Struggles with substance use disorders can tear a family apart. The love felt for a family member suffering from addiction can often blind us to the damaging effects of their behavior. Substance use disorders change people physically and neurologically. Codependency with family members or loved ones can contribute to the dysfunction without realizing it. Codependency can have long-term ramifications for a loved one’s recovery, making it essential to notice the behaviors and deal with them upfront. Family counseling is often helpful to do this, along with other means of support for the loved one.
How Codependency Works
Codependency is when a relationship evolves to where one partner has needs, and the other person spends most of their time trying to meet those needs while ignoring their own. Codependency can result in spiraling downward, enabling the loved one’s challenges and not helping them rise above in a healthy way. It is easier for the loved one to maintain the behaviors than change when someone else is doing the heavy lifting for them behind the scenes. Some symptoms of codependency include:
- People-pleasing behavior: opinions often matter to this person to the point they will do anything to see them positively. They feel guilty saying “no” and are not able to set healthy boundaries.
- Low self-esteem: the person may not feel lovable outside of the relationship and depends on others to tell them their worth or how they feel about themselves.
- Caretaking: the person may seek to meet the need for one person (or many) and not take care of themselves. They may not feel needed unless they are caring for others first, above their own needs.
- Lack of boundaries: a person with codependent behavior will suffer from the absence of boundaries. The codependent behavior may include unwanted advice, or they may feel responsible for other people’s feelings and want to control them to feel secure.
Substance Use Disorder and Codependency
Substance use disorders do not always go hand-in-hand with codependency, but the likelihood is higher. This occurs because people develop unhealthy relationships in the context of their marriages and partnerships when they use substances. Partners, close adult family members or loved ones, and children who use substances are often susceptible to this type of relationship. Codependent partners are not always a spouse. Children of loved ones with a substance use disorder become codependent when they feel the need to “parent” a parent. They are not able to care for themselves in the same way their parents should care for them. It is important to be aware of the signs of codependency and understand that codependent practices can wrongfully be interpreted as loving or caring behavior.
Risks and Impact
With codependency comes dangers and challenges. There may be serious implications for not only the family but others close to the family. Anyone who encounters or associates with members of a codependent relationship may experience some of the risky behavior. The general effects of codependency include a loss of relationship with anyone other than the codependent. Those involved become unable to keep up with obligations outside of the relationship, and increased risk of developing substance use disorders. Codependency is about one person working very hard on another’s behalf while their own needs are neglected. The person with a substance use disorder may fear the other person won’t love them when the disorder is resolved, so they continue to struggle. The thought of the codependent relationship ending often causes more anxiety for the person with the disorder, which leads to more substance use. Addressing the codependence should be considered part of the individual’s treatment plan. Effective recovery programs often use family counseling as needed to bridge the therapies between issues and the parties involved.
Although codependency goes two ways, generally, the person with a substance use disorder can work on this in therapy and treatment. Because the issues surrounding codependency involve more than one person, treatment options can be varied to suit each unique relationship. Effectively moving beyond codependency requires some tools that both parties can use to cultivate a healthier relationship. There are a few general goals when entering any therapy concerning codependent relationships that both parties can work towards.
- Developing better boundaries
- Developing deeper emotional intimacy
- Developing healthier relationships
Healthy boundaries are a huge part of learning how to navigate better relationships outside the confines of codependency. Setting boundaries helps restore a healthier relationship. This also includes learning how to tend to one’s own needs, defining personal emotions, and setting limits on one’s own behaviors and what is accepted of others. Equally important to setting boundaries is respecting the boundaries of others and learning how to deal with relationships in a healthy way that keeps codependence at bay. Building healthier relationships can be aided by incorporating family therapies that can address an individual’s unique needs. Knowing the signs and symptoms of codependent relationships is half the battle. If any of the indicators are present in you or a loved one’s life, know that help is available. Healthier, more fulfilling relationships will offer many more opportunities for healing and personal growth.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at (800) 799-4673.