Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Patricia Sullivan, MD MPH
One of the worst parts of addiction is how far-reaching it can be. Often, addiction is depicted in movies and TV as really only affecting one person, the person with an addiction.
However, addiction affects more than just any one person. Sadly, addiction impacts those around oneself nearly as much as it does to the individual.
Though typically not in a physical sense, one’s addiction can impact a loved one or even an entire family’s emotional, social, and possibly spiritual well-being.
This is due, in part, to codependency and enabling of the addicted individual. While one may just be trying to help, they may be causing more harm than good; in short, codependency and addiction are a toxic duo.
If you are experiencing issues with addiction, give us a call today to learn about treatment options.
What is Codependency?
Put simply, codependency is a mental, emotional, physical, and/or spiritual trust and reliance on a partner, friend, or family member; however, it entails much more than that, especially in regard to addiction.
The term itself dates back to the 1950’s and originates from the support group, Alcoholics Anonymous. They used it as a means to describe partners of those who abused substances and found themselves caught in the tangled lives of those they cared for. However, the term has since evolved, encompassing a spectrum of behaviors and circumstances.
Though no two relationships are the same, most codependent relationships have some similarities. They all have a point where one or both of them begin to rely on the other – whether mentally, physically, or even monetarily. Once this has been established, he or she will then do whatever is necessary to keep their partner happy, regardless of their own happiness.
To make matters worse, when codependency intertwines with addiction the sober person will often start to make major decisions for his or her addicted partner, tell him or her what to do, and even limit his or her ability to be and act independently.
Although the codependent, sober partner thinks he or she is helping, that partner often causes more harm than good. Codependency like this leads individuals to not only enable but also perpetuate a loved one’s addiction.
In making excuses for his or her behavior and helping the addicted partner avoid any consequences for their affliction, the sober partner enables him or her.
Of course, no one wants the people one loves to be hurt, be in pain, or be in trouble of any kind. But ultimately, protecting one from the consequences of his or her addictive behavior only leads to more pain and addiction later on.
Codependency in a Relationship
Codependency comes is a multitude of forms. There is no one way in which a codependent relationship exists. Oftentimes, one may even be oblivious of being in a codependent relationship.
However, there are signs of codependency one can look for when analyzing his or relationship:
- Feeling like one is “walking on eggshells” to avoid conflict with the other person.
- A need to check in with one’s partner constantly and ask permission to do everyday tasks.
- Being the one who apologizes most often — even after doing nothing wrong.
- Feeling sorry for one’s partner, even when he or she hurt you.
- Regularly trying to change or rescue one’s partner – whether from an addiction or something else that cannot feasibly be changed by one person.
- A willingness to do anything and everything for the other person, even when it makes you uncomfortable.
- Putting the other person on an unearned pedestal.
- A need for others to like you.
- Struggling to find time for yourself, especially if any free time constantly goes to helping or serving one’s partner.
- Feeling as though you may have lost a sense of yourself.
- Taking responsibility for one’s partner’s actions.
- Potential low self-esteem due to feelings of shame or inadequacy.
Not all of these signs will appear in every codependent relationship, but they are representative of what many relationships with codependency and addiction entail. No matter how loving a person is addiction and relationships do no mix.
Marriage and Addiction
Sadly, addiction effects all kind of relationships, but one that consistently falls victim to addiction is marriage. In a study headed by the Family Research Institute at the Shahid Beheshti University in Iran, the researchers sought to examine and understand codependent relationships between women and men with addictions.
The study selected 140 women, half of which had husbands with an addiction. Unsurprisingly, the 70 women whose husbands had an addiction were more likely to be codependent. While not all of these women with husbands with addictions were codependent, there were more in this category that were codependent than in the other (husbands with no addiction).
The researchers also found that the woman who were codependent also demonstrated traits of someone with neuroticism. In general, people who are neurotic experience a tendency toward negative feelings like anxiety, depression, and self-doubt. Feelings like these allow unhealthy, codependent relationships to flourish.
However, just because a relationship is made unhealthy by codependence, addiction, or a combination of the two does not mean it can never be healthy again.
In marriage, two people make the commitment to stay together “in sickness and in health.” Addiction is a sickness, but it can be beat. Though the path to sobriety is definitely uphill, the right treatment can assist in lasting recovery. Codependency and addiction hurt both people, and they will both need to heal.
Yet, one of most beneficial things for a person in recovery from addiction is support, especially the support from loved ones. This can make all the difference in creating lasting recovery. So, when one asks, “what is codependency in addiction?”
It’s a sickness. And when one asks, “what is the solution?” The answer is communication, treatment, and support.
How to Avoid Codependency and Enabling an Addiction
In most codependent relationships, the person without an addiction is trying to help his or her partner. He or she has the best intentions. Sadly though, their help is often not the help someone with an addiction truly needs. While it can be hard to convince someone they need help, it must be done for recovery to begin. Otherwise, one is just enabling the addiction.
Some examples of enabling behavior include:
- Taking responsibility of one’s partner
- Making excuses or covering for one’s partner
- Agreeing with a partner’s excuses or reasons for substance abuse
- Helping one’s partner financially when troubles are substance abuse related
- Cleaning up after one’s partner
While these examples are not necessarily negative things to do for one’s partner, they can become negative when addiction is involved.
Though it is natural to want to protect a loved one, this shielding keeps that loved one from facing reality and seeing the need for recovery.
As long as someone is there to save the day for the individual, he or she will never need to begin to confront the addiction.
Enabling, while good-intentioned, only prolongs the inevitable consequences of addictive behavior.
To avoid enabling a partner’s addiction, one should:
- Not take responsibility for the partner’s actions/addictive behavior.
- Not protect the partner. Consequences are necessary.
- Not accept guilt or blame. You did nothing wrong.
- Let one’s partner know how serious addiction is
- Urge the loved one to seek treatment
Addiction and Relationships
A person with an addiction is a person who needs help, real help. Codependency can often blur lines between what kind of help is beneficial and what kind is harmful.
No one intentionally tries to enable anyone’s addiction. Most of the time, someone caught in a codependent relationship with a person with an addiction is just trying to help.
However, as hard as it may be to accept, enabling is not an effective means of helping.
At times, one recognizes this but continues anyway. Whether it be a lack of confidence, hope, or anything else, it is the easier thing to do. However, to truly help, one must insist on treatment. Allowing the addiction to continue only hurts both people involved. Because addiction and relationships do not mix well.
How to Stop Addiction and Codependency
If you or your loved one has an addiction and needs treatment, we are here for you. Sobriety is not easy, but it is possible.
Give us a call today at (385) 327-7418
Our addiction specialists would be more than happy to discuss a variety of treatment options with you and get you the help you need. Remember, you can overcome.
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