When someone you love is struggling, it’s natural to want to help them.
However, a desire to help can sometimes lead to an unhealthy relationship in which your sense of self-worth hinges on your ability to assist your loved one. This is called codependency.
It often occurs when a person’s partner, family member, or friend develops a drug addiction (also called substance use disorder).
The Link Between Codependency & Addiction
Codependency has always had a strong association with addiction. In fact, the term was created by Alcoholics Anonymous members to describe the experiences shared by the spouses of people addicted to alcohol.
Since then, the term has been applied to many different relationship dynamics, including relationships between siblings, friends, parents, and children.
First Compassion, Then Reliance
No matter the dynamic, codependency starts with a person wanting to take care of their addicted loved one. At first, they may help in healthy ways.
For example, they might encourage the addicted person to seek professional help and offer to assist with household chores so the person has more time for therapy and support groups. This type of caretaking is not harmful.
However, over time, the caretaking person may become addicted to helping their loved one. In other words, they will start relying on their role as a caregiver for a sense of purpose.
They may then take on all of their loved one’s responsibilities, such as cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, and childcare.
They may also engage in enabling. Enabling means preventing an addicted person from facing the consequences of their destructive behaviors.
For instance, if the addicted person misses an important event because they were drunk or high, the codependent person may claim that they were just sick. Other forms of enabling include:
- frequently giving your loved one money or bailing them out of jail
- letting your loved one stay in your home indefinitely
- telling other people that your loved one’s addiction is less severe than it is
In the short term, enabling saves your loved one from discomfort. Over time, though, it can prevent them from recovering. That’s because many people don’t become fully engaged in recovery until they “hit rock bottom.”
Hitting rock bottom means facing a serious crisis due to drug abuse, such as divorce, job loss, or homelessness. Because enabling can prevent these crises, it makes addicted people much less likely to commit to their treatment plans.
On a subconscious level, the codependent person might know that enabling only makes their loved one’s addiction worse. Even so, they may continue enabling because it makes them feel important and needed.
Ultimately, the codependent person subconsciously needs their addicted loved one to stay addicted so they can continue to “help” and feel valuable.
Dangers Of Codependency
Codependency harms both the addicted person and the codependent person.
Dangers To The Addicted Person
As explained above, the codependent person will often enable the addicted person to avoid treatment. That means codependency presents a significant threat to the addiction recovery process. Without it, the addicted person could recover much more quickly.
A codependent relationship can also be isolating. The codependent person may take up all of the addicted person’s time and even discourage them from associating with other people.
This behavior seriously threatens the recovery process, as every person with addiction needs a strong support system that consists of multiple friends and family members.
Dangers To The Codependent Person
Because codependent person centers their life on helping someone else, they often neglect their own needs.
For example, they may spend so much time taking on their loved one’s responsibilities that they have little time for their own interests. Similarly, if they often give their loved one money, they might have trouble paying their own bills.
These effects can drastically reduce the codependent person’s quality of life and lead to mental health concerns like low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
Eventually, these issues may cause the codependent person to resent their addicted loved one. They may even resent themselves for getting into the dynamic in the first place. Still, they may struggle to break free of it.
How To Treat Codependency
It’s not easy to get out of a codependent dynamic on your own. Luckily, many therapists can give you the tools you need to rebuild a healthy relationship.
In particular, they can teach you how to set boundaries with your loved one and stop enabling them. You will also learn how to value your own well-being.
Along with therapy, you can attend support groups for codependent people, such as Codependents Anonymous (CoDA). In these groups, you can discuss your challenges, triumphs, and coping skills with other individuals who have struggled with codependency.
If you or someone you love struggles with substance abuse, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center. Our board-certified health care providers offer mental health counseling, medication-assisted treatment, and other forms of evidence-based care.
- How Alcohol Can Ruin Relationships
- Common Group Therapy Topics
- How To Help Someone With An Alochol Problem
- Living With An Alcoholic
- How To Stop Drinking
- 3 Ways Addiction Can Affect Family & Friends
- Understanding A Loved One’s Addiction
- How To Make Sober Friends In Recovery
National Institute on Drug Abuse — Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Recovery and Recovery Support
Washington State Department of Enterprise Services — Codependency and Addiction