What is Codependency?
The term codependency refers to someone who cares deeply about others to the point that they need it to maintain their self-worth, often sabotaging their own health. They tend to be highly functional, caring, and supportive of a loved one but may enable them to engage in activities that are destructive or irresponsible. While taking care of a family member or loved one seems like it’s a kind thing to do, if you are codependent you will be in relationships with people who are abusive or suffer from addictions. While the struggles of codependency are apparent, there is treatment for codependency available from a mental health professional.
Many experts will say that most people have some codependent tendencies particularly in relationships, and it’s also known that co-dependent people will typically engage with people who are struggling themselves, have addictive personalities, are emotionally wounded or emotionally unavailable.
Signs of Codependency
There are some tell-tale signs that you are a co-dependent person and rely on others for your own self-worth. Some of the most common signs include:
- You feel like you need to fix and control others
- You have a difficult time setting boundaries
- You want everyone to like you and have a need for approval
- You have a hard time expressing your feelings and emotions
- You tend to deny or ignore problems
- You think of others before yourself
- You have low self-worth and self-esteem
- You feel like you’re responsible for other people’s actions and feelings
- You feel withdrawn or depressed
Codependency and Addiction
If you or a loved one is suffering from the misuse of a substance, the support of family or friends is essential when you are going through recovery. The relationships that you have will become vital in overcoming your addiction, providing motivation, emotional support, and practical help during the treatment process.
“Enabling an addict can have disastrous consequences. Medical and financial issues, relationship or family struggles, injuries, and incarceration may all be serious results of a drug or alcohol addiction. If the abuser is allowed to continue to use without any repercussions, this may lead them not facing up to their problems until it is too late” (WA State Employee Assistance Program, 2016)
Although, many people have family who can help in their recovery, for some people it causes the opposite effect, and they end up causing you to never recover, relapse or enable the addictive behavior. When you are trying to overcome an addiction and you have a codependent family member, it makes it even harder for you to quit.
Codependency does not always occur with someone who is abusing drugs but was originally recognized with people suffering from alcoholism. Someone becomes codependent in relationships with people who have addiction problems and usually manifests in some of these ways:
- A child of someone who is abusing or addicted to drugs
- Close adult family members or significant others of individuals using drugs
- Partners who are both abusing drugs
Negative Mental Health Effects for Codependent People
When people are in a relationship and one person has a substance abuse disorder and the other is codependent, both people could be at risk for negative consequences or effects to occur due to this behavior.
“It was also determined that a high level of codependency imposed a significant burden on the physical and emotional well-being of those affected, resulting in poor health, reactivity, self-neglect and additional responsibilities. It was concluded that codependency has a negative impact on the family system and on the health of the family members of drug users.” (Bortolon, C et.al., 2016)
Known drug use within a family system can cause a lot of unwanted stress, causing much psychological stress which often leads to codependency. Women who are married to spouses or a partner that have problems with addiction will take on a large family load, often taking care of the children on their own, household chores, etc. and this results in mental health disorders including codependency.
Treatment for Codependency
There are not a lot of codependency treatment opportunities and the level of care for addressing this problem is lacking. For some, getting therapy by a mental health professional, psychiatrist or counselor may be helpful in determining what types of codependent behaviors they are experiencing, why these behaviors and patterns have happened, and how past experiences may have shaped their future relationships. The therapist or mental health specialist will visit with the person to develop the best plan for treating the codependency behaviors.
People with codependency can also benefit from being around others who are experiencing it and participate in small group support meetings to discuss the feelings behind their behaviors and understand others that are going through the same thing.
A group called, Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) was developed based on the methods of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which offers a 12-step program to recovery. Another group, Al-Anon, is centered around supporting people who have family members that suffer from addiction, and many of the practices focus on codependency within the family unit.
Learning to Say No
For a codependent person, one of the hardest things to overcome is to learn to say no. The words are exceedingly difficult for many people suffering from codependency, and they find it hard to say no to friends or family members especially. Many people with this disorder, are eager to please others, worry about people’s approval and will do anything to make someone else happy. Often, this results in saying “yes” often and having a challenging time saying no to others.
When someone can get help with treatment options and develop healthy boundaries, it can be beneficial for both people in the relationship. By saying no, the person can prioritize what is most important in their life, ensuring they are able to focus on the things that most matter to them. Over time, the person becomes a happier person due to the opportunity to make their own choices, with the ability to say no when they feel they need to. Overall, this is helpful for both people in the relationship.
If you or someone you know is struggling with codependency, it’s important to reach out for help right away. There is treatment for codependency available that can help with the symptoms associated with this disorder, and allow you or a loved on to feel better.
Bortolon, C et.al. (2016, January). Family Functioning and Health Issues Associated with Codependency in Families of Drug Users. https://scielosp.org/article/csc/2016.v21n1/101-107/
WA State Employee Assistance Program (EAP). (2016, September). Codependency and Addiction. https://des.wa.gov/sites/default/files/public/documents/More%20DOP%20Services/EAP/2016TipSheet/Sept2016CodependencyandAddiction.pdf