The Role Of Codependency In Addiction

Addiction has a profound impact on interpersonal relationships. It can change your behavior, the way others perceive you, and the way you interact with the world around you. But relationships can also have an impact on your substance use. Unhealthy and toxic relationships can cause you stress, which can in turn cause you to use more. Healthy, loving, and supportive relationships, on the other hand, can inspire you to seek substance abuse treatment Pennsylvania and start your recovery. But sometimes, relationships that seem good at first glance are actually harmful for you. Such is the case of codependency – a type of imbalanced relationship that appears supportive but is really enabling of substance abuse. Recognizing the role of codependency in addiction will be an important step toward recovery and a good place to start healing the relationship itself too.

What is codependency?

Codependency is a type of unhealthy dynamic in a relationship. Although it is most commonly associated with romantic partnerships, it can develop in any type of interpersonal relationship – between a parent and a child, between siblings, even between friends. It is primarily characterized by one person being reliant or dependent on the other to an unhealthy degree. This naturally involves a power imbalance: the person who is dependent tends to have very low self-esteem and will, therefore, tolerate abuse because they believe they deserve it; the person who is being depended on tends to be manipulative and take advantage of their codependent. So despite what the word implies, codependent people are not equal in their mutual need. Rather, one person needs the other who in turn needs to be needed.

Man holding a woman from behind.
Codependent relationships are often intense, manipulative, and controlling.

Codependent behaviors may vary and include:

  • emotional manipulation
  • only conditional love or support
  • extreme insecurity in oneself or the relationship
  • blaming oneself for everything that goes wrong
  • excusing one another’s destructive or irrational behavior
  • becoming upset over boundaries
  • monopolizing the other person’s time and attention
  • taking advantage or controlling the other person

Recognizing the signs of codependency

It can be difficult to spot codependency from inside the dynamic. You may interpret codependent behaviors as just particularly intense affection or rationalize away toxicity because there are good intentions behind it. But a codependent relationship is ultimately unhealthy, even for the person who appears to be benefiting from it. As an addict, you may, for example, like it when your parents give you money for drugs, pretend they don’t notice when you’re high, or don’t look for a good drug rehab Scranton PA for you. But treatment is the best option for you in this situation. So enabling your continuous substance abuse, while it feels good in the moment, harms you in the long run and can even be dangerous. For this reason, it is important to address codependency – in others and yourself both.

Are you codependent?

It is very common for people with addiction to develop codependent relationships. When substances become your main priority, you’ll do anything to avoid going to an alcohol rehab center Wilkes Barre PA. If that means manipulating those around you, then that’s a small price to pay for getting high. You may deliberately start to take advantage of your loved ones. Or you may stumble into manipulative behaviors and then continue practicing them when you realize they work. In fact, it may never even cross your mind that what you’re doing is manipulation – so absorbed can you become in your addiction.

Complicating the matters is the fact that codependency looks different in different relationships. The way you behave around one person you are reliant on may be completely different from the way you behave around another person you are reliant on – manipulative behaviour changes based on who it’s directed at. So there is no definitive list of characteristics you need to meet in order to be considered codependent. But some signs that you may be actining codependently include:

  • dishonestly acting helpless and vulnerable to garner sympathy
  • refusing responsibility for your actions and blaming the other person for everything
  • blaming yourself for everything, especially as a way to get attention and comfort
  • threatening harm to yourself if the other person doesn’t do as you please
  • becoming angry or upset when the other person sets reasonable boundaries (such as limiting the amount of time spent together or not wanting to do something with you)
  • feeling, or acting as if you feel, rejected and unloved unless the other person acts the way you want
  • depending on your partner for everything – not wanting to do anything without them, not wanting them to do anything without you, not getting joy out of other relationships

Is someone you know codependent?

Codependency in addiction typically takes the form of a loved one being manipulated and controlled by the person who abuses substances. But it’s perfectly possible for the dependency to go the other way around, especially if the toxic behavior started before the addiction or if the codependant person is also an addict. You should be wary if the other person:

  • puts unreasonable demands on your time
  • expects to have your attention all the time and gets angry or upset when this is not the case
  • is jealous of other relationships in your life and tries to keep you away from them
  • either blames you for everything and expects an apology or takes the blame for everything and expects to be comforted
  • accuses you of not caring if you don’t act the way they expect
  • tries to change your behavior and polices your reactions and emotional expressions
  • guilts you into doing things you otherwise wouldn’t, sometimes by threatening harm to themselves or loved ones
Woman and man on a couch in an uncomfortable hug which indicates codependency in addiction.
Is someone you know unhealthily invested in you?

Toxic behaviors like these will make any interpersonal relationship unhealthy. But when codependency coincides with addiction, it can have serious consequences. For example, it is common for addicts who are codependent to encourage each other’s addiction. Your codependent partner with substance abuse issues may entice you to join them in partaking even when you’re trying to quit by saying that you’ll do it for them if you love them. Or you may have a pact with an addicted friend that you’ll seek help at a Newburgh rehab center together; yet, they keep putting it off and threatening overdose if you go by yourself. Giving in to the demands of a codependent person can, thus, prolong your addiction and prevent you from seeking treatment.

