One of the most damaging relationships when it comes to substance abuse is the combination of codependency and drug addiction.
These are symbiotic, mutually reinforcing behaviours that can have serious consequences for both participants in the relationship. If left unchecked, this interaction can progress to such a stage as to be life threatening.
So what exactly are the dangers of codependency and addiction?
This is a relatively complex and nuanced field of addiction psychology, being an area of intense research by specialist teams all over the world. We explain everything you need to know about codependency and its role in drug addiction and alcoholism here.
What Is Codependency?
To understand why these two relationships are so damaging together, we need to understand what codependency actually is.
Codependency is a particular kind of relationship when one party is entirely reliant on the other in many aspects of their lives. A classic example of these kinds of relationships would be a couple made up of an alcoholic or drug addict, and their partner who does not have any substance abuse problems. These two very distinct roles are characterised by a set of personality and relationship traits that define one party as the “addict” and one as the “caretaker”.
The addict is the person in the relationship who has developed a drug or alcohol problem to such an extent that they need the help of their partner to carry them through life.
The addict role in a codependent relationship displays typical signs and symptoms associated with their particular addiction, often including deep depression stemming from feelings of guilt and despair. Addicts often form codependent relationships out of a necessity for feeling supported and close to someone, even if it comes at the expense of their own autonomy.
The other half of a codependent relationship is that of the caretaker.
Not to be confused with a healthy caretaking relationship, like that of a nurse or close family member, the caretaker is characterised by an inability to be alone, intense and chaotic relationships, chronic feelings of loneliness, excessively controlling personality traits, manipulation, and an overwhelming need for desire and affection. The caretaker usually puts their own needs below those of the addict they are in a relationship with, sometimes letting their own health and wellbeing suffer considerably in the process.
Caretakers or “codependents” also often subconsciously enable the addicts behaviour, allowing them to relapse into destructive behaviours so that they will continue to rely on them and maintain their mutually reliant relationship.
Simply put, while addicts are addicted to a substance, caretakers are addicted to looking after the addicts.
What Are The Signs Of Codependency?
Codependency and addiction tend to go hand in hand when it comes to the symptoms. Common signs include:
- Low self-esteem and depression
- An intense craving for other people’s approval
- Trouble with establishing healthy boundaries in many relationships
- Overly controlling or domineering personality traits
- Underdeveloped communicator
- Unhealthy obsession with what other people think
- Intimacy issues
As you may be able to tell, the signs of codependency lend themselves to perpetuating a drug addiction or alcoholism, through fostering unhealthy relationships with other people as well as the substance of abuse. An addict will struggle to truly start their journey to sobriety when a part of a codependent relationship.
The Relationship Between Codependency & Addiction
How exactly codependency and addiction are intertwined is a subject of much discussion.
First described by psychotherapists in the 1950s, it was noticed that alcoholics often had partners that would, either consciously or subconsciously, enable their addictive behaviour in a cycle of dependence and relapse. This was noticed to extend to many other forms of addiction, and it appears that common elements across all forms of addiction feed particularly well into the psychological issues experienced by the codependent partner.
Addicts of any substance or activity often have difficulty with money, employment, their health, personal relationships, and controlling their emotions. Codependent caretakers thrive off looking after someone else, to the extent that they will make all their decisions for them and exert an excessive amount of control over them. Codependents often cover for their addict partners, making excuses for them and ultimately enabling them to continue their addiction so that they can continue to look after them.
Can Codependency & Addiction Be Treated?
Treating codependency and addiction is a complex undertaking that involves balancing many different aspects of these intense relationships.
Drug addiction and alcoholism are often best treated at a substance addiction treatment centre, where the addict has access to medical professionals and an environment free of temptation. It is often here where the damaging aspects of a codependent relationship are brought to light, usually for the first time in the eyes of the addict and the codependent. This can be particularly challenging for the codependent, as they may not see the harm their actions are causing and believe they are supporting the addict.
Some codependent relationships cannot be treated, and if it continues, the addiction issues are unlikely to be resolved effectively. In the instances where both parties in the relationship accept and acknowledge the damaging elements of their union, treatment can prove very effective in creating a healthy future. Treatment for the addiction will be combined with individual and couples therapy to help establish boundaries, identify and limit damaging behaviours, and giving the individuals the tools to recognise if the relationship were to slide back towards codependency.
Freedom From Addiction is one of the leading drug and alcohol addiction treatment centres in Ontario, specialising in helping addicts on their journey to sobriety in a safe and inclusive environment. Our treatment programs include identification and treatment of any codependent relationships to give our clients the best chance at a bright, clean future. Contact us today and begin your journey to freedom tomorrow.