Addiction: The Relationship of Co-Dependency and Addiction Explained

October 29, 2020

Is it love? Is it letting them get away with it and staying out of trouble? It could be co-dependency, and it might be causing you unhappiness.

Co-dependency is a huge behavioral problem, but when mixed with addiction, it makes an awful situation even more terrible. Codependent behaviors can enable an addict and hinder treatment, while addiction calls forth co-dependence. It is a cycle that is hard to break.

So how do you deal with co-dependency? What are the mechanics in play between co-dependency and addiction? What do you do if you are in a codependent relationship with an addict? Read on as we talk about co-dependency and how it plays with addiction, and more importantly, how to overcome both.

What is Co-Dependency?

Co-dependency is a behavior in dysfunctional relationships that can run in families. According to Darlene Lancer, author of Co-dependency for Dummies, says that co-dependency is when a person is in a one-sided relationship with another person who, in turn, relies on the other for almost all of their self-esteem and emotional needs.

According to Mental Health America, co-dependency affects a spouse, sibling, co-worker, friend, significant other, or parent of somebody who is addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Codependents: How They Behave

Codependents often have very low self-esteem. They need others to make them feel good about themselves. Some cope by using drugs, drinking alcohol, or smoking, and they become addicted to these substances.

Meanwhile, others exhibit compulsive behaviors such as gambling, indiscriminate sexual activities, or workaholism.

Codependents often set out to do good, which is to take care of somebody who is in a difficult place. But it often becomes self-defeating and compulsive. They often have problematic responses to another person’s addiction

A mother might try to pull some strings to keep an addicted child out of trouble, or a spouse might try to cover for the addict. It is problematic because the addict is never treated, and the addiction is never addressed. Instead, they continue down the destructive path.

With the underlying issues left untouched, the addict often finds themselves deeper into their addiction. And this makes them more reliant on the codependent individual.

The codependent is rewarded by the feeling of being needed, and the behavior is reinforced. They continue to act as caretakers to the person suffering from addiction until the time when they feel trapped in the relationship, and they often see themselves as victims.

But even so, they are not able to stop the behaviors that put them in that situation in the first place.

How to Spot a Codependent

There are several signs of co-dependency or ways to find out if a person is in a codependent relationship, according to marriage and family therapist Darlene Lancer. These include:

