How Addiction Often Leads to Codependency in Family Relationships

Why do so many well-meaning family members unintentionally enable the behavior of their addicted loved one? And what can be done to break the cycle and initiate meaningful change?

The way relationships work is that when people connect, they change each other. They can’t help but affect one another. They both want and need things from the relationship.

How Does Substance Abuse Affect Relationships?

In families where addiction is present, the addict or alcoholic wants to be comfortable while continuing the substance use, and his or her loved ones want to feel that they’re fulfilling their obligation to support the person they love.

What ends up happening is substance users get comfortable being addicts and alcoholics, and families likewise get comfortable with enabling them. Breaking this cycle requires three steps:

  1. Recognize that you’re in a codependent relationship, and what your role has been thus far (accept the facts, and forgive yourself).
  2. Commit to changing your role, and decide to hand responsibility for managing the addiction back to the addicted loved one.
  3. Summon the courage to undergo the discomfort of change that is necessary to break this destructive cycle.

Learn About Enabling

What Is Addiction Codependency?

Codependent behavior is when two people rely on each other to give them something they can’t provide for themselves.

In the case of addiction, the addict or alcoholic usually depends on the family member to provide financial and lifestyle support, because their addiction makes them unable to care for their own basic needs (job, food, shelter, etc.). They also are often dependent on family members to give them the love that they don’t feel for themselves, to continually prove to them that they are worthy of love, attention and resources.

Family members usually need to feel that they are being a good parent, spouse, sibling or friend to the addicted loved one. Addicts and alcoholics know this, and they use it to manipulate and take advantage of their family members, knowing they can get away with it.

How to Recognize Addiction Codependency in Your Family

Don’t let addiction take control of your family. There are ways to recognize addiction and codependency before it’s too late. Download our free eBook to learn how the ego impacts addiction in families.

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Here are some ways to recognize if you’ve become caught up in a codependent relationship:

You feel personally responsible for others.

  • You think and feel responsible for other people – for others’ feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being, and ultimate destiny.
  • You feel anxiety, pity and guilt when other people have a problem.
  • You feel compelled – almost forced – to help that person solve the problem, such as offering unwanted advice, giving a rapid-fire series of suggestions, or trying to fix
  • You feel angry when your help isn’t effective.
  • You’re always anticipating other people’s needs.

Your own needs are not being met.

  • You try to please others instead of yourself.
  • You wonder why others don’t help you the way you help them.
  • You find yourself saying yes when you mean no, doing things you don’t really want to be doing, doing more than your fair share of the work, and doing things other people are capable of doing for themselves.
  • You don’t know what you want and need or, if you do, tell yourself that what you want and need is not important.
  • You find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others, rather than injustices done to you.

Your feelings of worth and contribution are dependent on others.

  • You feel safest when giving.
  • You feel insecure and guilty when somebody gives to you.
  • You feel sad because you spend your whole life giving to other people and nobody gives to you.
  • You find yourself attracted to needy people.
  • You find needy people attracted to you.

You’re always at the mercy of someone else’s drama or neediness.

  • You abandon your routine to respond to or do something for somebody else.
  • You overcommit yourself.
  • You feel hurried and pressured.
  • You feel bored, empty and worthless if you don’t have a crisis in your life, a problem to solve, or someone to help.

You feel powerless – even when you seem to be in control.

  • You believe deep inside that other people are somehow responsible for you.
  • You blame others for the situation you’re in.
  • You say other people make you feel the way you do.
  • You believe other people are making you crazy.
  • You feel angry, victimized, unappreciated and used.
  • You find other people become impatient or angry with you for all the preceding characteristics.

How Addiction Affects Relationships

Like addiction, codependency is not a moral failing or personality flaw, but simply a result of a set of circumstances that have led down a particular path. As with addiction, the key is to recognize the problem and commit to a new course.

To help begin that process, you must first understand some basic effects of relationships. It can be said that when two or more people become connected in a relationship of any form (work, romance, friendship or family), those in the relationship will do one or more of three things:

  • A person will assume some of the qualities of the other.
  • A person will assume a role that complements the qualities of the other.
  • A person will assume a role that acts counter to the qualities of the other.

The most important thing to understand about the previous three statements is this:

When two people connect or enter into a relationship of any type, then both parties are changed as a result of that connection.

In other words, all parties have been changed to some degree as a result of being connected and/or in a relationship with someone who has become dependent upon drugs or alcohol.

To make this a bit easier to understand, let’s replace a few words in the above scenarios to better fit the situation of addiction:

  • A family member will assume some of the unhealthy behaviors of the substance abuser.
  • A family member will assume a role that complements the unhealthy behaviors of the substance abuser.
  • A family member will assume a role that acts counter to the unhealthy behaviors of the substance abuser.

If you take this a step further and replace the words “family member” with yourself, and then replace “substance abuser” with the name of your addicted loved one, things will become even clearer.

Remember, you have been changed as a result of your relationship with someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. The degree to which you have been changed is dependent upon the strength and length of time of the connection.

How to Break the Cycle of Addiction Codependency with Your Loved One

Alcoholics and addicts aren’t the only ones who avoid intervention and treatment. Families tend to avoid intervention also because it’s hard on them too. It’s uncomfortable, emotionally taxing and the fraught with uncertainty.

In order for change to happen, families and their addicted loved ones must face the discomfort of change. This can be scary, but thankfully it is just a period of transition; the discomfort isn’t permanent.

Addicted individuals will almost never choose to take on the discomfort of change. If they could do it on their own, they would have already done so. The family members are the only ones with the perspective and courage to step up, stop the cycle of codependency, and make change happen.

It isn’t easy at first, but the short-term discomfort is worth it for the long-term benefits: saving your loved one’s life, and your own sanity.

Intervention Can Be the First Step Toward Healing

If you’ve avoided confronting your loved one about the seriousness of his or her addiction and the need for treatment, it’s probably because you sense what may happen when you open that can of worms – the drama that will ensue. Your concerns aren’t unreasonable, especially given how irrational addiction can make people. But that doesn’t need to keep you paralyzed.

Professional interventionists know how to handle these situations so you can act powerfully, yet compassionately, to make changes that actually get your loved one the help he or she needs. And when you do this, you will also be giving yourself what you need, and deserve, and have been missing out on for so long.

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