Addiction and codependency don’t always occur together, but they often go hand in hand. Unfortunately, recovery is even more challenging for addicts in codependent relationships.
In this article, we’ll discuss what codependency is, why it often co-occurs with addiction, and what steps can be taken to address these complex problems.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is an unhealthy relationship pattern in which one person puts another’s needs above their own, often to the detriment of their own life, activities, and other relationships.
It’s sometimes referred to as “relationship addiction,” because codependents commonly form relationships that are one-sided and involve physical or emotional abuse. Despite these issues, a codependent individual will strive to maintain the relationship at any cost.
In a codependent relationship, one person often has extreme needs, whether physical or emotional, while the other spends the majority of their time attempting to meet these needs. This can escalate to the point that one person is making decisions for the other and limiting their ability to act independently.
Codependency: A Brief History
The term “codependent” was first used to describe those in close relationships with alcoholics.
In the 1970s, experts realized that effective treatment for alcoholism involved treatment within the context of the alcoholic’s personal relationships. They began referring to the partners of alcoholics as “co-alcoholics.”
About ten years later, in the 1980’s, the term “chemical dependency” was used to describe addiction. “Co-alcoholic” was changed to “co-chemically dependent,” which was then shortened to “codependent.”
Eventually, the term was expanded to include anyone in a relationship with an addict or enabling an addict. But by the mid-1980s, “codependency” took on the broader definition it has today. It became apparent that while codependents are often in relationships with addicts, this isn’t always the case.
Recognizing a Codependent
Codependent individuals tend to share the following characteristics:
- Low self-esteem
- Fear of rejection
- People pleasing; difficulty saying “no”
- Extreme need for approval and recognition
- A desire to “fix” people and/or make them happy
- Overblown emotional reactions
- A need to control situations and people
- Difficulty creating healthy boundaries
- Difficulty making decisions
- Difficulty “being themselves”
- A tendency to always do more than their share
- A tendency to feel hurt when people don’t recognize these efforts
- A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
- Obsessively thinking about other people and their own fears and anxieties
- Lack of trust in self and/or others
- Fear of or issues with intimacy; see intimacy as “doing” for others
- Emotions such as resentment, shame, depression, and despair
Codependency is common for children of alcoholics or addicts, who were forced to step into the “caretaking” role at an early age. The same is true for children raised by mentally ill parents or from homes where abuse occurred, especially if the mental illness or abuse was swept under the rug.
When Addiction and Codependency Co-Occur
Individuals who struggle with substance abuse experience problems stemming from their addiction, such as:
- Financial problems
- Difficulties at work
- High risk behaviors
- Problems with relationships
- Constant need for emotional support
Codependent individuals are drawn to those who need to be fixed or rescued, so they do whatever they can to support the addict through these difficulties. They have good intentions, believing that they’re loving and caring for their partner.
Taking care of their addicted partner begins to feel rewarding for the codependent. The caretaking often becomes compulsive, and the codependent engages in enabling behaviors like:
- Covering for the addict
- Providing money
- Caring for the addict when he/she feels unwell
- Allowing the addict to live rent-free
- Otherwise making the addict comfortable
Ultimately, the codependent makes it easy for the addict to maintain his lifestyle instead of seeking help. These behaviors reinforce each other: The more reliant the addict becomes, the more satisfaction the codependent gets from being needed.
In many cases, codependents also engage in addictive behavior, and addicts can also be codependent. But most often, one person has more severe addiction issues, and the other supports and cares for them. In the process, they lose their own sense of self and their personal needs and desires.
The codependent may subconsciously fear that if the addict gets clean, they’ll no longer be needed. For this reason, effective treatment for addicts in codependent relationships involves addressing the codependency as well.
Treatment can be administered through a combination of individual therapy and couples therapy. The goals of therapy include recognizing codependent behavior and understanding its effects, improving communication, establishing boundaries, and increasing behaviors that support a healthy relationship.
For the codependent, therapy will involve delving into early childhood issues and their relationship to current destructive behaviors. The codependent must learn to embrace his or her own feelings and needs, which includes the ability to say “no” and to immediately stop any caretaking behaviors that allow or enable addiction.
Codependents aren’t aware of the harm their caretaking causes, but they enable their partner’s addiction.
In order for an addict in a codependent relationship to recover, the codependency must be addressed as well. Both the addict and the codependent should seek help in order to build a sober, healthy, and genuinely intimate relationship. For more information about codependency contact one of our addiction specialists at 1-888-249-2590 or click here.