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Family Roles of Addiction in the TV show Shameless


You may or may not have seen this SHOWTIME show… but it’s one that covers the effects of addiction heavily. Shameless is about a poor, dysfunctional family, highlighting the effects of addiction and alcoholism on the South Side of Chicago. It is the American version of the comedy-drama of the same name from Paul Abbott’s British series. The show premiered in 2011 and is still currently running new episodes on SHOWTIME and streaming on Netflix.


Shameless is based around the Gallagher family, with the patriarch being the alcoholic, drug-addicted Frank, making things difficult for his family. Frank’s wife and the mother of his children, ran away, a result of mental health problems and drug and alcohol abuse. Their six children are pretty much left to fend for themselves, while also dealing with the effects of having parents with substance abuse issues. It is the kids who make the show, demonstrating how addiction affects the family and also how co-dependency roles are formed.


1. The addict: This would be the parents, Frank and Monica. Their addictions are the source of the problems for the family. Though the pair did somewhat well in their early lives, even noting several times that they met at a Northwestern University, they still ended up being heavily addicted to alcohol and several drugs. Even taking drugs and drinking while pregnant. They spend all their money, all their children’s money on drugs and alcohol, and will scam whoever and whatever they can to make money to score more drugs. 2. The hero: This role would fall to the eldest daughter Fiona. Fiona takes care of the family, dropping out of high school to raise her siblings. Although she has some issues of her own, problems with relationships, and holding down a job, she does what she can to support and protect her family. She tends to self-sabotage, and this can be linked back to how she was raised by her parents.


2. The scapegoat: Lip, the eldest brother would take this role. Lip is the smartest one in the family and manages to scheme his way to get out of certain situations, although these schemes usually get him into trouble. He can also become violent, a result of his upbringing and alcoholism. The younger brother Carl could also be seen as the scapegoat. He is constantly getting into trouble for all the wrong reasons, trying to prove himself in his neighborhood, to his friends, to his family, trying to be tougher than he is.


3. The lost child: Ian can often be portrayed as this role. He usually stays in the background and tries not to cause any trouble for the family. He tends to cause trouble for himself though, not taking his bipolar medication, illegally joining the arm, doing excessive amounts of drugs, and working as a sex worker.


4. The caretaker/enabler: The youngest sister Debbie plays this dual role. She takes care of her parents, no matter their current state. She always sees the best in them and hopes they can get better, sticking up for them, even defending them, enabling their issues.


5. The mascot: This role would be given to the youngest brother Liam, who is mostly a baby throughout the show. He is cute and innocent, reminding everyone that it is still a good world.


Besides the roles the kids make, this show demonstrates how hurtful addiction can be to everyone involved, not just the addicts themselves. The kids get let down by their parents each episode, with little to no care at all. Frank uses them and gets away with it all. There are highs and there are lows, but without Frank getting any help, his kids always suffer and have to fend for themselves, at ages they shouldn’t have to.


It is important to note that the show, though entertaining, can be quite triggering. There is a constant use of drugs, alcohol, and sex, with little remorse. All in all, Shameless demonstrates the effects of dealing with someone with an addiction and how their actions can affect those around them.


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