the partner of the alcoholic. They take care of the alcoholic; getting drinks, cleaning up after the alcoholic and soothing over stressful situations and events. They are validated by approval for taking responsibility for the alcoholic and their Behaviour. This little person often goes on to become a partner of an alcoholic or other dysfunctional person if they do not get treatment.


Family hero


The family hero role brings pride to the family by being successful at school or work. At home, the hero assumes the responsibilities that the enabling parent abdicates. By being overly involved in work or school, they can avoid dealing with the real problem at home and patterns of workaholism can develop. Although portraying the image of self-confidence and success, the hero may feel inadequate and experience the same stress-related symptoms as the enabler.




The scapegoat role diverts attention away from the chemically dependent person’s behavior by acting out their anger. Because other family members sublimate their anger, the scapegoat has no role model for healthy expression of this normal feeling. They become at high risk for self-destructive behaviors and may be hospitalized with a variety of traumatic injuries. Although all the children are genetically vulnerable to alcoholism, this child is often considered the highest risk because of their association with risk-taking activities and peers. Although tough and defiant, the scapegoat is also in pain.


Lost child


The lost child role withdraws from family and social activities to escape the problem. Family members feel that they do not need to worry about them because they are quiet and appear content. They leave the family without departing physically by being involved with television, video games, or reading. These children do not bring attention to themselves, but also do not learn to interact with peers. Many clinicians have noted that bulimia is common in chemically dependent families and feel this child is prone to satisfy their pain through eating.


Family clown


The family clown role brings comic relief to the family. Often the youngest child, they try to get attention by being cute or funny. With family reinforcement, their behavior continues to be immature and they may have difficulty learning in school.

See also The Dynamics of an alcoholic Family


12 thoughts on “Alcoholic Family Roles

  1. Pingback: Roles in an Alcoholic Family | RAPTURE

  2. Pingback: Why the Cycle of Addiction? | Valerie Cole, Contemporary young adult (YA) author seeking representation

  3. Pingback: The Angry God | Ex-Church of Christ Blog

  4. Pingback: I Am What I Am, And If You Don’t Like Me … « Cantankerous & Curmudgeonly

  5. Pingback: Popular Posts « Alcohol Self-Help News

  6. Pingback: Alcoholic/Dysfunctional Family Roles « Realistic Recovery

  7. Pingback: Roles in an Alcoholic Family - SoberRecovery : Alcoholism Drug Addiction Help and Information

  8. I was a lost child. I married a scapegoat. Our children are still affected by alcoholism in their family, but not in their home. We’ve broken the cycle, but I’m worried that it’s in their DNA.

  9. Pingback: A Lost Child - Defined « A Lost Child

  10. Pingback: 23 Top Posts at Alcohol Self-help News « Alcohol Self-Help News

  11. Pingback: My First Post - SoberRecovery : Alcoholism Drug Addiction Help and Information

  12. I would like to find a copy of the family roles in Spanish that I could access from the internet. Any ideas?


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s