When someone is in the throes of addiction, their symptoms and behaviors take a toll on the whole family. Addicts frequently lie, cheat, and steal – often from their own loved ones – to be able to support their addiction. Full-blown addiction takes away the choice to use or not to use from the addict. They almost always need professional medical help to get clean.
Addicts’ behavior probably seems crazy to many, especially their family members and loved ones. For family members who do not understand addiction, this can be a hard position to be in. They may think that the addict can be reasoned, guilted, or even bribed into not using. They may spend countless hours and energy trying to get the addict to quit. And they are likely to become codependent in their relationship with the addict.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is when one person takes an excessively passive, controlling, or caretaking role in a relationship with another person. A codependent person tends to spend much of their time monitoring, controlling, and trying to enhance or improve the feelings of someone else.
When a person is in a codependent relationship, there is an imbalance that is unhealthy and often toxic or destructive to the codependent person’s self-esteem, self-worth, and usually, their needs are sacrificed for those of the other person in the relationship.
Codependency doesn’t always involve a relationship with an addict; it can exist in any dysfunctional relationship. It also doesn’t happen in every family with an addict. Some family members are able to detach from the addict and not engage in codependency.
That said, it is fairly common for there to be a codependent/addict relationship in families suffering from a loved one’s addiction.
What Does the Codependent and Addict Relationship Look Like?
The relationship between the codependent and the addict can be dangerous. The addict continues to have the need to use and will do anything to meet that need. The codependent tries to intervene, manipulate, fix, and manage the addict’s life. The things that they do for the addict may seem like good things, and they may be being done out of love. But, in reality, not allowing the addict to suffer the consequences of their addiction only perpetuates their using, which can lead to a lifetime of unhappiness for both people or, sadly, to the death of the addict.
The following is a breakdown of what the relationship might look like:
|The Codependent…||The Addict…|
|…loves the addict. This love influences and controls the codependent’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.||…loves the drug or alcohol. This love controls the addict’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.|
|…believes that without the addict, he or she will die or be unable to function||…believes that without the substance, he or she will die or be unable to function|
|…is dependent on the love from the addict for his or her self-worth||…is dependent on the drug or alcohol to avoid negative emotions and numb pain|
|…is loyal to the addict, despite the addict’s disrespect and irresponsibility||…is avoidant and disloyal because only the addiction matters to him or her|
|…is unable to ask about his or her own needs because it may anger the addict||…demands that the codependent meets his or her needs at all times, no matter what the situation|
|…plays the role of caregiver for the addict but neglects to care for his or her own self||…feels entitled and is used to being cared for and needs the codependent to take care of him or her to continue using|
|…is a rescuer who only finds significance in saving the addict||…needs to be saved by the codependent in order to continue using|
|…needs to be needed by the addict||…needs the codependent to be kept from suffering the negative consequences of addiction|
|…suffers from lack of identity because he or she has to constantly change to please the addict||…dominates the codependent’s sense of identity so that he or she can maintain control over the codependent|
|…has low self-esteem and self-worth and believes the love of the addict will fix him or her||…has low self-esteem and self-worth and uses drugs or alcohol to fix him or her|
|…is unable to set healthy boundaries||…has no respect for boundaries|
|…believes if he or she loves the addict enough, the addict will change||…uses any means necessary to meet his or her own need for substance use. He or she will use fear, domination, anger, guilt, and shame to get what he or she needs.|
How Do You Know if You Are Codependent?
If you identify with any of the characteristics of the codependent above but still are not sure that you are living in that role, here are some questions to consider:
- Do you feel desperate for approval?
- Are you uncomfortable being assertive or enforcing boundaries?
- Do you wish that you could control others?
- Do you base your self-worth on the approval of others?
- Do you shy away from making decisions because you are afraid of upsetting others?
- Have you given up friends, interests, or hobbies for someone else’s sake?
- Do you feel responsible for the way others behave?
- Do you confuse being needed for being loved?
- Do you feel upset when others don’t notice how much you are doing for them?
- Do you attempt to avoid abandonment by staying in unhealthy relationships?
If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you might be codependent. If so, it’s time for you to think about getting help for yourself – regardless of what the addict in your life does or doesn’t do.
Recovery for Codependence
Ideally, the codependent and the addict will seek treatment at the same time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. If you find that you are codependent and are enabling the addict in your life, seek help. It isn’t easy to give up control (even if it’s just perceived control) over your loved one who is using drugs. There are support groups for family members of addicts that teach you how to detach with love and start living your own life.
Depending on whether you have underlying causes for your codependence besides the addict, it may be useful to seek counseling or therapy for yourself. It will help get to the heart of the issue and provide you with new ways of coping.
The important thing to remember is that your well-being and mental health do not have to depend on what others in your life, including the addict, say or do. You have the potential to live a happy and fulfilled life no matter what. Asking for help is the first step to breaking free of codependency.