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How Codependent Relationships Affect Addiction

November 19, 2019

Family, loved ones, and significant others can help play a role in someone’s journey towards recovery, providing crucial support, motivation, and love along the way. These relationships are often a central support network for someone going through treatment, and will ideally continue to have positive influences over those in recovery into the future. However, there are some relationships that are commonly found in the lives of those with substance use disorder that have an adverse effect, leading to the sabotage of treatment and recovery efforts and even relapse.

What is Codependency?

Codependent relationships can be detrimental to anyone who is struggling with mental health or addiction, but especially both concurrently. This dynamic is not limited to romantic relationships and is commonly found between parent and child, as well as siblings. Codependency is defined as relationships in which one person expresses extreme emotional and physical needs causing the other party to incessantly heed their requests, often to the detriment of their own health and well-being. This creates an imbalance that can send a relationship spiraling downwards causing one party to act as an enabler to the party exhibiting destructive or abusive behaviors.

Codependent Characteristics

Codependent relationship dynamics often follow a pattern of behavior or symptoms:

  • Caretaking: One person’s primary concern is taking care of the other at the cost of their well-being, even putting themselves in extreme or dangerous situations.
  • Low self-worth: Codependents often don’t have adequate self-esteem or feel they are unable to give or receive love outside of that relationship dynamic.
  • People-pleasing: The way people view the codependent is a priority to them, making sure that they are liked by others and rarely saying no is a form of validation.
  • Lack of Boundaries: A codependent person’s sense of security comes from being responsible for other people’s feelings, thoughts, and actions, regularly violating boundaries with others.

Addiction Codependency

Not all codependent relationships deal with addiction, but many people dealing with addiction will, at some point, come across a codependent dynamic either with a romantic partner, family member, or friend. If the codependent party is in a relationship where substance misuse or addiction is prevalent, they are at a higher risk of also developing substance use disorder along with the other person. This can lead to loss of relationships outside of the codependency and the inability to keep up with everyday life responsibilities and activities, leading to isolation. This individual will work endlessly to care for the party that is slipping into addiction, neglecting themselves and often inadvertently enabling the addiction to continue.

The party with substance use disorder in the codependent relationship will feel that their codependent partner will always come to “save” them from their substance-related turmoil, whether it is financial, physical or emotional. This comes at a great cost to the codependent, but they often feel validated “saving the day,” even if it serves to prevent the other party from facing the consequences of their actions, that could potentially push them to seek help. That result can keep someone in the cycle of addiction for much longer before receiving treatment because the spiral of the codependent relationship is threatened with change.

People in a codependent dynamic often both need help when substance use is in question. Even if only one party needs to treat their addiction, the other will require counseling and therapy to understand the impact of their codependency on each other to prevent future relapse. This can sometimes be a complicated cycle to break, occasionally leading to a dissolution of the bond between parties for the benefit of both of their recovery efforts.

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