Codependency is a common response to the challenges associated with loving someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, even though the behaviors associated with codependency can seem positive on the surface, they will eventually have the negative effect of continuing to enable your loved one’s addiction.
The term codependent refers to an excessive psychological or emotional reliance on another person to meet one’s own needs. Someone who suffers from a codependent personality will likely agree with the following statements:
- I enjoy acting as a caretaker.
- I seek out people who are in crisis so I can “rescue” them.
- Pleasing people makes me happy.
- Setting firm boundaries in a relationship is hard for me.
- My moods are controlled by the thoughts and feelings of everyone around me.
- I find it difficult to accurately describe my feelings to others.
- I always want to be in control.
- I have a hard time trusting other people.
- I’d rather be in a broken or abusive relationship than be alone.
Codependency is often thought to be caused by low self-esteem, although it is a common response to the trauma associated with loving someone who suffers from addiction. Addicts are notorious for their unpredictable behavior, which can make those closest to them fight harder to maintain a sense of order and control over their environment.
The term codependency was first applied to the spouses of addicts, but codependent relationships can take many forms. Parents, children, and friends of substance abusers can all find themselves trapped in a cycle of codependency.
Codependency is essentially a “helping” relationship taken to the extreme. Wanting to be kind to others is admirable. However, your actions do more harm than good if you’re unable to set clear boundaries.
- You justify a loved one drinking or using drugs by saying the addict has had a stressful day or needs to relax.
- You make excuses when the addict can’t come to social functions because he or she is under the influence.
- You apologize to others on behalf of the person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol.
- You loan money when financial problems are caused by drugs or alcohol.
All of these behaviors prevent your loved one from experiencing the full consequences of his or her addiction. When someone is always around to pick up the pieces, a substance abuser is able to stay in denial about the extent of his or her problem. When he or she is allowed to be irresponsible, self-destructive, and cruel to others without fear of reprisal, there is no incentive to seek treatment.
How to Stop the Cycle
Codependency creates a vicious cycle that harms both partners. Move towards a healthier relationship by keeping in mind the following tips:
- Educate yourself. Reading about codependency and attending support groups for the friends and family of addicts can help gather insight into the reasons behind your behavior and how your actions are harming your relationship.
- Treat co-occurring disorders. People who suffer from codependency often have accompanying mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. Treating these issues is essential to stopping codependent behavior. Medication and therapy may be necessary.
- Establish boundaries. Setting clear boundaries for yourself will help you overcome the urge to enable addiction-related behaviors from your loved one. For example, you may decide that you’ll no longer answer text messages sent while you’re at work, that you will decline to spend time around your loved one when it’s obvious that he or she has been using, or that you’ll no apologize to others when your loved one acts inappropriately.
- Spend time alone. When you’re in a codependent relationship, your sense of self starts to become intertwined with the other person’s mood, thoughts, and feelings. Breaking the cycle require you to establish an independent identity. This may mean taking up a new solo hobby or pursing a special interest that you’ve previously ignored due to the time demands associated with caring for your addicted friend or family member. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it’s something you enjoy doing by yourself.
At first, these actions might feel like they are selfish and unfair to your loved one. However, you won’t be in any position to support your friend or family member through addiction recovery unless you actively make time to address your own mental health needs. In the long term, breaking the cycle of codependency is the kindest and most compassionate way to get your loved one the help he or she needs.
By Dana Hinders