How Love, Codependency and Addiction Work
In romantic relationships where one or both partners are experiencing a substance use disorder, codependent tendencies often surface. The natural urge to protect and help your partner can result in behaviors that actually interfere with their ability to find recovery from an addiction. Love, codependency and addiction can become a tangled emotional web that is difficult to escape without professional help.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that causes an excessive and imbalanced reliance on a partner. In these relationships, one partner is generally the “giver” or “enabler” while the other is the “taker” or “manipulator.” The term is often associated with relationships in which one or both people are addicted to a substance.
Sometimes referred to as “relationship addiction,” codependency creates a dysfunctional and unsustainable dynamic in which one partner’s self-worth is completely reliant on the other person. The giver will neglect their own emotional and physical needs in order to prioritize their partner’s.
Signs of Codependency
- Strong emotional reactions
- Difficulty making decisions
- Sacrificing your needs
- Inability to set boundaries
- Blaming others or yourself for your partner’s behavior
- Maintaining the relationship feels exhausting
- Feeling resentment about your role in a relationship
- Fear of what your partner might do
Codependency and Substance Use
In cases involving addiction to a substance, particularly when the substance is alcohol, codependent behavior can be extremely dangerous and damaging to oneself and others. When substance use is a regular occurrence in the relationship, it begins to feel normal and the idea of eliminating the substance use, thereby changing an important aspect of the relationship, is intimidating to the codependent partner.
Substance use significantly worsens codependent relationships. The giver or enabler is often willing to fulfill all of their partner’s needs, regardless of whether it negatively affects their own health or their partner’s health. If the taker or manipulator is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the enabler protects them by helping to hide or even supporting their addiction. An enabler may also supply their partner with money, knowing it will be used to purchase drugs or alcohol. Many partners even help hide their loved one’s addiction, or find themselves supporting it to shield them from the judgment of others.
Codependent people will often take on the weight of their partner’s addiction as well, feeling as though it is their responsibility to prevent their addicted partner from overdosing or their recovered partner from relapsing. Some enablers even blame themselves for their partner’s substance use. Shannon West, host of the “Filter Optional” podcast, told Landmark Recovery about her experience feeling this way in a codependent relationship with her husband.
“I either consciously or subconsciously would start to feel like if he relapsed, that it was going to be somehow my fault or my responsibility because it’s something I did because we were now a married couple,” West said. “If I made him mad, was he going to relapse and leave?”
She explained how she didn’t share these worries with her husband out of concern for being a burden and as a result, became extremely codependent on him. In this situation, neither West nor her husband were knowingly fostering this codependent dynamic, but it was still present.
What Causes Codependency?
Codependency is often caused by emotional trauma. In many cases the root cause of codependency can be traced back to a past or childhood trauma, typically centered around abuse and neglect, which directly impacted a person’ self-worth and self-esteem.
Growing up in an environment which did not provide an adequate level of love or attention can translate to codependent tendencies later in life. The feeling of having to do something for others in order to be valuable creates a compulsive urge to serve as a caregiver, forcing them to seek out and stay in codependent relationships.
Codependent behaviors can also be taught; when children continuously witness codependency in relationships – most often in their parents – they can begin to view this dynamic as normal.
Individuals with pre-existing mental health issues like depression and anxiety are more likely to exhibit codependent tendencies due to the high level of neuroticism, or negative emotions, in those with mental health conditions. Women are also more likely than men to exhibit codependent tendencies in relationships.
How to Treat Codependency
While it’s always beneficial for loved ones of an addicted person to receive some level of treatment as well, it’s especially so if the loved one is codependent. The extreme level of reliance they have on their partner paired with the possibility of being separated often keeps them from seeking treatment.
In relationships where one partner is in the early stages of recovery, returning from addiction treatment to their codependent partner can greatly inhibit the recovery process and increases the likelihood of relapse. For this reason, codependent people should receive their own form of treatment as well. Therapy and support groups like Co-Dependents Anonymous provide a safe space for codependent people who want to recover and begin building healthy relationships.
For West, this self-healing included conducting research to understand codependency and setting healthy boundaries with her husband. “You can spend a whole lot of time concentrating on someone else without concentrating on yourself and looking in the mirror, and that doesn’t really get you anywhere down the road spiritually, physically, or emotionally,” she said.
Landmark Recovery staff is trained to provide all of the therapy, support and services necessary for those who struggle with substance use disorders. For more information on resources for recovery from addiction, call 888-448-0302. Our recovery specialists are available 24/7 to answer your questions and help you begin living substance-free.
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