Commentary: How to tell if you're a 'dependent'

Promos are everywhere for the new fall TV shows, with their big stars (Matthew Perry, Kevin Bacon!) and amazing supporting casts (Ellen Barkin, Bill Pullman!).

But what happens when a cast isn't helping the star of the show, but instead contributing to his or her downfall? That's the story of addiction. Every addict has his or her supporting cast, each of whom unwittingly acts out an all-too familiar role in the sad drama — until something forces a change.

September is National Recovery Month, a time when we celebrate those individuals who have reclaimed their lives. I want to add to that list of reclaimed lives by encouraging anyone who may now be playing a supporting role to an addict to change the script.

But first, you have to identify the addict or dependent. The dependent is the one who uses chemical substances to cope with the daily stressors of life, despite all the negative consequences. This is the family member who creates all the chaos to which everyone else reacts to and therefore takes on a dysfunctional role of their own. They tend to have low self-esteem, yet are very self-centered.

Next, you have to recognize the part you're playing right now. Below is a list of family roles developed by acclaimed author-family therapist Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse. See if you fit any of the criteria:

Chief Enabler: The one who must maintain control at all costs and robs the addict of experiencing the consequences of their using by constantly "rescuing" them from their problems.

Family Hero: The go-getter who attempts to make the family look normal by over-achieving.

Scapegoat/Rebel: The one who takes the heat off the dependent by putting the negative attention on him or herself.

Mascot: The clown in the family who makes light of every situation.

Lost child: Usually the youngest in the family, who has learned by watching the consequences of others that it's best to go unnoticed and to be invisible.

If you see yourself or family members in the above roles, then you've taken the first step in recognizing the need for help.

The next step may be the hardest: confronting the problem head-on. But you don't have to do it alone. Find a local substance abuse clinic or counselor and talk to them — trust me, they've seen your situation before. They can help you decide how to proceed.

And finally, for those who identified with one of the other family roles on the list, a counselor can help you too —whether the dependent gets help or not. It may be as obvious as working an Al-Anon program or it may require more in-depth counseling but the most important thing to do is act. After all, that's what a true supporting cast member does.

Costa Mesa resident DANNY O'DELL is a counselor, case manager and interventionist.

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