Codependency and Addiction

Forty million Americans, mostly women, suffer from codependency. In a codependent relationship, one person takes on the ‘giver’ or ‘rescuer’ role, and the other assumes the role of the ‘taker’ or the ‘victim’.

Substance use disorders can lead to codependency as personal relationships become more and more imbalanced and unhealthy. A person who is a caregiver for someone suffering with a substance use disorder, for example, may become overly involved in their caring efforts and let their own needs and desires disappear. Someone in a codependent relationship makes their purpose in life center around the sacrifices made to satisfy the other person’s needs.

A codependent relationship is created when there is a power imbalance between two people. One person serves the needs of the other, who freely takes what is given. It is a one-sided relationship, satisfying the wants and desires of just one person.

A person who suffers from codependency is either dependent upon another person to help fulfill their own desires, or they wish to give up their own needs in life in order to satisfy someone else’s.

A codependent person is usually involved in this type of relationship in order to feel loved, validated, or needed for a number of reasons.

Codependency and Addiction

Codependency is thought to be more common in those who have had disturbing experiences or trauma early in life. The term codependency was first used to describe a dysfunctional relationship between a person with substance addiction and someone who’s close to them. Psychiatrist Timmen Cermak, in 1988, said that codependency is a disease related to addiction.

Author Charles Whitfield explained codependency as a progressive disease of “lost selfhood” that is similar to substance dependency. Over time, codependency has been seen in relationships outside of substance addiction within the relationship. It can also affect people with certain mental and behavioral health issues, like depression. Being labeled as a codependent person can refer to anyone involved in an unbalanced and flawed relationship.

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How Codependency Appears With Addiction

Someone who is in a relationship with a person suffering from a substance or process addiction may take on a caregiver role for their partner.

If the partner who is abusing substances needs to stay home from work because they can’t cope that day, the caretaker may attempt to cover for them by calling in sick so they won’t lose their job. This kind of activity accidentally permits the partner to continue engaging in addictive behaviors, rather than actually helping to address the root issue.

The Signs of a Codependent Relationship

Codependency often develops in relationships involving someone with a substance abuse issue. The person suffering from addiction may not feel the need to begin the recovery process. This is because the other person in the relationship is enabling, possibly accidentally, the addiction to continue.

Codependent relationships have certain symptoms. Some of the signs that you may be in a codependent relationship include:

  • Feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem.
  • Feeling that you must do whatever it takes to please someone else; finding it almost impossible to say “no”.
  • Feeling very responsible for the other person’s actions and behaviors.
  • Feeling responsible for someone’s feelings and problems, with weak boundaries between you and the other person.
  • Feeling as though your self-worth depends upon feeling needed.
  • Wanting to be in control of how someone behaves so you can feel good about yourself. This includes being manipulative.
  • Putting others’ problems and desires ahead of your own.
  • Being fearful of communicating the truth to someone because it may upset them.
  • Spending your time obsessing about a relationship or person, hoping you haven’t made a mistake that will lead to rejection.
  • Focusing on what the other person is feeling rather than dealing with your own feelings.
  • Being very emotionally reactive.
  • Feeling a need to always be in a relationship.
  • Confusing love with pity.

The Causes of Codependency

A codependency appears as a person focuses all of their thoughts and actions on others, such as a family member or spouse. Someone who is codependent tries to meet the needs of others while sacrificing their own personal desires.

What causes someone to become codependent? The causes usually involve growing up in a messy, dysfunctional family environment. Some examples include:

  • When a parent neglects a child’s emotional, physical, and psychological needs. This may result in the child growing to develop low self-esteem. This may present itself as feeling like their needs are not worth being met.
  • The parent(s) may suffer from substance addiction, have a mental health condition, or be dealing with other troubling issues, such as divorce or chronic illness. This can make it more difficult to focus on the needs of a child, which can manifest later in life as codependency.
  • The child may need to take over some of the duties of the parent, especially if the adult is often under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For instance, a child may have to learn how to cook dinner so their siblings don’t go hungry or figure out how to change a baby’s diaper when the parent cannot.
  • A child of a neglectful parent might even have to take care of a parent’s emotional needs. If, for example, a mother is dealing with an abusive spouse, she may turn to her child for sympathy. An overly self-involved parent may seek a lot of praise and comfort from a child.
  • Being in this caregiver type of role can make child development stall. This may result in the child confusing taking care of others’ needs with their own feelings of control and security. This can make it hard to develop stable relationships later on in life.

Recovery From Codependency

Most people who are in a codependent relationship are either not aware of what’s happening or are in denial about it. When a true crisis happens or when someone is in too much pain, the motivation to seek help may then appear.

Recovery for codependency can begin when there is awareness about codependency and denial is removed. Treatment involves changing ways of thinking and behaving, and learning new, more positive habits.

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