The term codependent is thrown around a lot these days. But what exactly does it mean to be codependent? And, does codependency go hand in hand with addiction? It’s important to understand what being codependent really means, the ways it’s connected to addiction, how to tell if you’re codependent, and what to do if you are and it’s having a negative impact on your life.
Psychology Today defines codependency in the following way;
a dysfunctional relationship dynamic where one person assumes the role of “the giver,” sacrificing their own needs and well-being for the sake of the other, “the taker.”
They go on to say that this relationship doesn’t have to be romantic but can be between friends, siblings, and family members.
Mental Health America says that codependency is;
a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship.
The term first became popular in the substance abuse community. Codependency was often the term used to describe the relationship between an individual with a substance or alcohol use disorder and their spouse or significant other. Codependency was coined after observing families of alcoholics interact. Generally speaking, the individual who was most often labeled as the ‘giver’ was the person without the addiction issue and the person who was typically the ‘taker’ was the person with an AUD or SUD.
Today, there’s much more awareness about codependency and understanding what it really is so we know that codependency can be more complex than the above scenario. When it comes to codependency, it can be intricately linked to addiction, however, this isn’t always the case.
In fact, MHA says that codependency is a term interchangeable with ‘relationship addiction’. They explain that the reason is because people who are codependent often form unhealthy, one-sided relationships that are “emotionally destructive and/or abusive”. Codependency can also be linked to those individuals with mental health disorders and their families and loved ones.
Substance Abuse and Codependency: Do They Go Hand in Hand?
As mentioned, the term codependency first came into light in connection with people with alcohol or substance abuse issues. But, this isn’t always the case. Research reveals that a child living with a parent who has addiction issues often becomes codependent as an adult. This codependency stems, in part, from learning from the addicted parent that their own needs don’t matter or aren’t as important as the parent’s needs. When individuals are in active addiction, they tend to be emotionally immature and self-centered and behave in ways that make the children feel that they have to make sure their parent’s needs are met–even at the cost of their own.
This goes on and they learn to value themselves based on others needing them and the approval of others. When these issues go unresolved these individuals often get into codependent relationships as adults. Many times, with someone who has an AUD or SUD. Both people often have low-self esteem and suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders. And while these are often a result of growing up in some type of dysfunctional family, anyone can get into unhealthy patterns and habits in relationships and become codependent.
When it comes to recovery from alcohol or another substance, letting go of unhealthy, codependent relationships is often a part of the journey. It’s important to realize that codependent relationships are unhealthy for both partners and, in most cases, both partners have some underlying issues that should be addressed.
How to Tell If You’re in a Codependent Relationship
In codependent relationships, one person always seems to be ‘giving’, while the other is also ‘taking’ or on the receiving side of their partner’s giving nature. Because the giver in the relationship becomes exhausted by an endless quest to find peace from another and meeting their needs, they become resentful at their partner who is taking from them. ‘Givers’ in codependent relationships are often very self-critical and perfectionists who not only tire themselves with endless giving but also are riddled with guilt because they just can’t do enough.
Oftentimes, a giver in a codependent relationship will have trouble saying no to their partner, and to others in general. This person has learned to attend to someone else’s needs before and often instead of their own. They continue the learned behavior of taking care of someone else’s needs in relationships. This leaves them people-pleasing, lacking boundaries, and constantly looking to others for validation.
Many times people who are codependent tend to want to rescue or change the person they are with. Maybe the individual has an alcohol or drug issue and the codependent ‘giver’ is endlessly trying to ‘save’ them. Or, maybe the ‘giver’ is with someone who cheats on them or abuses them. They keep giving them chance after chance to ‘change’. However, nothing ever changes and they stay with that person. There are thousands of examples of codependency but the way it leaves you feeling is much the same; exhausted, guilty for not doing more, like you’re never good enough, and scared.
How to Recover from Codependency
When it comes to codependency breaking free from the painful cycle may seem impossible. But it’s not. There have been thousands and thousands who have once been painfully codependent who have relearned ways to relate to others but most importantly to themselves.
1. Seek professional help
It’s highly recommended that someone struggling with codependency seek professional counseling. A therapist who is not only trained and experienced in helping individuals overcome codependency is essential. In addition, you should consider any underlying issues from your childhood or life that need to be addressed. If there are trauma issues, be sure the therapist has experience and training in trauma-informed care, for example.
When someone is living in the patterns of codependency, stopping can seem painful–and it probably will be for a time. However, just like recovering from addiction to alcohol or another substance, with support and the right initial treatment life can be so much better. It’s hard to imagine life without engaging in these same patterns and feelings–after all, they’re often all that is known. But as most everyone who has broken free from codependency will tell you, life can be and should be better.
2. Learn self-worth
Another important step in recovering from codependency is learning to value yourself. This can be one of the hardest parts. Many people first have to get to know themselves before they can love themselves. Often, this essential part of growth was missed for the codependent. While this can be scary, it can also be exciting. Discovering your own strengths and talents and likes and dislikes can lead to many adventures and finally a sense of self that no one can break.
3. Engage in self-care
Self-care can be an essential piece of this. Learning to take care of yourself, do things that make you feel good, put yourself first, and say no to others at times are all vital steps to recover from codependency. Doing simple things like eating healthy, exercising, and taking part in activities that bring you joy are all ways to take care of yourself–and you can start them the right way.
4. Finding forgiveness
In addition to learning to value and care for yourself, another critical component of healing from codependency is forgiveness. Not only do you need to forgive the person and people who may have harmed you, even more importantly you need to forgive yourself. Many times codependency causes you to think you should have and could have done more. ‘If only I had…’ is commonly heard in these situations.
Forgiving yourself and understanding that you did your best and probably more than many others would have is key to healing. When you forgive yourself completely and let go of guilt, healing can truly begin. Healing from codependency and codependent relationships can be hard but with time, tools, and support, you can learn to truly value and love yourself and stop looking to others to fill your cup.
If you or someone you love is living with an alcohol or substance use disorder–or a mental health disorder–Futures Recovery Healthcare is here to help you–and your loved ones. Futures offers treatment for alcohol and substance abuse as well as mental health disorders like mood disorders and depression. Contact our admissions team online or call 866-804-2098.