Codependency can happen to anyone. However, a person who is closely connected to someone who abuses alcohol or drugs has a significantly higher risk of experiencing codependency. Partners and relatives of someone that is addicted to substances may feel a need to justify their loved one’s substance use, downplay its severity, or enable their substance use as a result of wanting to maintain a relationship with their loved one.
While codependent relationships can happen without substance use playing a factor, addiction tends to perpetuate codependent behaviors in relationships. It is important to understand that codependent relationships are destructive for both partners. However, effective treatments are available to help heal both substance use disorders and associated codependency.
Codependency is a circular relationship where both partners have an excessive psychological or emotional reliance on one another. It is a condition that impairs a person's ability to have a mutually healthy relationship with another person. A codependent relationship can be recognized as a form of behavioral addiction.
Codependency can look like many things, such as covering up a loved one's addiction or constantly needing reassurance. Over time, the struggling partner will start to lean on their partner to fulfill all of their emotional and psychological needs. In turn, the other partner will feel validated by feeling needed by the struggling partner. This begins the cycle of codependency.
These types of relationships are unhealthy because they limit both partners' ability to function independently outside of the relationship. Both partners become conditioned to the unhealthy way of obtaining self-esteem from one another without even realizing it.
Sometimes, codependent relationships can be confused with loving relationships. A partner may be blind to their enabling behaviors, especially when they believe that they are behaving out of love for their struggling partner. They may even define their actions as “loving.” However, codependency is not loved. Codependency is seeking love from a partner based on personal feelings of insecurity. Oppositely, healthy relationships are balanced with mutual give and take. They do not involve one person sacrificing all of their needs for the benefit of the other.
In other cases, one partner may feel like it’s their job to fix the struggling partner. This may happen with romantic partners but can also happen with a guardian and a struggling dependent, such as a mother trying to mask the addictive behaviors of their child. This can look less like fixing and more like taking control. In this case, the mother's life becomes defined by her child's addiction.
The following behaviors are commonly associated with codependent relationships:
Drugs and alcohol tend to exacerbate issues in relationships, especially when partners already have codependent tendencies. The “enabler” in the codependent relationship will often neglect their well-being or responsibilities to fulfill the struggling partners' needs. The struggling partner, in turn, may resort to manipulating the other partner into helping them conceal their addiction or shield them from its consequences. The enabler may feel compelled to “fix” any of the problems in the addict’s life that they cannot or will not fix themself.
Codependency can affect an entire family unit, not just the relationship between two people. Young kids that grow up hiding their mom's or dad’s addiction may repeat their secret-keeping behavior if they find themself struggling with substance use in the future. Children may also fail to develop the social or communication skills needed to thrive in school. These patterns are difficult to break the longer they are left unresolved.
While codependent relationships may feel like a never-ending, unhealthy cycle, there are ways to heal from them. The codependent person may benefit from therapy by learning skills needed to increase their self-esteem or to create appropriate boundaries in their relationships. The person struggling with substance abuse will benefit from substance use treatment, particularly treatment for co-occurring conditions. If the whole family is involved in a codependent relationship, particularly children, family counseling may be a good option so everyone can heal simultaneously.
Some of the necessary tools for overcoming codependency include improving communication and learning new behaviors. This can look like conflict management skills and setting boundaries, such as “I will listen to your problems and be supportive, but I need this set of hours to focus on myself and my own needs.” Once you identify the unhealthy relationship patterns, the easier it will be to start replacing old behaviors with new ones.
At Clearfork Academy, we understand that reaching out for help is often the hardest step. It can be heartbreaking to realize that your efforts to help someone you love who is struggling with drugs or alcohol may be causing more harm than good. The good news is that helping someone overcome an addiction is not your responsibility. The struggling person must decide on their own that they want to get better before it can actually happen. Our staff is equipped to help addicts along that path to recovery. With individual or group therapy, residential treatment programs, intensive outpatient treatments, and more, we have a high success rate in helping young people break destructive patterns in their lives. To learn more about how to heal from codependency or to learn more about our treatment programs, please call us today at (817) 259-2597.