Due to their high levels of need/dysfunction, alcoholics and drug addicts are at particular risk for developing codependent relationships with their close loved ones. Counter intuitively, “over-loving” addicts often results in the progression of their disease as their problematic behaviors are continually enabled.

Addiction Creates Codependency

One of the reasons addiction is so destructive is that it’s a family disease. Alcoholics and drug addicts are not just hurting themselves with their behaviors; the ones closest to them are affected as well. It is very easy for loved ones to lose sight of what’s best, or to even lack understanding of what’s “best” in the first place for an addict who needs to get help. Giving tough love does not come naturally to all of us. Parents, siblings, and adult children of addicts often fall into enabling behaviors at the expense of their own emotional (and sometimes physical) health. It becomes routine to provide unreasonable levels of “care” and availability in an attempt to make the addict get well. Unfortunately, these compromised boundaries hurt all parties involved. This is when codependency develops.

According to Mental Health America, codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.

Help for Codependency

It is important to understand that codependency is not physical disease/disorder like depression or anxiety. It cannot be diagnosed by a psychiatrist or treated with medication because it is purely relational. Although an underlying disorder may be driving some of the problem, codependent behavior needs to be addressed with a therapist. New Start’s residential program offers family therapy after the initial detox period.

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Codependency Dynamics

Problems look very different (and present different consequences) depending on what role a person takes in their codependent relationship. 

Sometimes codependency is one-sided. Typically, a generally healthy loved one becomes codependent on their spouse, parent, or other loved one who suffers from some kind of addiction or sickness. This codependent person becomes “addicted to the relationship” and exhibits unhealthy, enabling behaviors. This can include trying to take care of the addict, measuring out doses, covering for them, helping them lie, etc. Although this feels warm and fuzzy to the codependent, these behaviors can easily turn into loving their addict to death. Therapy helps establish healthy boundaries for these individuals.

Codependency is the result of someone fulfilling a loved one’s needs, typically an addict or sick person. While being involved with a codependent person may feel good in the beginning, it can be very destructive long term. The enabling behavior of the codependent provides an environment for the addict to bask in their addiction relatively free of consequences. It is important to bring these family members to treatment, establish healthy boundaries, and lessen the chance of relapse by nipping it in the bud.

The term codependent relationship originally described two dependent addicts using and/or drinking together. Dual dysfunction, anyone? Two addicts in a relationship together are much less likely to recognize problematic behavior (in either themselves or their partner) and seek help as compared to one addict surrounded by normies. Although it may feel impossible, usually the only way for this situation to improve is for one addict to leave the relationship and seek help. Although many couples in these situations try to “get clean together,” this is never recommended. Early recovery requires a level of focus and “selfishness” that can’t accommodate another unstable addict, no matter how good their intentions may be.

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