The Dynamics of an Alcoholic’s Family

Old 11-18-2010, 12:33 PM
  # 1 (permalink)  
Rising from the Ashes
Thread Starter
Phoenixthebird's Avatar
Join Date: Nov 2010
Location: Republic of Texas
Posts: 451
The Dynamics of an Alcoholic’s Family

The Dynamics of an Alcoholic’s Family

Alcoholism is a tragic three act play in which there is at least two characters, the drinker and his family; friends; co-workers and even healthcare workers may have a part in keeping the Merry-Go-Round turning.


The play opens with the alcoholic stating that no one can tell him/her what to do. This makes it very difficult for the family to talk about drinking and its results. Even when the drinking is obviously causing serious problems, he/she simply will not discuss it. Talking is like a one-way street.

The key word in alcoholism is Denial, for again and again people do what they say they will not or deny what they have done.

As the alcoholic drinks more and more, the helpers deny the problem and increase the alcoholic’s dependency.

In act one, the alcoholic kills all his/her pain and woes by getting drunk.


In act two, the alcoholic does nothing but wait for and expect others to do for them. Distinct characters begin to evolve from his/her helpers. A person can play more than one character and usually does.

The Enabler

The Enabler is a helpful type, trying to rescue the alcoholic from their predicament. The Enabler wants to save the alcoholic from the immediate crisis and relieve them of the unbearable tension created by the situation. In reality, this person is meeting a need of their own, rather than that of the alcoholic, although the Enabler does not realize this themselves. The Enabler denies the alcoholic the process of learning by correcting and taking responsibility for his/her own mistakes. The Enabler may eventually insist they will never again rescue the alcoholic. They always have and the alcoholic believes they always will.

The Victim

This may be the boss, the employer, the foreman or supervisor. The Victim is the person who is responsible for getting the work done, if the alcoholic is absent due to drinking or is half on and half off the job due to a hangover. The alcoholic becomes completely dependent on this repeated protection and cover-up by the Victim; otherwise he/his could not continue drinking in this fashion. If the Victim stops helping, the alcoholic will be compelled to give up drinking or give up the job. It is the Victim who enables the alcoholic to continue his irresponsible drinking without losing his/her job.

The Provoker

This is usually the wife or mother and is a key person in the play. She is a veteran at this role and has played it much longer than others. She is the Provoker. She is hurt and upset by repeated drinking episodes; but she holds the family together despite all the trouble caused by drinking. In turn, she feeds back in the relationship her bitterness, resentment, fear and hurt, and so becomes the source of provocation. She controls, she tries to force the changes she wants; she sacrifices, adjusts, never gives up, never gives in, but never forgets. The attitude of the alcoholic is that his/her failure should be acceptable, but she must never fail the alcoholic! He/she acts with complete independence and insists he/she will do as they please. This character might also be called the Adjuster. She is constantly adjusting to the crises and trouble caused by drinking.

Role models of the children in an alcoholic family

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.

Act two is now played out in full. Everything is done for the alcoholic and not by them. The results, effects and problems caused by drinking, have been removed by others. The painful results of the drinking were suffered by persons other than the drinker. This permits him/her to continue drinking as a way to solve his/her problems.


Act three begins much like act one. The need to deny dependence is now greater for the alcoholic and must be expressed almost at once, and even more emphatically. The alcoholic denies he/she has a drinking problem, denies he/she is an alcoholic, denies that alcohol is causing him/her trouble. The alcoholic refuses to acknowledge that anyone helped them – more denial. He/she denies that they may lose their job and insists that he/she is the best or most skilled person at his/her job. Above all, the alcoholic denies he/she has caused his/her family any trouble. In fact, the alcoholic blames the family, especially the spouse/parent, for all the fuss, nagging and problems. The wheel goes round and round.


The alcoholic stops drinking.


The alcoholic works his/her own recovery program. The alcoholic had a spiritual awakening as a result of working the recovery program. As a result, they try to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice their steps of recovery in all their affairs. Quite often friends of the recovering alcoholic are aware of the difference long before he/she is himself/herself. He/she finally realizes that he/she has undergone a profound alteration in his reaction to life, that such a change could hardly have been brought about by him/her alone. What often takes place in a few months could seldom have been accomplished by years of self-discipline. They have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they identify with their own conception of a Higher Power greater than themselves.

