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Alcoholism is a disease that causes numerous physical and mental symptoms and can manifest itself in many ways. One of the many complex parts of the disease is when codependency and alcoholism intersect.
Codependency is when a person becomes reliant on someone, often in the face of illness or addiction. They often do this believing they are helping the other person when in reality they are doing it for themselves. Alcoholic codependency is when an alcoholic’s addiction is reliant on the actions and behaviors of another person.
A codependent relationship between the addict and their enabler allows for a comfortable situation where the addiction is allowed to thrive and grow. The alcoholic or substance user is the actor outer and the codependent becomes the reactor.
Example of Enabling an Alcoholic
An example of how a codependent relationship can exist between an addict and a family member could be a parent who allows an alcoholic son or daughter to live at home responsibility and consequence free. As the alcoholism worsens and they are unable to manage their life due to the addiction the enabler increases their efforts to codependently comfort them.
Some parents may believe they are providing basic care and doing the right thing. By providing a comfortable place to live for their loved one who is struggling they often think they are helping them. This approach by parents or other family can result in creating a comfortable situation where the alcoholic or addict is not held accountable. This can allow the addiction to continue, and remove motivation for the substance user to quit or improve their situation.
If you or someone you know is potentially in a codependent relationship due to alcoholism or moderate to severe substance use, here may be some ways you can identify it and seek professional guidance.
Development of Codependency and Alcoholism
Codependent relationships are almost always unhealthy relationships. The term codependency became clinically prevalent due to alcoholism and substance use disorders. It is characterized by an overdependence on one partner and our feelings are often determined by the others. If they feel good, you feel good and if they feel bad you feel bad. How can I make them feel better? Although it is not recognized as a disorder in the DSM manual, most experts and professionals believe it should be and question why it is not. Codependency traits can contribute to entering into a controlling relationship, having self-esteem issues, and the exacerbation (or even creation) of addictive behaviors.
While alcoholism has long been characterized as something that leads to codependency, it is becoming apparent that it is not necessarily in that order. There can be codependency issues in a relationship that trigger alcoholism and other addictive behaviors, or vice versa. It is not uncommon for people with codependency to seek out relationships with people who have substance use disorders. They tend to seek out people with other other problems that may fulfill their need as being someone else’s caretaker.
A codependent relationship that prevents a family member from getting help for alcohol abuse is a difficult situation that should be discussed with a professional family interventionist. The first step for an alcoholic to accept help is to recognize there is a problem. A Codependent relationship – which is an impediment to recovery – could be one of the reasons they are not seeing the problem as clearly as they could or should.
What are Codependency and Enabling?
Codependency and enabling will inevitably lead both parties of a relationship to engage in unhealthy behaviors that will allow the alcoholism to progress and worsen. Codependency can occur when an individual is controlled by an alcoholic’s behavior. They seek approval and love from their partner as they take on a role of caretaker and feel needed in the relationship. They may start to believe this is the only way the alcohol user will stay with them. As the enabling continues they are disabled from addressing their alcohol use disorder. The one who is enabling is doing this to fulfill their needs while believing they are helping the alcoholic.
What Is An Enabler in a Codependent Relationship?
An enabler — can be viewed as the codependent person in the relationship that allows the alcoholics behaviors in order to sustain maladaptive coping skills. This is a hard concept for many to relate to, because most people can’t understand why a person would allow hurtful behavior to continue in a loved one and themselves. Much like the alcoholic who knows their drinking is a problem and should stop, the benefits they receive from the alcohol outweigh the consequences from the alcohol. It is no different for the enabler – If they were not receiving something from staying in the relationship, then why don’t they leave? The question is, what is the enabler receiving that is stronger than the fear of changing? Professionals know the answer, the question is do they and will they overcome their fears to address it?
Enabling A Drug Addict Or Alcoholic
Recognize the Signs of Codependency
We have provided insight and hopefully brought some awareness to codependency and enabling. What does it really mean in terms of actions that are taken when there is a possibility of being codependent with an alcoholic? Here are some signs of codependency to help identify and make you aware of the possibility as to whether or not your relationship(s) might be suffering do to unhealthy behaviors:
- There is routine sacrifice by one partner for the other. This could be in terms of time, taking responsibility, or giving up activities to meet the needs of their partner.
- One partner feels responsible for the other partner, regardless of whether or not they are willing to take accountability. This often manifests in making excuses for addictive behavior, even as it reoccurs.
- If a person feels as though the relationship is all they have in life, it is a telling sign that there is an unhealthy attachment coupled with self-esteem and self-worth issues. While we should value our loved ones and the connection we have, this level of unbalanced control is unhealthy, especially while in a relationship with an alcoholic.
- There is significant denial about the behaviors from both parties in a relationship. This can be about the role of a codependent partner, or about the unhealthy behavior between both people as the problems persist within a relationship.
- There is depression, guilt, or shame with the actions surrounding a relationship and its behavioral cycle. This is not exclusive to alcoholism and codependency, but it is a very common symptom.
These common signs of codependency and the enabling of an addiction within a relationship are very serious. If a loved one is exhibiting any of them, please consider that the situation could greatly benefit from an intervention to address the codependent relationship.
How Can Codependency be Potentially Dangerous?
Though we’ve given examples of symptoms and habits, there remains a baseline question: How can codependency be dangerous? An alcoholic codependency can be dangerous because it allows the alcoholism to continue without the consequences; the consequences necessary to see the need and start the process of change. Without help, untreated alcoholism is a chronic and progressive illness. It will inevitably evolve into end-stage alcoholism and possibly end with death to the alcohol user and an emotional breakdown for the family.
The inaction of family members allows the alcoholic to forge ahead with insanity and little reasons to stop. There will always be an intervention at some point. The question a family may want to consider is, do you allow them to have an alcoholic intervention stemming from the consequences or do you stage a family intervention with love?
- Amplification of unhealthy behaviors: Both addictive habits and other personality disorders can become exponentially worse when codependency is present in a relationship. A big part of codependency is making excuses for poor behavior, and it becomes the routine to react quickly and maladaptively.
- Mutual addiction and enabling: Many times, addiction can lead to a partner falling into the same trap. Any relationship can be stressful, and one that is controlling and manipulative that includes alcohol can provide a damaging experience with little to no respite. With alcohol being a socially acceptable and prevalent drug, excess use of it is not often viewed as a problem until the behaviors and lifestyle become unmanageable and start affecting others.
Overcoming Addiction and Codependency
When it comes to addressing alcoholism, codependency, and enabling, Family First intervention has developed an effective intervention process that has helped many recover from a hopeless state.
Our goal is to provide substance use intervention programs that can help families prosper in overcoming a codependent relationship. If you are looking for help that can provide a better future for yourself and a loved one struggling with alcohol, please reach out today — We look forward to being part of your healing process.
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