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Codependency is a word we hear often these days, but how does it relate to substance abuse, addiction, and recovery? In this blog, we’ll discuss what codependency is, several of the primary warning signs, and the relationship between codependency and addiction. We will also provide helpful information on how to treat both codependency and addiction within the family unit. First, let’s begin with the basics: What is codependency?
What is Codependency?
According to the National Mental Health Association, codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that can be passed down from one generation to the next. Also known as “relationship addiction,” codependent people typically develop relationships that are one-sided and emotionally damaging to both parties involved.1
Although codependency was originally identified ten years ago while studying the relationships of families of alcoholics, the definition has expanded to encompass a dysfunctional way of living that can affect anyone.
Many families dealing with addiction use codependency and other unhealthy behaviors as a way to cope. If you are exhibiting some of the signs listed below, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are codependent. However, many codependent people may recognize several or all of the following signs in their lives. As with all mental health disorders and issues, codependency should always be diagnosed by a clinical psychologist.
13 Warning Signs of Codependency
Whether you are addicted to drugs and alcohol or your loved one is suffering from addiction, you may be in a codependent relationship or be codependent yourself. The National Mental Health Association defines the following characteristics as some of the most common warning signs of codependency.1,2
- You have trouble articulating your feelings and emotions.
Codependent people tend to avoid talking about their feelings, emotions, and thoughts. They often believe their opinions don’t matter or they just say what they think others want to hear. If they do share, they may find it difficult to get to the point or express their emotions appropriately.
- You want to be liked by everyone.
Many codependent people don’t like themselves, therefore they desperately seek approval, love, and acceptance from others. Often times they often feel like they have to prove that they are worthy of love and attention and spend a great deal of time worrying about whether or not other people like them.
- You feel the need to control and fix others.
Codependent people may also feel a sense of emptiness or worthlessness if there is not a crisis to solve or a person to fix. They typically feel a strong urge to provide solutions, advice and agree to things they don’t really want to do and they may also wonder why others don’t do the same for them.
- You have trouble setting clear boundaries in your life.
It’s not uncommon for a codependent to say they won’t tolerate something (like drug abuse) and gradually increase that tolerance until they are putting up with physically, emotionally, and psychologically harmful behavior from others. This lack of boundaries leaves them wondering why they keep getting hurt and may eventually cause them to harbor a lot of anger and bitterness.
- You set aside your own interests and needs to do what others want.
The life of a codependent person often revolves around the needs and wants of another person. Instead of caring for their own well-being first, a codependent person will latch onto that person and expect all of their good feelings to come from that one relationship. They frequently tolerate abuse and negative behaviors out of fear of being unloved.
- You are loyal to a fault.
Codependent people tend to remain in harmful situations far too long just to hold onto a relationship, even if it’s not working. They may feel trapped in a relationship and if they do eventually leave, they often fall into another unhealthy relationship soon after because they are searching for fulfillment and happiness in someone else.
- You tend to ignore or deny problems.
Instead of finding healthy resolutions for personal issues, codependent people have a tendency to ignore problems and pretend that everything is fine. They may also convince themselves that the lies they tell themselves are true or seek solace from problems in food, drugs, alcohol, work, or other things.
- You suppress thoughts and feelings out of fear or guilt.
Instead of expressing anger or hurt, codependent people may suppress those emotions because they think other people will leave them if they are angry or have been shamed for expressing anger in the past. They may also feel controlled by another person’s anger, have violent outbursts of anger, or use drugs or alcohol to deal with feelings of anger.
- You have low self-esteem and self-worth.
Instead of developing a true sense of self-worth, codependent people may build up artificial self-esteem and self-worth from helping others. Often times, they are very critical of themselves and need to feel needed. They may feel ashamed of who they are, lack confidence and the will to succeed, or feel rejected by others.
- You feel responsible for other people’s feelings and actions.
Another common characteristic of codependency is taking on a caretaker role. A codependent person may feel anxious or guilty when other people have a problem. They may be attracted to other codependent people and vice versa. They may also overcommit but then get angry when they feel like their help isn’t effective or appreciated.
- You have poor communication skills.
Codependent people often blame, threaten, bribe, or beg others to get what they want. Instead of clearly stating what they want or need, they may choose to make a statement indirectly by sighing, stomping around, or slamming doors.
- You are withdrawn and depressed.
This often occurs in the late stage of codependency. Codependent people have a tendency to isolate themselves, neglect their responsibilities, become lethargic and depressed, or develop mental problems or an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.
- You refuse to seek help because you feel like the problem isn’t bad enough.
Codependent people may have trouble asking for help because they convince themselves that the problem isn’t as bad as they think it is, they think they don’t deserve a better life, or they’re too ashamed to admit they need help. They may also be afraid that others will abandon them if they find out about their problems.
The Relationship Between Codependency and Addiction
Addiction changes the behaviors of the person abusing drugs and alcohol, but it can also change the behaviors of their loved ones in many negative ways. A loved one’s enabling behaviors can become codependency when they become controlled by the addicted person’s behavior and are dependent on the addict for attention and self-esteem.3
If your loved one is addicted to drugs and alcohol, it’s normal to want to help them in any way you can. However, when your helping behaviors become extreme, you may end up enabling them instead, by encouraging their addiction and promoting sickness instead of health.
In short, codependency is a form of enabling. If you are in a codependent relationship that involves substance abuse and addiction, you may do one or more of the following things:
- Take over the addicted person’s responsibilities
- Make excuses for the addicted person
- Sacrifice your own mental, emotional, and physical health to protect the addict from the consequences of their substance abuse
- Lie to protect the addicted person
Codependency and addiction feed off one another, and often times, the loved one of the addicted person develops their own addiction: an addiction to the relationship with the addict. They become so focused on maintaining the relationship and protecting the addict that they don’t realize they are actually shielding the addicted person from experiencing the consequences of their addiction, which, in turn, extinguishes all motivation to get sober.
Why Codependency is Dangerous
A codependent relationship can be very dangerous, especially when addiction is involved. The cycle of enabling behaviors and substance abuse will continue with no end until something happens that breaks the cycle. In many cases, that event is a tragic one, such as an overdose, a car crash, a job loss, or a divorce.
Avoiding enabling behaviors and codependency will only lead to more problems and cause turmoil within the relationship and the family unit. The only way to break the cycle of codependency and addiction is to seek treatment for both issues and modify the mindset and the behavior of both the addicted person and their loved ones.
Treating Codependency and Substance Abuse
You can overcome codependency and substance abuse problems with the right treatment and support. If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, a 90-day drug and alcohol rehab program can help you address the psychological, behavioral, and social aspects of your addiction. A comprehensive drug rehab program will also address any co-occurring disorders and behaviors such as codependency.
- Explore family roles and address family conflict
- Develop healthy communication skills
- Teach family members of addicted loved ones how to establish healthy boundaries
- Identify codependent behaviors and learn how to modify them
If you or a loved one is addicted and you’re in the midst of a codependent relationship, call Nova Recovery Center today to learn more about our drug and alcohol rehab and family program.