Codependency is a common relationship dynamic that frequently develops between people who have a substance use disorder (SUD) and a close loved one, such as a partner, spouse or parent. Often arising from a sincere desire to help the person struggling with addiction, codependency deepens each party’s reliance on the other in non-healing or even actively harmful ways.
An objective assessment of close relationships is a critical step in addiction recovery, as is distancing oneself from relationships that are not beneficial to sober living. This distancing doesn’t necessarily mean eradicating somebody from one’s life, but it does require establishing firm boundaries and new objectives. If those efforts fail and codependency persists, then it is appropriate to walk away from the individual for the sake of recovery.
What is Codependency?
While a codependent relationship may appear from the outside to involve one “afflicted” person and one “healthy” person, in reality neither party in these relationships is fully well. The state of codependency describes dysfunctional relationships between one party who is struggling with the disease of addiction and another party that draws energy from micromanaging, rather than helping to heal, their loved one’s disease.
The following is example of a codependent relationship scenario:
One party struggles with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). As the AUD continues to worsen, negative effects such as blackouts, withdrawal symptoms, missing work, neglecting parenting duties, or getting a DUI, begin to pile up.
As these issues escalate, the “healthy” partner exerts more and more effort to negate or cover up the negative effects. They make excuses on behalf of their partner, tell lies as cover, and gradually take over more of their partner’s daily obligations. This quest to eliminate the consequences of the AUD enables their partner to lapse ever further into their disease, without treatment or recovery.
The “healthy” role provides a sense of value, fulfilling a desire to feel needed that supersedes their desire to contribute to the healthful healing of their partner.
How Codependent Relationships Harm Recovery
A codependent relationship can sabotage treatment and recovery efforts. After examining close relationships and gaining new insights about harmful dynamics such as codependency, it’s imperative to set healthier boundaries in any relationship that doesn’t aid in recovery.
Codependency can derail recovery in several ways, including:
- Preventing full accountability for the actions of the party in recovery.
- Increasing the likelihood of relapse, based on the knowledge that the other party will continue to provide cover.
- Reducing motivation for the recovering party to seek their own solutions to problems.
- Elevating stress on the recovering party due to manipulative or controlling relationship dynamics, which negatively impacts overall mental wellness and can further exacerbate relapse risk.
While in treatment, recognizing the signs of codependency is a significant first step toward making necessary changes. In recovery, it is critical to follow through in establishing healthy new relationship boundaries. This is best accomplished with the help and support of a therapist.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formally Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle – “everything for recovery” – reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.