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Codependency and Addiction

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Codependency and Addiction

Codependency is broadly defined by medical professionals as a relationship in which one person is controlled or manipulated by another with a pathological condition such as addiction.  The codependency itself is often seen as a “relationship” addiction.  In this respect, codependency and addiction are interchangeable conditions that perpetuate both the addiction and the reliant behavior.  

It is a well-known fact that chronic drug abuse has the potential to cause harm and even death as the condition progresses. People battling drug addiction typically put themselves in risky situations causing extreme distress for family and friends. Even without the propensity for codependency, anyone living with a family member that is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction may develop codependent patterns of behavior out of sheer concern for their loved one.  

Co-dependence often begins with simple innocuous steps such as calling an employee, keeping the children quiet or lying to others as a means of protecting the addict. These activities are usually considered to be natural and caring.  Unfortunately, by shielding them from the consequences of their behavior usually with the hope that the problem is only temporary and will, in time, go away, is in essence enabling the addiction.  

Apart from making it easier for the addiction to continue, the individual supporting and helping the addict can begin to feel empowered and needed by the addict which can make it more difficult to recognize that a codependent relationship is being established.   The irony of codependency and addiction is that it achieves the opposite of original intent.  The efforts to help, save or protect an individual often help to exacerbate the problem and facilitate greater harm.  Although the lines may be blurred between providing appropriate support and enabling there are some clear indicators of co-dependence.  

Recognizing a Codependent RelationshipRecognizing a Codependent Relationship

  • Assuming responsibilities that the person may currently be unable to do for themselves as a direct result of drug or alcohol abuse.  
  • Ignoring or downplaying dangerous, destructive or abusive behavior.
  • Allowing the needs of the person in addiction to supersede your own and those of other family members.
  • Being obsessively concerned about the activities of the substances abuser when they are not in your presence such as; what they are doing, where they are and who they are with, etc.,
  • Supporting the substance abuse by giving money or taking them to purchasing alcohol or drugs.
  • Frequently lying or making excuses to cover up absences, illness or poor behavior.
  • Feeling guilty or blaming yourself for contributing to the addiction.
  • Having resentful and dis-empowered because of the addiction but still engaging in codependent behavior.

People on the enabling side of co-dependence are often frustrated, worn out, depressed and angry because most addicts are in an all-consuming relationship with their substance of abuse. By recognizing and acknowledging the signs of codependency and addiction it is possible to move towards change.  

Breaking the Cycle 

Some of the suggestions offered by Author and Clinical Associate Psychiatrist, Michael Ascher, may be adapted to help break the cycles of codependency and addiction.

  1. Using mindfulness as a catalyst, become more aware of interactions with the addict and other family members and amend your behavior as needed.
  2. Pay closer attention and improve your own self-care habits including coping skills, nutrition, reducing stress, getting more sleep and exercise 
  3. Establish appropriate boundaries with the loved one in addiction.
  4. Avoid taking responsibility for things the addict should be doing.  
  5. Limit or stop all enabling activities such as giving the addict money, driving them around or lying to cover up their condition.
  6. Stage a drug intervention to openly address the addiction and highlight the need and benefits of an addiction recovery program.   
  7. Do not be afraid to acknowledge the emotional stress and pain that the addiction is causing.  
  8. Make staying in recovery about the addict and not as a way to appease you or other family members.
  9. Be proactive about your reactions to conflicts and anticipating how you will respond.

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