  1. Having low self-esteem. Co-dependency makes you feel that you are never good enough. You often compare yourself to others, and you oftentimes feel inferior. There is always that feeling of being inadequate, as well as feeling unlovable.
  2. People-pleasing. Codependents often have a difficult time saying “no” to people they care about. They feel compelled to please people, even when they do not want to.
    Instead, they put their needs second to accommodate other people.
  3. Having weak boundaries. Healthy boundaries are very important in relationships. You know what is yours and what belongs to others. This includes your body, belongings, money, feelings, needs, and thoughts.
    Codependents set up very poor boundaries with other people. They often feel responsible where others are concerned. Conversely, they may blame others for their own problems.
    There are cases wherein a codependent individual withdraws and puts up a wall that keeps others out. They may seem withdrawn and closed off, which makes it difficult for them to establish relationships with others.
  4. You react to just about everything. If someone disagrees with you or says something that you may not agree with, you tend to become defensive and see it as an attack. Or you just believe it outright.
    This reactivity is an offshoot of having poor boundaries. You do not realize that what others say is their opinion and does not reflect on your character or you as a person.
  5. Caretaking. If anybody has a problem, you are probably there to help them even if it is to your detriment. Sometimes, codependents feel hurt and rejected if the person they offered to help refuses.
    While sympathy and empathy are natural and healthy reactions, the codependent sometimes sacrifice their own needs to help somebody else. They may also become overbearing and keep trying to “fix” the other person, even if it goes unheeded or unappreciated.
  6. Excessive control over other people. Codependents often have this overriding need for control. They want people to behave this or that way, or they would become anxious.
    Some codependents use caretaking and people-pleasing to control others. Or they might become very bossy and demanding, telling you what you should or should not say or do.
    For others, they adopt behaviors that make them feel in control. For instance, they might become workaholics because they feel in control when they are at their jobs. Burying themselves in their work, they can keep their feelings down, as well.
    Or they might get into behaviors that help them loosen up, such as taking up the bottle or resorting to substance abuse.
  7. You have problems talking about your needs, feelings, and thoughts. Dysfunctional communication is another common symptom for codependents. Instead of saying that you do not like something, you act as if it is okay with you.
    Or worse, you might end up dictating what the other person should do.
  8. Being in denial. Some people are often deep in denial about their co-dependence that they blame other people or the situation for their problems.
    Instead of owning up, they try to change things up, such as fixing the other person more or in different ways. They may even change jobs or seek new relationships, just to be able to deny that there is a problem there.
    Another form of denial is that they may not acknowledge their need for autonomy and space. They may also have problems asking for help when they need it because they do not want to accept vulnerability or may fear intimacy.
  9. Obsessive behaviors. You may find yourself spending too much time thinking about relationships and other people. You have scenarios on how things should be because you find your relationship unfulfilling right now.
    You might also act obsessively when you make a mistake or think that you made an error. These obsessive behaviors can often prevent you from living your life normally. Instead of doing something about your relationships, you rely on fantasies and what could have been.
  10. You have an overriding need for people to like you. Codependents will only feel okay about themselves if people approve of them. They fear being abandoned or rejected.
    For some, they tend to feel lonely or depressed unless they are in a relationship. They stay on even if the relationship is painful, abusive, or unhealthy for them. Because they cannot end their relationship, they feel trapped by it.
  11. You have problems with intimacy. For some, they may suffer from sexual dysfunction, but this is just a manifestation of an even bigger problem.
    Codependents often find it difficult to be open and close to somebody. You often feel ashamed, and because you have weak boundaries, you are afraid of being rejected, left behind, or judged.
    Others might deny the need for intimacy and closeness. You might feel constricted by your partner.
  12. You deal with a lot of negative and painful emotions. Co-dependency will make you feel guilty and ashamed, which, when coupled with low self-esteem, can create fear and anxiety about rejection and abandonment. You are afraid of being judged, making mistakes, or failing.
    You might also feel trapped by the other person in your relationship, but you also fear being alone. Codependents can suffer from feelings of resentment and anger, and then feelings of hopelessness, despair, and depression.
    You might even get to the point where you feel numb because of all of these painful emotions.

How Co-Dependency Ties with Drug Addiction

Co-dependency comes with responding to another person’s extreme emotional or physical needs, even to the extent of the codependent sacrificing his or her own needs. Mental Health America notes that co-dependency often manifests in people who have close personal relationships with people who struggle with alcoholism and addiction.

Co-dependence shows the same signs as an addiction. This PsychCentral article notes that co-dependence is sometimes referred to as love addiction or relationship addiction. As a codependent focuses on helping the other person to feel better about themselves, they start to ignore themselves.  

It starts a self-perpetuating and never-ending cycle where more focus is given to the addict, while the codependent sacrifices their own needs and happiness. The more they feel empty, the more they pour their attention and effort on other people.

The obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior persist, much like any other addiction. Therapist Ellen Biros notes that you often see the classic signs of addiction in a codependent: 

  • Their personality changes, and these shifts are obvious to family and friends.
  • Negative emotions are present.
  • Changes in lifestyle.
  • Lethargy, or the general lack of drive and motivation.
  • Paranoia and anxiety with no sufficient justification.

Biros observes that co-dependence is a progressive, relapsing, and chronic addiction. In the same manner that drug addicts are reliant on drugs and other substances and alcoholics anchor their happiness on liquor and spirits, codependents depend on other people for their fix.

They find it difficult to end an unhealthy relationship, the same way drug addicts always find a reason to shoot up, or alcoholics cannot stop drinking. Codependents, like addicts, can no longer think logically and decide in their best interests. They lose clarity and reason while also neglecting their psychological, emotional, and even physical health.

