How Can a Dysfunctional Family Influence Addiction?

Dysfunctional families influence our lives in many ways, including how substance abuse affects our mental and physical health. Learn more here.  

Table of Contents

What Is a Dysfunctional Family?

Dysfunctional families often lead to abuse, neglect, or addiction. The term “dysfunction” refers to “any impairment, disturbance, or deficiency in behavior,” and this can manifest as poor communication skills, frequent conflict, or even abusive behavior between family members.1

In a dysfunctional family, children often don’t get their emotional needs met due to the parents’ or caretakers’ feelings and needs taking center stage. This kind of behavior can be exacerbated if a parent has substance abuse challenges, mood disorders, or another mental health disorder. In these situations, children often feel like they do everything wrong and are unable to properly express their feelings. They may also suffer from poor self-worth and unhealthy coping skills.2

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Common Characteristics of a Dysfunctional Family

Every family is different when it comes to family dynamics and issues, but a few common characteristics of dysfunctional families to take note of include the following:

  • Expecting perfection
  • Lack of empathy
  • Overt sense of control
  • Excessive criticism
  • Narcissistic behavior

Your family may exhibit other dysfunction aspects, so it is important to talk to a therapist to determine if your family’s dysfunctional behavior is affecting your life and well-being. 

Dysfunctional Family Roles

In dysfunctional families with a parent who also has an addiction, there are often “roles” that each family member fits into. In many cases, family members who don’t have a substance abuse disorder are preoccupied with maintaining peace as much as possible. These roles can affect every family differently, but some common dysfunctional family roles include:3

Enabler or Caretaker

The enabler will often make excuses for the addicted family member, or they may deny that they are doing anything wrong. This is often done to mitigate conflict and keep up appearances that they are a “happy family.” However, this type of behavior often tells the addict that they don’t have any real consequences for their behavior.   

Scapegoat or Troublemaker

Generally, a scapegoat is one of the children and gets blamed for many of the family’s issues, even when they have no part in contributing to them. This can quickly become taxing for the child and create self-esteem issues, leading the child to lash out in other ways.

Lost Child or Quiet One

The “lost child” role in a dysfunctional environment often means that the child keeps quiet and to themselves. They want to become invisible to any conflict and have found that it is safest not to add anything to the conversation, so they don’t get hurt. 


Lastly, a “mascot” attempts to reduce stress or conflict by telling jokes, being silly, or working in other ways to make sure everyone is happy. Humor is used as a coping mechanism.

Effects of Living in Dysfunctional Families

Living in a dysfunctional family has numerous negative effects, most of which are put on a child from a young age. Children in dysfunctional families are generally focused on surviving and keeping the peace as much as they possibly can, meaning they can’t explore their interests, develop healthy emotions, or even enjoy daily life as they should.
It isn’t until they are out of their dysfunctional family dynamic – which most commonly happens when a child goes off to school – that they truly realize that their family situation isn’t “normal.” At this point, it’s best if these children start attending therapy so they can unlearn any unhealthy behaviors or coping mechanisms so they can break the cycle. 

Negative Behaviors Stemming from Dysfunctional Family Upbringing

Growing up in a dysfunctional family can influence the individual’s reaction to and perception of the world, often leading to negative experiences or behaviors. Some of these negative behaviors or mental challenges may include:4
  • Social isolation or loneliness
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Being extremely self-critical
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Mental health or mood disorders
  • Potential substance abuse disorders
  • Poor social skills

Types of Dysfunctional Families

Even though many families in these situations have substance abuse at the heart of their issues, there are other types of dysfunctional families. No matter the type of dysfunction, each of these kinds of families can have detrimental effects on every family member.
Common types of dysfunctional families will be detailed below.

Conflict-Driven Family

In this kind of family, conflict is at the heart of most interactions. Parents often instigate conflict to exert control over their children. Children may be forced to take sides in conflict, be gaslit, or must take the role of a parent and help de-escalate the situation if it gets out of hand.5

Violent Family

Violent families may utilize physical abuse and harm on children or the other spouse. Often, family members live in fear of potential outbursts that could result in the threat of violence.5

Emotionally Detached Family

In an emotionally detached family, parents generally deny their children proper emotional support or care. In some cases, parents don’t know how to provide this type of care because they never received it, but this does not excuse continuing the cycle of emotional abuse or detachment.5

Substance Abuse Family

Addiction is often at the heart of most conflicts in a family with substance abuse problems. This substance can strongly influence the other family members, and it sometimes leads to the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms for these members as well.5
Dysfunctional Families

Overcoming Dysfunctional Family Traits

If you or a loved one notice the signs of dysfunction in your family or even in yourselves, it’s never too late to start the work to overcome these negative traits. It’s recommended that anyone in this type of situation start psychotherapy with a trusted therapist. This way, family members will feel safe and supported during the process, as it is generally difficult to understand and come to terms with how these dysfunctional traits hurt you and your emotional, mental, and physical well-being.

It’s also important to be patient with yourself as you start this process. It’s not an issue that was your fault, to begin with starting to work through it takes time and energy.

Methods of Healing

A few ways to start working to overcome the traits of dysfunctional families include:

  • Adopting healthy brain habits
  • Finding a support network
  • Working on relationship skills
  • Receiving treatment for any potential mental health or substance abuse disorders 

Find Help at Profound

Profound can help you or your family members work to overcome any negative traits or behaviors resulting from your dysfunctional family. Our inclusive and supportive treatment center will meet with you to curate a treatment plan that is individualized to you and your needs. We offer multiple substance abuse treatment options, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and inpatient detox.

However, we also offer multiple therapy options for those struggling with dysfunctional families, including family systems therapy, attachment therapy, and trauma-focused therapy. We are here to help you every step of the way during your recovery. Our facility also offers yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and healthy eating options to help encompass a holistic approach to your recovery so that you can feel physically healthy as well. 

Reach Out and Begin Healing

Reach out to Profound Treatment today if you or a loved one want to start your recovery or healing process.

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