One of the issues seen most commonly among families of addicts and alcoholics 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. Psychologist Robert Subby further explains it as an “emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules — rules which prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems.” It is a set of learned, dysfunctional behaviors that are adopted in order to cope with the stress of living with someone who is experiencing substance abuse problems. It typically affects those close to an addict, such as their spouses, parents, siblings, or friends. Codependent people who are not addicted are referred to as enablers. While those in a codependent relationship may see themselves as helping their loved one by cleaning up their messes, it may be doing more harm than good. Enablers often see themselves as maintaining order or balance in their life, but protecting an addict from the negative consequences of substance abuse will only lead to enabling them further, and increasing the chances of that individual dying from the disease of addiction.
How do you know if you are struggling with codependency? Here are some signs:
Low self-esteem: Believing that there is something innately wrong with yourself; a person with low self-esteem feels unworthy, incapable, and incompetent in one or more areas of their life.
People-pleasing: Codependents often try to go out of their way to please others. They typically put others and others’ needs ahead of themselves.
Blurred boundaries: Rather than accepting responsibility for their own feelings, codependents often blame others. They also may feel as though they are responsible for the feelings of others.
Neglecting self-care: Codependents take care of others to the point that they neglect themselves. They may put others feelings ahead of their own, and take care of everyone else’s needs before theirs. This can lead to stress, anger, depression, and anxiety.
Poor communication: Those in codependent relationships struggle with healthy communication of their thoughts and feelings, especially if they feel that they may hurt the feelings of someone else. Rather than bring up any negativity, they bottle things up inside, which can often lead to an outburst of emotions and thoughts, only making situations worse.
Denial: This makes codependency difficult to deal with. Since they typically deny their own feelings, codependents may not even realize their own emotional patterns. Furthermore, in the case of addiction, codependents typically have trouble admitting they have a problem or are in need of help themselves, only prolonging their process of recovery.
Dependency: Codependents need the approval of others to determine their own self-worth. They can latch on to a person who is perceived to need help. They want to be loved and are willing to do anything to keep another person involved in the relationship, even if it is unhealthy or difficult.
Dealing With Codependency
Does codependency negatively affect addiction? Absolutely. For example, a parent may continually make excuses for their addicted son or daughter and attempt to rescue them from the negative consequences of their actions (trouble at school or with the law). This enables the addict to continue along their destructive path. We all remember the Stanford swimmer convicted of sexual assault recently. After the allegations came to light, his father wrote a letter about his son saying that “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” Many were shocked that his father appeared to defend the actions of his son and place the blame on the girl. Is this situation much different from a parent who continually makes excuses for their addict child or husband or wife making excuses for their partner? Rather than helping someone who is struggling with addiction, being a part of a codependent relationship can exacerbate the situation and cause the addict to seek relief in the wrong ways. Codependency causes individuals to suppress their emotions and may lead to coping with drugs, alcohol, sex, food, or another compulsive behavior.
So how does one deal with codependency? Family therapy is especially recommended. Since codependents often spend their time worrying about other people rather than themselves, in order to recover they need to take time getting to know themselves better, learning to express emotions, build a meaningful relationship with themselves and learn how to love others in a healthy and respectful way. Learning to develop and hold on to healthy boundaries benefits everyone involved and is fundamental to building healthy relationships in the future. Recovery from anything takes time and requires effort, but the result pays off tenfold.
Contact Clearbrook Today
Struggling with substance abuse can feel impossible to overcome. This is also very true for the ones who love an addict. While you may have never put a chemical in your body, you still feel crazy all the same. You find yourself making excuses for them, bailing them out of trouble, although you promised yourself you wouldn’t, and allowing them in your home. Most of the time you don’t sleep and you find it difficult to concentrate at work; you’re consumed with the addict’s well-being and whereabouts. It may be time you seek help, even if your loved one is unwilling themselves.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, please allow Clearbrook to help. Contact our Admissions Specialists today. Recovery is possible for both the addict and their family member.