Codependency & Addiction: Not All Addictions Involve Substances
Codependency and addiction often appear in the same place. Someone develops an addiction, and someone who loves that person unintentionally nurtures that addiction with codependent behavior.
The telltale trait of a codependent person is an inability to set or keep boundaries. Codependent people tend to put others’ desires first out of an excessive need for approval and fear of losing the relationship. VeryWellMind has this to say about codependency: Sometimes called “relationship addiction”, codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that influences a person’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship.
A more nuanced take on codependency suggests that it stems from a need to control the relationship. The codependent person manipulates and engages in compulsive behaviors that demonstrate low self-esteem, a lack of boundaries, and an unhealthy need for control. Codependent people give too much, stretch too thin, and too often go above and beyond to help the other person. Codependency is learned early in childhood, in most cases, often in families who experience great emotional pain. Parents unthinkingly pass this behavior down to succeeding generations. Any relationship can be codependent, regardless of whether substance use disorder is part of the picture.
However, it is important to remember that codependency is not an officially diagnosed psychological disorder. And when someone has a substance use disorder, it’s very easy for those who love them to act in codependent ways in an attempt to help.
What Does Codependency Look Like?
Between an addicted person and their loved one, codependency may look like:
- A lack of negotiating and discussing each person’s needs, especially when substances enter the relationship
- A failure to say no to allowing substance use or obtaining substances
- An inability to present and maintain personal boundaries when substances become a top priority for the other person
At any given time in a relationship with someone with a substance use disorder, the codependent person ignores their own pain and exhaustion to focus on their loved one’s addiction and recovery. A codependent person has extreme difficulty in denying the loved one what they ask for–even if they ask for the substance causing havoc in their lives. They yield to the person’s demands, even when those demands put them in uncomfortable or dangerous situations.
In many cases, codependent individuals find themselves feeling trapped, angry, frustrated, or even hostile in their relationships.
We Can Help
If you are reading this and seeing the ways you have acted codependently, you may wonder if it’s possible for you to change–and if so, where to begin. Here are a few pointers:
- Focus on you. How do you feel? What do you need?
- Practice validating yourself with self-care and positive self-talk
- Consider entering talk therapy, where you can learn how to identify what you need and how to set boundaries
- Understand that you have the right to change your mind or your situation whenever it suits you
- Avoid any inner narratives that promote victimhood. You are not a victim.
- Practice saying ‘No’ when you feel pressured to say ‘Yes’
Each of these pointers may prove radically challenging. Be gentle with yourself, forgive yourself often, and take each day as a chance to try again.