Addiction can complicate and confuse the roles and dynamics in relationships. This can happen in any relationship, whether the relationship is between family members, friends, or romantic partners. Both people in the relationship can experience stressors and changes in their lives and behaviors because of the overarching presence of substance abuse. One situation that can arise when your loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol is codependency.

What Is Codependency?

Codependency is a condition that primarily affects the loved one of a person living with substance abuse. Although, the effects can directly impact the addicted person as well as spread out into the rest of the family unit. 

It is no secret that addiction is stressful when you are close to the situation. Watching someone you care about continuously make decisions that are detrimental to their physical, emotional, and social health can be hard to deal with, especially when this is someone you would like to protect. Protecting is exactly what codependency can result in, and this can exacerbate the already existing issue of addiction underlying the whole situation.

Addiction can create chaos and instability, and codependency leads you to seek to calm in those stormy waters. When you become codependent, you may feel terrified of being abandoned by your loved one and will continuously seek approval by putting the other person’s needs above your own. You might often take on the role of caretaker rather than an equal partner in the relationship, and this may lead to taking on the mindset of a martyr. 

It is possible that you may root yourself firmly in an unhealthy or even abusive relationship due to being emotionally dependent on the relationship or feeling that you are entirely responsible for the other person. Asking for help and saying “no” can be incredibly difficult while in this situation. 

Over time, codependency can lead you to become out of touch with your own interests, goals, and desires because you have been so wrapped up in the needs of your loved one. Yet, the fear of change and possibly making a mistake can keep you stuck in the same spot where you can neither leave the situation nor do anything to improve the relationship and move it toward a healthier state. 

These relationships bear scars such as volatility, issues with intimacy and boundaries, problematic communication, and a lack of trust. They are built on a vicious cycle of one person needing care and support in the face of the consequences of their addiction while you are fueled by the feeling of being needed and valued for your caretaking role.

Other Codependency Situations 

Not all instances of codependency occur in addiction; other kinds of dysfunction can lead to this behavior in families. For example, codependency can arise when someone in the family has a mental or physical illness or when there has been abuse or domestic violence. Codependency can emerge as a coping strategy in these tumultuous situations.

Even though codependency can exist separately from addiction, and not every case of addiction goes hand-in-hand with codependency, they are tightly intertwined. Codependency was initially named as a mental health concern in the context of substance use. Additionally, a 2016 article from the journal Addiction & Health found that codependency was more common in marriages where addiction was also present. 

The Different Faces of Codependency

Codependency can take different forms depending on who is involved in the relationship. One possible scenario could involve a cohabitating dating couple where the boyfriend is an alcoholic while the girlfriend is sober and codependent. Perhaps the boyfriend is unable to hold down a job and is unemployed for long stretches of time due to his drinking interfering with his work. The girlfriend might compensate for her partner by working multiple jobs, racking up debt on several credit cards, and covering rent and other necessary expenses to keep them afloat. As a result, she never has time to see friends or family and is not able to pay for things she needs, like maintenance on her car or dentist appointments.

Another possible situation could involve a father whose son is abusing drugs. After the son was evicted from his apartment, the father let him return to the family home. When the son wrecked his car while driving under the influence, the father paid for a new one. The situation even progressed to the father bailing his son out of jail. The mother does not agree with the father’s decisions regarding their son, and this has resulted in a divorce.

In both of these cases, the codependent person is suffering, just as the addicted person is suffering from substance abuse. Nothing will improve until the codependent person realizes they are inadvertently hurting themselves and their loved one.

Helping vs. Enabling

In codependency, you may feel as though you are helping, rescuing, or fixing your loved one, when in reality, you are actually only perpetuating the problem at hand. As a family member or other loved one, if you engage in behavior that supports continued substance abuse without challenging it, this is called enabling. 

Achieving wellness after addiction requires hard work, and codependency can lead you to try to do all the work, which is not the answer. When you take responsibility for someone’s substance abuse, it does nothing to empower that person to change; in fact, it may actually push that person even further into addiction. A person struggling with substance abuse does need help, but help involves taking accountability and seeking professional treatment. 

Fortunately, you do not have to figure it out on your own. There are licensed professionals who can help you and your family in this process and connect you to the right services.

Do you recognize the signs of codependency in yourself or someone you love? Are you looking for a way to help your loved one to overcome substance abuse without making the problem worse? These are difficult and uncertain situations to be in, and it can be hard to know how to find the answers. At Family-Centered Services, we can help. Our team of licensed clinicians can professionally assess the situation and then educate and support you in helping your loved one seek treatment. Once treatment has started, the entire family will receive comprehensive services such as family and individual therapy, case management, and sober accountability that all focus on repairing family bonds, establishing healthy relationships, and sustaining long-term wellness. The cycle of addiction and codependency does not have to define you or your family. Take the first step today by contacting FCS at (509) 991-5822.