How does codependency in addiction develop?

In its original meaning and use, the word codependency referred to a romantic relationship involving addiction where either one or both partners were substance abusers. The concept has since been expanded to other types of relationships, including relationships that do not (in the present moment) involve the use of substances. So it is more accurate to say that codependency strongly correlates with addiction, although the causal relationship between the two is not entirely clear. Codependency can develop before, during, or after addiction. Three reasons for codependency are typically suggested:

  • biological: a person may be predisposed to codependency due to brain development, brain chemistry, and genetics that cause an overabundance of empathy
  • psychological: a person may be psychologically predisposed to codependency due to other mental illnesses, neurodivergency, or even just personality
  • social: a person may be predisposed to codependency by their circumstances, changes in their personal life, or changes in society and social roles

All of these factors play a role in addiction as well. So it’s possible for codependency and addiction to develop separately under the influence of the same factors, for codependency to develop due to addiction, and for addiction to develop as a consequence of codependency. It is also important to remember that addiction doesn’t necessarily involve illegal drug use or even any mind-altering substances at all. You can also develop an addiction to certain actions, like gambling or playing video games. And you can have an addictive personality (exhibiting behaviors and traits similar to those of an addict) without actually having an addiction. The interplay of codependency and addiction can, therefore, take many forms.

Codependency before addiction

In addition to addiction, dysfunctional families and abusive relationships are the major indicators of codependency. Growing up in a family where lies, manipulation, abuse, or addiction are commonplace can affect the way you connect with people for the rest of your life. You may learn to accept toxic behavior as normal and not even realize that relationships like the ones you grew up around are unhealthy. Furthermore, childhood trauma can negatively impact your self-image. If you feel like you are not deserving of love or respect, you may start behaving in self-sacrificial ways that often pave the way toward codependency. Abuse, whether mental, emotional, or physical, will have a similar effect.

A parent holding a child's hand.
Although codependency in addiction is common, it can also start long before the substance use.

When codependency develops before addiction, substance abuse typically worsens it. A codependent person who starts abusing substances will often feel even more worthless, self-conscious, and insecure and might blame themselves and their addiction for relationship issues, thus becoming even more subservient to the person they depend on. A person who has a codependent, on the other hand, may become more controlling and manipulative once they develop an addiction; they may abuse the power they have in order to get money or drugs out of their codependent. A codependent relationship typically becomes more intense after the involvement of substances, especially as the addiction progresses and other relationships fall apart.

Codependency during addiction

As an addict, you will typically develop a codependent relationship either with another addict or with a sober family member who depends on you. Relationships between addicts often revolve around substances and substance abuse. So if you, for example, can provide alcohol and drugs to someone who wants them, they may develop an unhealthy attachment to you or vice versa – you may develop an unhealthy attachment to someone who provides you with substances. The situation will be even worse if one or both of you have no one else to turn to. Once in that bubble, you can easily fall into the trap of believing you are each other’s everything. This is pretty much the definition of codependency.

If your codependent is sober and you are not, you will likely end up exploiting them for drugs. You may guilt them into giving you money, buying you substances, or otherwise supporting your habit. To achieve this, you might blame them for your substance abuse. In return, their constant justification of your bad behavior can serve as a good excuse for you not to seek treatment in a drug rehab Princeton NJ. If they do suggest rehab, you might say that they don’t really love you if they insist on treatment.

It is much rarer for an addict to be subservient to someone who doesn’t use substances. When this happens, the codependency usually developed before the addiction; the relationship may also have been abusive from before. The person you depend on may hold something over you – financial help or legal protection, for example. They might also make you feel weak, insignificant, and unworthy so you don’t have the confidence to seek treatment.

Codependency after addiction

It is exceedingly rare for codependency to develop for the first time after addiction. Therapy, which is the basis of rehab, serves to build up your confidence. It will also address your relationships with others, either through family therapy or through individual and group therapy where you discuss your loved ones. This should help you recognize and then leave toxic relationships. But things aren’t always quite so straightforward.

A woman being held down by a man.
Some codependent relationships are difficult to escape.

Codependent relationships often exist at the expense of other relationships. This can result in the dependent person being dependent on more than emotional gratification; you may also be financially or legally dependent. For example: if you’re in a codependent relationship with your partner and they are providing the Aetna rehab coverage that pays for your addiction treatment, it’ll be much more difficult for you to leave. You’ll be in a similar situation if you live with your codependent parents or have codependent child who relies on you. When this is the case, it’s important to think long term. Codependent relationships are a risk factor for relapse. So if recovery is important to you, you need to either work on your codependent relationships or leave them behind; no matter how difficult that may appear in the moment, it’s better for your future.

How does codependency affect addiction?

The relationship between codependency and addiction may not be a causal one, but that doesn’t mean the two don’t influence one another. Addiction will pretty much universally make codependency worse. The impact of codependency on addiction is somewhat more complex; however, codependency doesn’t help addiction – it only complicates it.

