Codependency is a dysfunctional relationship pattern characterized by psychological dependence on a person who has some type of addiction. This pattern often occurs in romantic relationships, but it can also develop between family members – a parent and a child or a pair of siblings. In some cases, codependent individuals are dealing with addictions and mental health struggles of their own, making their relationships even more complicated. Additionally, dysfunctional families often fail to acknowledge unhealthy behaviors and signs of codependency leading to further destructive behaviors and an ongoing lack of trust, poor communication and little to no emotional support. The link between addiction and codependency is strong, and it can present several challenges as an individual works to recover from an addiction to alcohol or illicit substances.
Codependent individuals often engage in people-pleasing behavior. Due to low self-esteem and sense of self-worth they will do almost anything to make people like them and have a positive opinion of them, which sometimes causes them to enable their loved ones. Enabling refers to shielding an addicted individual from the negative consequences of their behavior. In many cases, the recovery process begins when an individual feels that life can’t get any worse than it already is. This is known as hitting rock bottom. For someone with an alcohol or substance addiction disorder, this feeling can occur after an arrest for driving under the influence. It may also occur if an individual is fired for substance abuse or if the individual’s romantic partner ends the relationship.
Enablers are so worried about keeping the peace and making sure that people have a positive view of them that they do whatever they can to shield their loved ones from negative consequences. An enabler may make excuses for the addict’s behavior, lie to other people to keep the substance abuse problem a secret, give an addicted individual money even if it will be used to buy alcohol or drugs, perform tasks that the addicted individual is capable of doing themselves or blame other people for the addicted individual’s behavior. If an individual struggling with addiction gets in trouble at work or has an encounter with the police, the enabler may try to excuse the troubling behavior. As a result, the addicted individual never hits rock bottom. By allowing compulsive behaviors to continue, enablers prevent individuals with a substance use disorder from realizing they need help, which can prevent them from entering drug rehab and getting on the road to addiction recovery.
Codependency in Children
Although codependency often manifests in romantic relationships, psychologists have determined that the children of addicts may become codependent due to the role reversal that occurs between parent and child. Parents are supposed to protect their children, teach them how to behave and guide them as they explore the world. Parents struggling with addiction may have difficulty performing these responsibilities. Furthermore, depending on the severity of the alcohol abuse or drug addiction, a parent may be physically unable to care for a child, resulting in a reversal of roles. The child may have to clean the house, cook dinner, take out the trash or perform other adult responsibilities. This can affect the formation of the child’s identity, causing the cycle of codependency to last well into adulthood. The link between addiction and codependency is strong, causing some adults to seek relationships with codependent partners struggling from addiction so they can maintain their caretaking identity.
Characteristics of Codependent Relationships
Not all codependent individuals engage in the same behaviors, but there are some common characteristics of codependency that can signal a problem.
- Taking responsibility for the well-being of other people
- Doing more than their fair share of work
- Depending too much on relationships instead of focusing on individual growth
- Feeling guilty if others experience negative consequences
- Strong need for recognition for their efforts
- Fear of loneliness or isolation
- Inability to accept change
- Difficulty setting healthy boundaries
- Strong need to control or manipulate other people
- Inability to trust other people
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Addiction and codependency can have negative consequences for both people in the relationship. In addition to shielding an addicted individual from negative consequences, codependent behavior can prevent someone struggling with alcohol or drug abuse from forming healthy relationships with other people. The codependent person is so invested in the relationship that they may actively interfere with the other person’s ability to spend time with other people. As a result, the addicted individual may not have the support needed to recover successfully. By enabling an addict’s behavior, someone with codependent tendencies may also work to prevent any change from occurring in the relationship. This can cause the relationship to stagnate, leading to a high level of dissatisfaction for both partners.
Codependency also has troubling consequences for the codependent individual. Individuals who struggle with codependency are more likely to develop addictions to alcohol, gambling, overeating and illicit substances, demonstrating that the link between drug addiction and codependency is strong. The codependent individual may spend so much time enabling the individual with addiction that they have no time left to nurture other relationships. Engaging in enabling behavior may even prevent the codependent individual from succeeding at work or participating in fulfilling hobbies. In some cases, the enabling behavior is so severe that the codependent individual can’t focus on basic responsibilities. They may miss medical appointments, struggle to keep up with household chores or even have difficulty with parenting.
Seeking Addiction Treatment for Your or a Loved One
Addiction can be difficult to overcome, especially when an addicted individual is in a relationship with someone who struggles with codependency. Codependent behavior can shield addicted individuals from negative consequences, preventing them from hitting rock bottom and starting on the path to recovery. Therefore, it’s important for individuals struggling with addiction to seek treatment programs from qualified medical professionals who can monitor their physical health while also addressing the psychological roots of addiction.
An inpatient rehab program can be especially helpful, as inpatient addiction treatment centers provide a structured setting for recovery. Attending an inpatient program can also help the addicted person improve their self-esteem, develop healthy coping mechanisms and learn how to survive without the help of the codependent individual. Codependent individuals can also improve their behavior by going to individual and family therapy and working to understand how enabling hurts addicted individuals instead of helping them.
Valley Recovery Center offers a wide variety of recovery services, including inpatient medical detox and residential rehabilitation day treatment. To learn more about these services and how we can help you address the underlying causes of addiction or codependency, contact us today by phone at 866-986-2486 or through the website form.