Co-dependent behavior is a problem that manifests itself in many cases of addiction. A relationship where one individual concentrates too much on the needs of the other is what constitutes co-dependency.
In the 1950s, therapists conducted research that established similar patterns in relationships involving alcoholics. These alcoholic counselors found that some people in an addict’s life presented some actions that were considered enabling.
Enabling behavior occurs when an individual does things that condone and excuse the habits of an addict. Such a person seeks to take control of the other’s life regardless of what it does to his or her own.
Functioning in a co-dependent framework has some psychological and social implications. It is why therapy is necessary for individuals in a co-dependent relationship.
An enabler is a person exhibiting co-dependent behavior but is not an addict. Such a person is detrimental to addiction recovery process.
An enabler can be anyone within and addict’s circle from a spouse to immediate family to friends and colleagues.
Enabling behavior can sometimes be unintentional. A loved one may think that by covering up for an addict’s behavior, they are protecting them.
To share the problems of an addict, the other person becomes unhealthily entangled in their life, causing more harm. Some of the ways this happens is a co-dependent making excuses at an addict’s place of employment, altering plans to cater to the needs of a user, taking on extra duties, lying about an addict’s whereabouts to “protect them” and so on.
When someone with a substance abuse problem is not given a chance to take accept their mistakes, it becomes almost impossible to treat their addiction.
The fact is that a co-dependent person has an unsatisfying life and uses other people to make themselves feel better. Some of the traits that therapists have identified in co-dependent people include:
- Micro-managing every aspect of an addict’s life
- Low self-esteem
- Chronic relationships with users or emotionally abusive individuals
- Lack of emotional intimacy when in a relationship
- Inability to be genuine with one’s emotions
- Poor communication skills
- Controlling behavior
A Co-dependent Definition of Normal
One thing about codependency is that an individual starts to see bad habits as normal. It is difficult for a co-dependent to accept change. There is always a need to maintain status quo; hence, the controlling behavior.
A co-dependent person feels the urge to have a pulse on everything that an addict does. It gets to the point where another person’s success and failure become that of a co-dependent. If something goes wrong, they feel guilty about it even though they had nothing to do with it.
A co-dependent framework has its own definition of standard behavior. People in such relationships have come to accept addiction as part of their normal lives. Because of this, a co-dependent person unwittingly supports the actions of an addict because they are afraid of upsetting the balance. They get power from controlling the lives of an addict because they feel like they are saving them.
It is why these are the highest percentages of individuals to stay in abusive relationships. Getting out of that relationship feels like losing their normal. Even when opportunities for addiction treatment and solutions present themselves, a co-dependent does not take advantage of them for fear of disrupting their “regular lives.”
Sex and Love Addiction
Co-dependent relationships also present themselves in other types of addiction, not just drugs and alcohol. An individual who is addicted to love and sex confuses the two, leading to a string of unhealthy relationships. Such a person finds it hard to distinguish between physical attraction, neediness, and love. Sex becomes an emotional dependence in that when it is lacking, an individual feels deprived.
The fear of abandonment characterizes such co-dependent frameworks, leading one to stay in dysfunctional relationships. Sex and love addiction lead one to get partners who are emotionally unavailable. Feelings of guilt, anger, stress, and shame become the essence of a relationship.
Such a person is unable to be by himself/herself, thus the tendency to go back to unhealthy relationships and ignoring the reasons they didn’t work the first time. Fear of loneliness also causes one to engage in multiple sexual encounters with different people at the same time.
Treatment for Addiction and Co-dependency
Whether its substance abuse, sex, or love, addiction does serious psychological damage to an individual. These types of habits affect not only the victim but the people around as well. The social ramifications of addiction and co-dependent behavior can be devastating, depending on the severity.
Addiction to controlled substances can lead to various health issues and even death. Drug rehab centers provide addiction treatment using combinations of medications and therapies. Rehab facilities also have programs to treat co-dependency such as Co-dependents Anonymous. The program provides support for individuals dealing with the challenges of co-dependent behaviors.
It can take time for a co-dependent to realize their actions and understand the impacts they have on an addict. Therapy is one way to help an enabler change the dynamics of their relationship with an addict. No one formula can be said to fix a co-dependent.
Counseling is but an opportunity to help a loved one learn that an addict has to take responsibility for their lives and the consequences of their habits. It is also to aid a co-dependent in leaving the decision-making to the addict and place limits on how much help to extend. Doing this establishes boundaries that are essential to protect the family and other people.
Intervention is one avenue to take when dealing with codependency and addiction. If a family member or friend is enabling an addict, then an intervention can help both of them realize the damage that the relationship is causing everyone else. Even when the addict does not want to get help, it can be easier to reach the co-dependent.
Disentangling a co-dependent from an addict’s life means that there is no crutch to lean on every time an individual gets high. Understanding the relationship between an addict and a co-dependent is fundamental for family and friends. It makes it less challenging to get help when you can recognize the signs.
Alo House is LegitScript Certified and a Joint Commission Accredited Addiction Treatment Center.
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