Addiction and codependency often appear together.
Codependency is both a mental and emotional disorder. It is an unhealthy, excessively emotional reliance or dependency on another person, sometimes called “relationship addiction.” An individual looks to others to make them feel whole or to fulfill their physical or emotional needs. Codependency breeds unhealthy and unsatisfying one-sided relationships, and often these relationships become destructive or abusive. Codependency is most often associated with those who have someone in active addiction or in recovery.
What is Codependency in Addiction?
Addiction is not just about the addict. It is also about the individuals in the addict’s personal network who may abet the addiction or interfere with recovery by overhelping. Families dealing with addiction use codependency as a coping mechanism, not realizing that they may enable the addicts’ behavior. Codependents allow the addict to continue their self-destructive behavior, manipulate their families, and cause further damage to both. When addicts aren’t dealing with demands to change their behavior, they don’t take their condition seriously.
Psychological models place people in either the role of the manipulator (the addict) or the enabler (family or friends).
The manipulator will use almost any perceived advantage (generally an emotional one) to get what they want — like an infant crying to be changed or for their bottle. They often bring up the past to shift the responsibility of their addiction to someone else (usually parents or spouse) or use painful events (e.g. divorce, financial difficulties while growing up, etc.) as excuses for their current behavior. The manipulator will do whatever it takes to “guilt” those around them into giving them what they want.
Often, family and friends enable the addict’s behavior by denying the problem or supporting the addict in some way so they are able to stay addicted, making the problem worse. These codependents think they are helping by taking care of their addicted loved one but are really minimizing the consequences of addiction. “Enabling” feeds the addicts’ delusion that they don’t have a problem. For example, many addicts live with parents, relatives, or friends so they don’t need to pay for food, shelter, or child care. This frees up the addict’s funds to feed the addiction.
Codependents take “responsibility” for the addict. Driven by the desire to feel needed, they try to solve the addict’s problems by controlling or manipulating them; yet, it is usually the addict who is doing the manipulating. This can lead to resentment and anger which can trigger other mental health issues including depression, anxiety, sex/relationship addictions, substance abuse, and physical health problems.
Signs of Codependency and Enabling Addiction
Some signs that a person might be struggling with codependency include them giving up significant obligations to tend to another’s needs, having their mood shift to match their partner’s or simply displaying enabling behaviors such as the inability to say no. Some examples of enabling behavior are making excuses for or covering up the actions of the addict, accepting the addict’s excuses for continuing their substance abuse, or providing financial, social, or legal support to the addict related to problems caused by their substance abuse.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that a codependent comes to believe that their love and security rely on them taking care of the addict in how the addict wishes. When an individual lives their life catering to the needs of the addict, to where their lives are basically controlled by this addictive behavior, this is when codependency arises and the danger presents itself.
As a result, addiction is often called a “family disease”. Interventions are often needed to break these codependency links.
How to Break Codependency and Overcome Addiction
Codependents and addicts go together hand-in-glove — they each fill a void in the other’s life. The addict “needs” the codependent, and the codependent “needs” the addict. The enablers require support just as much as the addict. There are many support groups available for codependents — spouses, adult children, young children, and friends of addicts. Family therapy teaches them to establish healthy boundaries and help the addict without enabling them. It helps the entire family heal from the addiction and recovery process together.
Codependence can be a path to use or relapse, and a stumbling block to recovery. Both codependency and addiction must be addressed in order to achieve long-term recovery.
For the most complete recovery, addiction and codependency should be treated simultaneously. Once detox is complete, there are several options for reducing codependency and its destructive behavior. Twelve-step programs provide support and accountability, while individual, couples, and family therapy can help deal with resentment and unhealthy balances in relationships. These programs can help those close to recovering addicts develop boundaries to limit enabling, and practice coping techniques to promote their own well-being and a more balanced life. At the same time, therapy for the addict can address the underlying causes of the addiction.
Bridges of Hope is a Joint Commission-accredited dual-diagnosis adult substance abuse treatment program. Our program is designed to achieve long-term recovery. We are licensed by the State of Indiana Department of Mental Health & Addiction.
Our treatment philosophy is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing all issues related to substance use and mental health disorders. We leave nothing to guesswork as we utilize therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices. We place superior patient care as our highest priority and offer them all-inclusive treatment services.
Mission Statement: We provide hope and healing for anyone with alcohol and substance abuse disorders.
We connect everyone to their own personal journey, bridging the gaps previously unmet.