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How Codependency Can Impact Addiction and Recovery

How Codependency Can Impact Addiction and Recovery


(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

When we talk about addiction we should always remember that this disease impacts not just the individual, but frequently the people closest to them. One of the most difficult parts of addiction for the family is watching their loved one hurt themselves with substances. The strength of the relationship can be a huge help, but with a codependent relationship things can be even more unhealthy for everyone. Codependency can have a drastic and lasting effect on someone’s addiction, and it might even hinder their recovery from addiction.

Witnessing a loved one’s struggles without doing anything can be painful, but allowing yourself to be taken advantage of can also do more harm than good. Recognizing codependency in a relationship with someone fighting addiction can be crucial to setting better boundaries and finding more constructive ways to support your loved one.

What is Codependency?

Codependency is defined as:

“Excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support due to an illness or addiction.”

Or

“Dependence on the needs of or control by another”

To be more specific, codependency is characterized by a variety of codependent behaviors. Some of the most common behaviors that outline codependency are:

  • Need to control others
  • Exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
  • Confusing love and pity
  • Doing more than your share
  • Unhealthy dependence on relationships
  • Fear of being alone or abandoned
  • Strong need for recognition or approval
  • Feeling guilty for asserting one’s self
  • Lack of trust in self and/or others
  • Problems with boundaries and intimacy
  • Poor communications
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty identifying your own feelings

For any relationship, codependency is unhealthy and can be the cause of a lot of stress for all involved. For someone struggling with addiction codependency can be life-threatening because it does not create any leverage to change risk behaviors or even acknowledge unhealthy choices.

Codependency is so dangerous for those with a loved one fighting addiction because a codependent loved one will enable the dangerous drug or alcohol use in order to protect their dependence on the relationship. So one family member or loved one can become controlled by the addicts behavior because they believe love, acceptance and security are all reliant on taking care of the addict in order to keep them close.

Codependency and Enabling

Codependency often goes hand in hand with enabling behavior. Both are frequently underestimated and overlooked when addressing the addiction of a loved one, but they are equally dangerous to their recovery.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

“Enabling behavior occurs when another person, often a codependent, helps or encourages the addict to continue using drugs, either directly or indirectly. Examples of individuals involved in enabling behavior are a spouse hiding the addict’s disease from neighbors or their children by lying for the addict and a so-called “friend” giving the addict money to buy drugs.”

  While these may seem like some pretty extreme examples, most people would be surprised at just how common they are. Family members and friends may find they are using enabling behavior without even realizing. Other examples of enabling behaviors include:

  • Making excuses for the addicted loved one
  • Cleaning up or covering up their messes
  • Going along with their excuses for using
  • Taking over their responsibilities
  • Supporting their use financially (directly or indirectly)

Not every form of support for an addicted loved one should be considered enabling. After all, an important aspect of recovery from addiction and building healthy relationships is compassion. Understanding how to make a difference in a positive way is not just safer, but it is empowering for everyone involved.

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Setting Boundaries for Recovery

In reality, codependency is extremely common in relationships involving an addiction. The truth is, loved ones who exhibit codependency with an addicted individual are typically doing so with the best intentions. We instinctively want to help the people we care about and protect them from danger, even if they are the one causing it. But if we hope for our loved ones to recovery from their addiction and risk behaviors, we have to be willing to set healthier boundaries.

If we are constantly bailing an addicted loved one out of trouble, then consequences may never come until it is too late. Again, there are healthy ways to be supportive and still have stable boundaries. You can still be there for them, but if codependency forces you to rescue them every time something goes wrong, they might never have the chance to seek the right kind of help.

At the end of the day, becoming independent in any kind of relationship can end up supporting your overall health. In some cases, codependency can lead to broken relationships or even to relapse. In recovery we learn to build healthier relationships, and so we should begin by setting healthier boundaries. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.

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