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What role do you play?

family - what role do you play

Different people try different ways to cope and feel better.

Understanding your own coping style can help you to decide if there are other things you could try. 

How do you cope?

When you are trying to cope with someone else’s drinking, you are having to deal with a problem you haven’t created and over which you have little control.

It can be extremely hard. People find different ways to cope, some more helpful than others:


Family members pretend the problem isn’t there, or excuse or minimise the problem – If we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist.

Trying to fix the problem

Family members focus on the dependence, often ignoring their own needs. They may try to bargain or plead with the drinker, threaten or try to control the amount they are drinking.

Keeping the peace

‘Walking on eggshells’, to avoid upsetting the drinker or for fear of triggering more drinking.

Taking responsibility

Adults and even children can take on responsibilities that the drinker may be neglecting, such as making decisions, sorting out problems or taking on household tasks.


Avoiding the situation, by withdrawing, physically or emotionally.

You may feel that everything would be OK if only the person would stop drinking. Unfortunately, this is something you cannot control. 

It can help to focus less on trying to change or control the drinking and spend your energy on improving things for yourself and your family - in spite of the alcohol problem.

What role do you play?

In families where drink is not a problem, there are often ‘traditional’ roles for different family members. The adults are usually the providers and carers: they support each other, make decisions and run the home. Children are cared for, free from responsibility. 

In families affected by harmful drinking, people can take on different roles to try and cope. 

Do any of these roles happen in your family?

Family roles

The enabler

The enabler takes on many responsibilities to try to stop the effects of drinking impacting on the drinker and other family members.

What’s the downside?

The enabler can neglect their own needs and can become overwhelmed by taking on all the family responsibilities and trying to manage everything. The enabler can help the drinker to escape responsibility for his/her actions.

Family hero

The family hero tries to be successful, to show the world that the family is OK.

What’s the downside?

The family hero has to stay strong, and so may bottle up his or her emotions. They are under a lot of pressure to keep up with their high standards and keep being approved.


The person who distracts the focus away from the problem and onto him/herself, often through getting into trouble. They become the problem.

What’s the downside?

The scapegoat may be suffering a lot, but instead of getting support, their way of coping can damage their self-esteem and bring them negative attention and more hurt, alienating them from their family.

The lost child

A child who withdraws to avoid being a ‘problem’. They stay quiet or keep out of the way.

What’s the downside?

The lost child may find some peace by withdrawing, but they may feel invisible and unimportant and end up neglected and lonely.


Humour and being cute take the focus away from the seriousness of the situation.

What’s the downside?

The mascot may be frightened of being rejected or getting negative attention if they stop being jolly and show their real feelings.


The person who makes it their mission to change the drinker and control the behaviour.

What’s the downside?

The rescuer may neglect their own needs as they focus on the person drinking. They may end up worn out from the effort of trying to control the drinking behaviour or feel that they are a failure if they don’t succeed.

Do you recognise any of the roles in your own family? Are they helpful or unhelpful? Can you see the feelings behind the ‘mask’?

Other ways to cope

You can read about other ways to cope in our sections How can I cope? and How to help children

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