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Codependency is often present in households alongside addiction. In many cases, addicts struggle with excessive reliance on another person. Or they may transfer the reliance on drugs or alcohol to another person in the household. This is especially true when they start working to break the cycle of addiction.

In other cases, family members may have a codependent relationship with the addict. They may have a hard time separating themselves from the addict’s behaviors. They may even feel responsible for decisions made by the addict.

Most of the time, treating addiction also involves addressing the codependent relationship. The treatment process aims to achieve a greater overall sense of independence in both parties.

What Is Codependency?

Codependency occurs when one person in a relationship relies on the other party spiritually, physically, mentally, or emotionally. Codependency can occur in a variety of relationships, including friendships, marriage partnerships, and family relationships including parents and children.

Codependency has been described as a “family addiction3.” It often develops from the stress associated with addicted family members. Codependency today has a much broader definition than simply the challenges in addiction-filled situations. However, it was initially coined as a description of the dependent relationship that often occurs in families where addiction occurs.

Signs of Codependency

People may show signs of codependency in several ways1. The signs depend on how that codependency expresses itself. As well as how reliant one party is on the other for mental or emotional stability.

Some people may naturally be codependent. While others may grow toward signs and symptoms of codependency as they try to “fix” or “help” an addicted loved one.

1. One Partner Takes on Excessive Responsibility for the Other

In a relationship involving an addict, codependency may look like one partner who consistently takes responsibility for the other partner’s behavior. That partner may blame themselves for the actions of the addicted partner. They may take responsibility for the partner’s irresponsible or inappropriate behavior.

Often, the codependent party will feel a profound responsibility related to the addiction. They may take on responsibility for the continuing addiction. They do so even though the addicted party continues to make those damaging decisions.

2. One Partner Constantly Contributes More to the Relationship than the Other

In most relationships, there is a natural ebb and flow of responsibility and giving. Sometimes, one partner may give more than the other, especially during extreme illness or personal difficulties.

In the long run, however, that giving should reasonably even out. If one partner regularly gives more, there may be a codependent relationship. This is especially true when the other person starts to take advantage of the lack of boundaries.

3. One Partner has an Excessive Fear of Being Alone or Abandoned

In many cases, codependency stems from a deep fear of abandonment. Many people choose to remain in damaging relationships. This is because they fear what will happen if they have to step out on their own. These fears are often irrational; however, the codependent individual may struggle deeply to reduce or eliminate those feelings.

4. One Partner is Typically in Control of the Relationship, Including Plans & Decision-Making

Often, in a codependent relationship, one partner will remain in control of most of the decisions made by the pair. One partner will always be the one to make the decision instead of making important decisions together.

For example, the controlling partner might want to go out drinking regularly. Meanwhile, the other partner would prefer to have quiet nights. The controlling partner, however, might make rude, damaging, or demanding statements. And the other partner would typically give in to those demands.

5. The Codependent Partner May Have a Deep Need to be Needed

In many cases, codependency arises from a need to be “needed.” This may stem from the codependent partner’s fear of being alone. Needed partners are rarely discarded and will usually remain essential to that person’s life.

The codependent partner may like picking up the “mess” left behind by an addict. In some cases, codependent partners will continue to enable addiction. This is partly because they may worry that an addicted partner may leave them behind.

6. One Partner is Much More Mature or Responsible than the Other

In a codependent relationship, one partner will seem childish or immature. While the other partner will take care of the responsibilities around the house. In a codependent parent/child relationship, the adult parent might rely on a minor child to care for things.

These are usually things that should not be the child’s responsibility. Examples include taking care of the house, cooking, bringing home income, or caring for other children in the home.

A parent with an addicted child might enter into a codependent relationship. The parent routinely takes care of things that an adult child should be able to handle, including paying their bills or taking care of essential tasks around the house.

7. One Partner Cannot Make Decisions Without Consulting

In a healthy relationship, one partner might consult before making significant decisions. These decisions may include making a big purchase or planning a big trip. In a codependent relationship, however, one partner might be unable to make even minor decisions without consulting the other. For example, a spouse might not be able to plan an evening out with friends without first consulting with their partner.

A codependent adult child might be unable to make decisions without consulting their parents. Often, this behavior arises because the other partner berates the codependent partner for making the wrong decision. Over time, the codependent partner may default to asking for their opinions on everything. They may be unable to make any decisions on their own.

8. The Codependent Partner May Look to the Other Partner to Identify Reactions or Emotions

The codependent partner will rely on the other partner to make emotional decisions about the relationship. They will also rely on their partner to make practical decisions.

The codependent partner may not be sure how they feel about significant changes without consulting the other party. Communicating effectively with a partner is fine and healthy. However, being unable to make emotional calls about situations could indicate rising codependency.

9. The Codependent Partner is Willing to Accept Unhealthy & Dangerous Behavior to Avoid Losing the Relationship

Frequently, a codependent person will do anything to avoid potentially losing a relationship. They are more worried about the idea of being alone than they are about the dysfunctional relationship. That could, in many cases, mean suffering significant abuse or neglect over several years in that relationship.

Furthermore, a codependent partner may ignore or hide signs of addiction. They do this to ensure the addict’s partner does not leave them.

10. The Codependent Partner May Feel an Immense Sense of Guilt Any Time They Try to Assert Themselves or Focus on Their Own Needs

Often, the codependent partner will struggle with any type of independence. Especially independence that goes directly against the other partner’s desires or interests. They may feel like doing things or going to events not pre-approved by the other party.