Substance abuse and co-dependency work together. It is like a symbiotic relationship and two pieces of a puzzle that fit together flawlessly. For instance, a husband who is an alcoholic has a codependent wife. The husband will take advantage of his wife’s low self-esteem and fear to manipulate her. 

The wife does not do anything to get her husband the help he needs to stop drinking. Instead, she buys him the alcohol that he craves.

There can be a lot of justification for this, and it is the wife who is coming up with excuses. She feels that she is doing the right thing buying the alcohol because if she does not, the drunk husband will drive to the store and buy it himself.

Sometimes, she does this just to avoid conflict. But no matter the reason, the wife does not realize that her husband is on a risky and destructive path. And she is enabling it.

The addict will rely on his or her partner more and more, and the codependent will find more and more things to hide, cover, or fix. This, in effect, may drive the addict to more substance abuse or alcohol. The cycle continues on and on unless you stop it.

Why It is Bad for the Codependent Partner

Co-dependency with someone who is a drug user can lead to negative effects for both parties. A study found that the codependent partner is more likely to become addicted to food, gambling, drugs, and other substances. They also tend to neglect their responsibilities, including the ones outside of the codependent relationship.

The codependent partner may also neglect his or her own needs, which can then result in poor health, depression, and other physical and mental consequences.

Why It Is Bad for the Addicted Partner

The partner who is suffering from substance and drug abuse may be affected if the codependent relationship hinders him or her from getting treatment for the addiction. The codependent might want to help the addicted partner, but he or she might be afraid that if the other person is rehabilitated, then he or she will no longer be useful. As such, the codependent might thwart attempts for the addict to get help.

Co-dependence also leads to enabling, where the addicted partner gets subtle encouragement and is emboldened towards certain destructive behaviors because the natural consequences of such behavior are removed.

According to this PsychCentral article, enablers do not let addicts see the damage that their addiction brings to their lives. As such, they do not hit the lowest points of their life, which in turn becomes a very powerful motivation to change.

Because codependents often feel an overriding need to solve other people’s problems, they usually become responsible for the addict and takes on many, if not all, of their responsibilities. Over time, the addict takes on very few responsibilities, while the codependent partner becomes overwhelmed.

Enabling behaviors take on a lot of forms, such as giving money to the person with addiction, repairing damage to property caused by the addict, making up excuses for the lapses, and even bailing him or her out of jail.

Co-dependency and Addiction: What Can You Do?

The first step to battling co-dependency is to admit there is a problem so that you can be motivated to do something about it. However, because denial is one of the hallmarks of co-dependency, this might not be as easy as it sounds.

The willingness to change should come from the codependent, and they may need friends and family to intervene. Professional help can include psychotherapy to help them work on the issues that led them to this point.

Co-dependence may stem from issues that the person had in the past, something that goes back to their childhood. 

On the other hand, if the addict is undergoing rehabilitation, the treatment becomes more effective if both partners seek co-dependency treatment. This will pave the way for the couple to have healthier relationships and start breaking the cycle.

Take for instance the findings of this study, which found that addicts who have sought treatment are more successful with their outcomes if their therapists also address the co-dependence of their family. It is a lasting effect, too.

Co-Dependency and Addiction: Take Control

So you start fixing the addict, often coming up with excuses and neglecting yourself in the process. But then, you get overwhelmed with everything that you have to do for the other person. Because you are pressed for time and energy, you start neglecting yourself, and then you become resentful.

People with addiction are your “willing victims.” They certainly need the help you are offering, and sometimes it is convenient to have you there, enabling their addictions. Therapy is a good first step to conquering co-dependency. You have several options to treat co-dependence. Therapy will help you explore underlying issues related to your low self-esteem, paranoia, anxiety, and other negative feelings. 

With a good therapist, you can boost your self-esteem and identity while also learning how to have a healthy relationship that has healthy emotional boundaries.

Steps Recovery Center Can Help

At Steps Recovery Center, we know first-hand how addiction can take over a person’s life. We are committed to ensuring that a person suffering from drug addiction can achieve sobriety using holistic treatment methods that nourish the body, mind, and soul. We have treatment centers in Salt Lake and Utah counties in Utah. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us with any questions you may have. 

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