As much as the science of addiction is a product of only the last few decades, an understanding of how substance use disorder affects the people surrounding it is even more nascent. Codependency and life as the loved one of an addict or alcoholic were concepts only first explored in depth in the 1980s. Today, many people witnessing the devastation of addiction remain unaware of how the experience may be shaping them as well. If you know someone suffering from addiction, it’s important to understand your own place in that tumultuous ecosystem. Not only will that understanding help your loved one heal; but also, it can help you find your own healing as well.
What is Codependency?
If your loved one is suffering from addiction, you may be in what is called a codependent relationship. A codependent relationship is a kind of dysfunctional relationship where one person plays the caretaker role — to their own detriment.
Codependent relationships are very common among people with substance abuse issues, and it can be extremely harmful for both people in the relationship. If you are not entirely sure whether you are currently in a codependent relationship, there are some warning signs that may help you to decide:
Do you find yourself constantly trying to earn the approval of your partner? Do you somehow feel that the situation is your fault, or that you deserve the pain you are experiencing?
Lack of boundaries
Having boundaries simply means that you are able to respect the other person’s feelings and autonomy. Is this an issue for either you or your partner? Be honest with yourself: Sometimes, your idea of caretaking or looking out for your loved one may actually be a boundary violation.
Wanting to help another person in need is a very healthy impulse. But when you do this at your own expense, it becomes a problem. Do you ever go through periods of exhaustion or fatigue due to all the time and energy that you give to someone else? Are your own relationships, your career, and your serenity being affected?
Over time, you may find that your entire identity has become wrapped around taking care of a loved one struggling with addiction. You might find yourself starting to spout the same lies that they do in an attempt to cover for them, becoming more defensive and deceptive.
Over time, a person playing the caretaker role may forget about their own wants and needs or may even feel guilty for having wants and needs at all. It is very common for someone in a codependent relationship to experience some kind of fear around expressing their needs on any level, out of fear of a negative reaction.
If you can relate to any of the warning signs mentioned above, there is a very good chance that you are in a codependent relationship. Breaking these detrimental habits can be extremely difficult to do on your own, but there is help. There are programs available to anyone that is currently in a relationship with someone that is struggling with addiction: Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous, and Adult Children of Alcoholics, just to name a few. These 12-step programs have meetings all over the world. They’ve helped millions of people, and could help you, too.
If you’re not sure whether you’re in a codependent relationship, or would like to explore ways you can help yourself and your loved one heal, reach out to our caring team today. We’re here to answer any questions you may have, and help you renew your hope for a better future — for both of you.