Exacerbating risk factors

Codependent relationships don’t always rise to the thershold of being abusive. However, they can have a similar effect on you. When your entire sense of self and self-worth depend on a single person, even the smallest change in their behavior can cause you distress. And the longer you stay in such a relationship, the worse it’ll get. Your self-confidence will suffer, your mental health will deteriorate, and you will be under constant stress. If you already have a predisposition to or a history of substance abuse, such mental and emotional damage can easily tip you over the edge. Even after treatment in cocaine addiction rehab, codependency will continue to be a risk factor.

So while codependent relationships won’t necessarily lead to substance abuse, they contribute to it developing or worsening. By causing you distress and mental health issues, mentally and emotionally draining you, and even cutting you off from your support system, codependency can greatly exacerbate the risk of addiction and relapse.

Enabling substance abuse

One of the most common ways for codependency to manifest is by excusing and justifying toxic behaviors. When addiction is added to the mix, that translates to excusing and justifying substance abuse. While blaming someone for their addiction certainly doesn’t help, going in the opposite direction and simply allowing the use of drugs and alcohol to continue won’t do much good either. So don’t be happy to hear things like “It’s not your fault that you can’t control yourself,” “It’s okay if you’re not ready to stop,” or “Just this once more and then we’ll get you help.” They’ll make you feel better in the moment; you’ll get high again and with permission this time! But good intentions or not, all they’re really doing is prolonging your suffering and putting you in danger.

Codependency in addiction between a parent and an adult child.
Excusing and justifying drug abuse only prolongs the addiction.

Delaying treatment

The best way to leave addiction behind is to seek professional addiction treatment. In order to do that, you’ll first need to admit that you have a problem and need help. However, codependency often gets in the way of taking that first step toward recovery. If your substance abuse is always excused, then it must not be a problem. And if you have someone helping you, then you must not need rehab. But that’s not how it works. Sometimes, the best thing someone can do for you is to stand up and hold you accountable rather than go along with whatever you want. A person in a codependent relationship with you will never do that.

Finally, if the codependency is bad enough, you may deliberately delay treatment to benefit the relationship. A codependent partner may, for example, threaten to hurt or kill themselves if you go into an inpatient drug rehab in Pennsylvania and leave them alone so you either start a lower intensity program or don’t go at all. But in a healthy relationship, this wouldn’t be a problem. A person who loves you would want what’s best for you; they’d not just accept but encourage you to go into rehab.

Providing inadequate assistance

A codependent person will want you to rely on them for everything – even help with addiction. Their insecurity, jealousy, and possessiveness won’t let them accept that you need someone other than them. This may cause them to offer to help you with leaving addiction behind. While the intention behind such an offer may be good, help from someone with no education or experience in addiction treatment can cause more damage; when it inevitably fails, it may even put you off Pennsylvania opioid treatment programs which are by far your best option. All this results in prolonged drug or alcohol abuse and a more difficult recovery.

Addressing codependency in addiction treatment

Since codependency can profoundly impact addiction, rehab will usually address it in therapy. What is more, dual diagnosis treatment centers Pennsylvania will provide therapy for mental illness as well; this can temper the predisposition to codependency so that you don’t go back to old habits after rehab. 

A couple in therapy for codependency in addiction.
Therapy can help you overcome relationship problems.

As a person with an addiction

If you suffer from substance use disorder and suspect you may be in a codependent relationship, bring this up to your therapist and case manager at the rehab center. It’s important for them to know what all has influenced your addiction. That way, they can tailor the treatment to your unique needs. They may even suggest a family program for addiction as a way to help rebuild relationships with your loved ones. If family therapy is, indeed, brought up – take a chance on it. Both you and your codependent loved one will benefit from it. Once in therapy, be honest about your relationship; accept responsibility for your actions but remember to hear the other side as well. Finally, don’t be too hard on either yourself or your loved ones. You’re all doing the best that you can, after all.

As a loved one of an addict

If you are in a codependent relationship with someone who is in addiction treatment, now is the time to start prioritizing yourself more. Of course, this does not mean you should abandon your loved one. You should still look for addiction resources for family members and participate in family therapy. But you’ll also need to take a few steps back from the relationship. Learn to stand up for yourself and set boundaries. Say no to things you are not comfortable with and don’t let people talk down to you. It’ll be difficult to break through conditioning against it at first. But with time, you’ll find ways to maintain healthy and loving relationships without losing yourself. Ultimately, that’s what’s best for both you and your loved ones.

Rebuilding a formerly codependent relationship after addiction

You don’t have to write off codependent relationships if they mean something to you. Just because you experienced codependency in addiction doesn’t mean you have to continue on that path. You can leave addiction and codependency behind with a bit of effort. If you cannot access therapy, then try doing some of the basic work on your own. Both parties should practice setting and respecting boundaries. You can start small – deciding where to go for dinner or what to do on a night out. Then build up to bigger, more important things. Both parties should also work on their self-confidence. Be mindful of what you say to each other and what you accept hearing about yourself. Do things on your own and for yourselves until you find who you are individually. It will take practice, but a healthy relationship is worth the effort!

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