The codependent partner may have trouble with lying or overall dishonesty. They may want to hide any decisions they make that are not in keeping with the other partner’s desires or needs

11. A Codependent Parternship May Have Substantial Boundary Issues

Often, people involved in a codependent relationship will not have expected healthy boundaries within that relationship. Healthy relationships allow each partner to have some privacy, whether in a parent/child relationship, a friendship, or a romantic partnership. Unhealthy, codependent relationships may blur those lines substantially. Therefore, it is difficult for either partner to have friends, relationships, or pursuits.

Causes of Codependency

Codependency rarely simply springs into being on its own. There are often several underlying causes that may contribute to codependency in a relationship.

Substance Use Disorders (SUDs)

Often, family members of those suffering from substance abuse disorders will remain at higher risk of developing codependency5. Living with a family member with a substance abuse disorder can change the brain of family members. This includes their natural response to family members with substance abuse disorders.

Dysfunctional Families

Even in adult relationships, codependency may relate to a person’s childhood. Often, people with codependency issues grew up in dysfunctional families2. In these families, children may have naturally felt unsafe or at ongoing risk of abandonment.

Their life may have been very unstable. Causing them to look for anything that might provide them with that much-needed sense of stability.

When parents cannot provide a stable home environment, children may take it on themselves to provide that environment. This includes taking care of others around them or becoming people-pleasers. The child of dysfunctional parents may not have learned appropriate boundaries in the home. This means they may have more difficulty displaying them in other relationships

Lacking Confidence

Codependent individuals have an overall inner lack of confidence. This often stems from the fact that they have been held back or enabled. Therefore, they did not have the tools to give them the support they needed to grow and develop on their own.

People not given support during the growing process may feel unable to handle the most basic situations. It can be very difficult to develop that independence rapidly, making the adjustment difficult for codependent individuals.

Codependency & Addiction to Drugs or Alcohol

Codependency and addiction often go hand in hand4. Codependents often find themselves falling into “taking care of” the addict. They act by providing additional support as the addict continues to spiral further into addiction.

Frequently, codependency is the only mechanism that allows the relationship to survive as the addict continues to spiral. Codependents may make excuses for their loved ones’ continued drug or alcohol addictions. Often, they will take on additional responsibilities due to the addict’s dangerous behaviors.

Addicts may also have a greater tendency to lash out at others, including their partners. Often, codependents will get used to those damaging behaviors. They may change their habits and behaviors to avoid the addict’s anger and retaliation. Meanwhile, codependents will continue to take responsibility, both internally and externally, for the actions of the addicted partner.

Help With Codependency

Often, family members and friends of addicts will need to get help with codependency. Finding tools to manage codependent relationships and loved ones helps the addict break out of the addiction cycle. Then they can get the help they need for a substance use disorder.

Codependents may need to separate themselves from the addict’s success or failure at breaking that addictive cycle. They should do this to enable them to move forward with their lives and responsibilities.

Therapy

Codependents often benefit from therapy that can help them change their thinking patterns and move toward a healthier relationship. They may need to stop negative thinking cycles. This includes thoughts of their worthlessness or the fact that they do not matter.

Therapy can also help codependents learn to be more honest with their partners. This may make it easier for them to lay out their needs and break that codependent cycle.

Peer Support

Peer support can help many codependents break out of the cycle of codependency and develop healthier relationships. Many organizations will offer peer support for the family members and friends of addicts, including Alanon, Alateen, and Naranon. These programs may also help offer insights that can help codependents break out of the dysfunctional cycle. Codependents may learn how to separate themselves from the damaging behaviors of addicts in their lives.

Breaks

One of the essential things codependents can do is take breaks away from the other party. They may need to accept that they cannot be responsible for the other party’s decisions 24/7. And that the other party needs the opportunity to make decisions or mistakes on their own.

Breaks can also allow codependents time to make their own decisions, which can help them start to feel more confident about expressing their own emotions and having their feelings.

Building Personal Hobbies & Activities

Often, codependents need to start over and rebuild their own lives. They may have poured everything they are into the relationship. This can leave them unsure what to do if they aren’t with their partner.

Over time, however, codependents can start to build their hobbies again. They may discover more about what they’re interested in and what they want to do. Having friends, hobbies, and activities outside the other party can make it easier for codependents to build healthier lives.

Treating Codependency & Addiction

Dealing with codependency and addiction can prove incredibly difficult. At Inland Detox, we help provide resources for the friends and family members of addicts and the addicts themselves. Pursuing codependency treatment can help your entire family enter a healthier arrangement and life.

Sources
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  2. McCullough, K. W. (1991, June). Codependency: The legacy of the dysfunctional family. Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2072064/
  3. Mulry, J. T. (1987). Codependency: A family addiction. American family physician. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3565221/
  4. O’Brien, P. E., & Gaborit, M. (1992, January). Codependency: A disorder separate from chemical dependency. Journal of clinical psychology. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1556208/
  5. Zielinski, M., Bradshaw, S., Mullet, N., Hawkins, L., Shumway, S., & Story Chavez, M. (2019, May 15). Codependency and prefrontal cortex functioning: Preliminary examination of substance use disorder impacted family members. The American journal on addictions. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31090992/