It is easy to assume that addictions to substances such as alcohol and illegal drugs affect only the person abusing the substance, but this is simply not true. Addiction is sometimes referred to as a family illness, and the reason for this is because of the impact it can have on every member of the family. Co-dependency is a serious state of relating one’s condition to another’s addiction.
If you live with or care about a person with an addiction, you are likely to know very well how devastating the illness can be. You will be aware of how addiction can turn everyone’s life upside down and how you cannot force your loved one to get help, no matter how much it might be in his or her best interests.
There are many ways in which addiction can have negative consequences for the family members of an addict. It can cause emotional and financial problems and it can lead to health issues caused by stress and worry. But for some family members, a loved one’s addiction can lead to co-dependency. But what does co-dependency mean, and more importantly, could you be affected?
What is Co-Dependency
When someone you love is addicted to alcohol or drugs, it will almost certainly impact your life. Things will change within your family dynamic whether you want them to or not; this is a certainty. The actions and behaviours of the addict will have a negative impact on your life. You have probably been faced with binges of substance use, broken promises, financial problems, and lies.
How everyone within the family reacts to these changes will differ. Some family members will feel responsible for the addict and with try to ‘fix’ him or her. Others will blame themselves and will believe that they could have done something to prevent the addiction from developing.
Yet others may beg, plead with, or try to manipulate the addict to stop abusing alcohol or drugs. When these attempts fail, family member may just check out and become angry and resentful towards the addict. This can lead to a breakdown in the relationship.
But there are some family members who get so wrapped up in the addict and his or her behaviour that they develop a condition known as co-dependency. This is the term given to those who also develop a dependency. Nevertheless, while they are not dependent on a chemical substance, they do develop a dependency on the addict.
It is difficult to comprehend how this can happen, but it is very common in relationships where one person is addicted to a substance or activity. When considering the question of what does co-dependency mean for the relationship, it is important to think about how the co-dependent person acts and behaves.
How Does Co-Dependency Present Itself?
Those affected by co-dependency often do not realise how their own behaviour has changed until another person points it out or until they take a step back from the addict and examine how different their life has become.
Co-dependent individuals often become so involved with the addict that they will change their behaviour in response. They will sacrifice their own happiness in their endless pursuit of helping their loved one. While they try to cope with the unpredictability and stress of living with an addicted loved one, they may become co-dependent and change various aspects of their own behaviour.
Co-dependency can take many forms, including:
- Withdrawing – Those who have become co-dependent on an addicted loved one may withdraw from society in response to the behaviour of the addict. Spouses, partners, and parents often stop going to social events or family gatherings for fear their addicted loved one might drink too much or take drugs and then cause a scene. Children may stop socialising with their friends because they do not want to invite them home for fear they will discover their secret.
- Covering up – Family members often lie or cover-up for an addicted loved one. They will make excuses for them or tell lies to explain away their bad behaviour. Many do this to try to prevent others from finding out about the addiction and to hide their own shame, guilt, or embarrassment about the situation.
- Blaming – Co-dependent family members tend to blame themselves for the situation that they have found themselves in. Parents and spouses are particularly guilty of blaming themselves and believe that perhaps they could have done something different to prevent their loved one from developing this devastating illness.
- Rationalising – Instead of facing the addict’s behaviour head-on and dealing with it in an appropriate manner, co-dependent family members might try to rationalise this behaviour and come up with what they believe to be valid reasons why the addict is acting in this way.
What Co-Dependency Does to the Family Unit
There is no denying the fact that co-dependency is a common problem for families where one member is an addict. But there is also no denying the damage that this can cause to all members of the family. When one member of the family becomes co-dependent, his or her behaviour will completely change. This will have a detrimental impact on everyone else in the family unit.
Those who can clearly see what is going on may find it hard to understand why their mother or father, for example, is making excuses for their addicted sibling. The co-dependent individual will usually believe that he or she is helping, but what the person is actually doing is making it easier for their addicted loved one to continue with the addictive behaviour unchecked.
When the co-dependent family member covers up for the addict, the consequences of the addiction will be buried. Other family members will be unable to express the pain and suffering they are feeling and the addiction will be hidden from everyone outside the family unit. All the while, the addict will be able to continue abusing alcohol or drugs without having to face the consequences of his or her actions.
Are You Co-Dependent?
It is hard to come to terms with the fact that you could have developed co-dependency, but you should be aware that it is quite common. Furthermore, it often creeps up without you even realising. Subtle changes go unnoticed and it is usually only when you sit back and examine your behaviour that you realise how much it has changed. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you been focusing solely on the needs of your addicted loved one, and in the process neglecting your own?
- Have you been sacrificing your own happiness to please your addicted loved one?
- Do you tend to keep quiet in a bid to avoid conflict with your addicted loved one?
- Do you take responsibility for the actions of your addicted loved one?
- Do you cover up for your addicted loved one or lie in order to ‘protect’ him or her?
- Do you find it difficult to say no to your addicted loved one?
- Do you blame yourself for your addicted loved ones’ illness?
If you have answered yes to two or more of the above questions, you may be co-dependent and in need of help.
Can Co-Dependency be Treated?
If you are struggling with co-dependency, you should know that help is available to you. You do not have to continue like this, and even if your addicted loved one is refusing to get help, you can access a programme of treatment to address your own issues.
Co-dependency is treated with therapy that will help you to learn about why you have become co-dependent and how you can overcome it. As part of an effective treatment programme, you will learn the skills required to challenge the negative thought patterns that have dominated your life for some time. You will be helped to develop positive coping strategies so that you do not end up in a similar situation in the future.
For more information on co-dependency and how it can be treated, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Oasis Bradford today. We have a team of expert therapists and counsellors with knowledge and experience of treating a variety of conditions, including co-dependency. Please call today.