The alcoholic only stops drinking without discovering the underlying reasons for her/his addiction. She/he is termed as a dry drunk. The dry drunk maintain
the same denial by a stony silence, refusing to discuss anything related to their drinking. The memory is too painful. The real problem is that the alcoholic is well aware of the truth which he/she so strongly denies. He/she is aware of the drunkenness and the failure. His/her guilt and remorse have become unbearable and the alcoholic cannot tolerate criticism or advice from others. Above all, the memory of his/her utter helplessness and failure is more than embarrassing; it is far too painful for a person who thinks and acts as if he/she were a little god in their own world.

This is where I find myself today! My dry drunk husband creates a crisis, gets into trouble, and ends up in a mess. The crisis is a way of "circling the wagons" once again around him. He is trying as hard as possible to remain the main focus of the family and to reassure himself that he still has control over the other players in the play.

The alcoholic can only continue to act like a little god, telling everyone what to do, while doing as he pleases, if a supporting cast continues to play their roles. Every player has every right and responsibility to refuse to act as if the alcoholic in their lives were God whose every wish and commandment be obeyed.

**************************************** **********
Phoenixthebird is offline  
Old 11-18-2010, 12:42 PM
  # 2 (permalink)  
wicked's Avatar
Join Date: Nov 2009
Location: Waterford MI
Posts: 4,202
Blog Entries: 1
What if you were to define your own role in your own play?
Stop being a player in the dry drunk's play.

What does Phoenix want once she has risen from the ashes?
Hopefully, the ashes are the cinders left once she burns the dry drunk's screen play to write her own story.


Last edited by wicked; 11-18-2010 at 12:43 PM. Reason: add some s's
wicked is offline  
The Following User Says Thank You to wicked For This Useful Post:
Phoenixthebird (11-18-2010)
Old 11-18-2010, 12:52 PM
  # 3 (permalink)  
nodaybut2day's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Quebec
Posts: 2,708
There's no rule that says that you have to go see bad drama being performed again and again. Generally, as an audience member or an actor, I reserve the right to walk out when the script just plain sucks.
nodaybut2day is offline  
The Following 3 Users Say Thank You to nodaybut2day For This Useful Post:
fourmaggie (11-18-2010), Phoenixthebird (11-18-2010), wicked (11-18-2010)
Old 11-18-2010, 02:49 PM
  # 4 (permalink)  
Join Date: Nov 2010
Location: San Francisco, CA
Posts: 27
I dealt w/ alcoholism also as a young child. My mother drank a lot as a result of being a single mom with little support. My grandmother drank on weekends and holidays, uncles drank and I have one uncle who was a black sheep of the family who was addicted to crack cocaine so it is familiar.

As a young girl I swore I would never lead such a dysfunctional low class ghetto lifestyle. Now I know as an adult that addiction crosses all ethncities, cultures and socieconomic backgrounds.

I was the little caretaker w/ my mom and the family hero. I wanted to make it better for her and often felt guilty that her life was so messed up because she had the burden of taking care of me and my brother. I never, ever wanted that for my life or my children. So I got an education, a job and waited for the right man to come along get married and have children. Supposedly if I did it the right way I would be immune from all of this. Hahaha! Nope.

I feel even worse off because I supposedly did all the right things and I am still powerless
sassyea is offline  
The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to sassyea For This Useful Post:
Phoenixthebird (11-18-2010), wicked (11-18-2010)
Old 11-18-2010, 04:04 PM
  # 5 (permalink)  
Thumper's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 3,444
The three act play was very helpful to me when I first came here. I read it many many times. There is a sticky on it that you might want to check out because it expands on the 'story' and the rest of it was the most useful to me.
Thumper is offline  
The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Thumper For This Useful Post:
Phoenixthebird (11-18-2010), wicked (11-18-2010)

Currently Active Users Viewing this Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are Off

All times are GMT -7. The time now is 02:11 AM.