If you or a loved one are working through an addiction problem, you’ve probably heard the term “codependency.” Addiction and codependency seem inextricably linked. Codependent relationships are certainly not unique to people battling addiction, and just about everyone is part of or knows of a codependent relationship. However, when it comes to addiction, there is a particularly strong link.
Why are addiction and codependency linked? To understand the connection, let’s first define codependency.
What is Codependency?
Codependency refers to a relationship in which both members believe they’re getting something they need from the other. In a family without an addict, this may be a mother who gets meaning from caring for her child, while the child depends on his mother for validation. A codependent relationship makes it difficult for both parties to change. The mother finds it hard to let her child become independent, as that would take away her meaning. She unconsciously withholds validation from her child, who in turn remains dependent.
How does codependency come about with addiction?
Addiction and Family Dysfunction
Even if a family was not dysfunctional before a member became addicted to drugs or alcohol, they quickly stop functioning in a healthy way. The family system no longer works with the complex balance it had before. Rather, everything centers around the addict and their behavior.
Codependency is a natural consequence of this, as the family members become like planets in orbit around the addict. One family member may feel deep sadness in seeing their loved one suffer. They try to help but end up enabling their behavior. The addict becomes dependent on their loved one enabling them, while the loved one becomes attached to their role as a compassionate provider.
Another family member may resent and fight with the addict. They use anger to cope with the painful family situation. They begin to need the addict to stay addicted in order to have a target for that anger. The addict learns to use their perceived vilification as justification for their behavior. They rely on being insulted and shunned as a reason to go on drinking or using drugs.
An Uneasy Balance
Without realizing it, the family finds a balance. This balance allows the dysfunction to continue indefinitely. As soon as one family member tries to change, a codependent member does something to provoke their habitual behavior. The system that forms is one of the biggest challenges the addict will have to work with in rehab.
Recognizing codependency in addiction is crucial to recovery. Without addressing the codependency, a recovering addict may be subject to self-sabotage or unconscious sabotage from their loved ones.
No one is to blame for codependency. However, every member of the family will have to try and change the roles they’ve taken on. For this reason, family therapy is an important part of rehab. It will take work, but a codependent family can become the support the addict needs to get better.