• Nicole Arzt

Exploring The Toxic Relationship Between Codependency And Addiction

Do you love someone who continues to hurt themselves? Who problematically uses drugs or alcohol despite the obvious consequences? Do you toss and turn in the dead of the night in absolute terror, wondering if tonight’s the night they don’t make it?


We all know that addiction is destructive and insidious to both individuals and their loved ones. The disease is ruthless, cunning, and unforgiving. It destroys the “good parts” of someone and often replaces them with painful manipulation and unrecognizable darkness.


Addiction, of course, feels selfish. After all, the person continues to make the same horrific choices over and over again- despite how these actions affect other people. It’s so easy to point the finger. They are bad, they are the sick one, and they are the one ruining this family or this relationship or this marriage.

But to understand addiction, we must untangle the complicated dynamic between codependency and addiction. Because by understanding codependency, we understand what role everyone plays in maintaining the sickness.


What Is Codependency?


It’s a common term tossed around in therapy sessions and recovery meetings, but what does codependency actually mean?


Codependency is an umbrella term for dysfunctional relationships that are often rooted in mental illness, addiction, or other traits indicative of emotional turmoil. Codependent relationships lack both structure and boundaries. Individuals often “use” the other person to meet specific needs, and this “using” can become quickly exhaustive and unhealthy.


Are you wondering if you’re in a codependent relationship? Consider the following factors:

  • You identify as a people-pleaser: You’re terrified to say no. You don’t want to “stir the pot.” You avoid confrontation and conflict because you’d rather “keep the peace” than risk hurting someone you love.

  • You struggle with boundaries: Maybe you want to stop giving money or letting your loved one sleep on the couch. Regardless of your intentions to set healthy boundaries, you don’t actually state or enforce them.

  • You identify as a ‘great caretaker”: You care about other people deeply- often at the expense of your own mental, physical, or financial health. You feel empty or incomplete if someone doesn’t “need” you.

  • You want control: You need to feel a sense of security within your relationships. Uncertainty and ambivalence make you feel anxious and unsettled. As a result, you’re quick to “do things” for other people or make decisions on their behalf.

  • You become obsessive about the relationship: You find yourself ruminating over past mistakes. You feel worried about potential rejection or abandonment. You may check with the other person incessantly to make sure they still love you.

  • You’re in denial about sickness: You don’t actually identify problems when they arise. Maybe you blame external factors. You struggle to accept personal responsibility for certain behaviors.

  • You constantly feel angry or resentful: You don’t know how to accept the other person for who they are. You want them to change, and you may believe that if they just did that “one thing” differently, everything would be better.

Codependency lies on a spectrum. You may struggle with one or all of those factors in your relationship. That said, if a particular person tends to make you feel stressed, anxious, or frustrated on a regular basis, it’s very likely that you’re in a codependent dynamic.



Codependency And Addiction: Why Do They Go Hand-In-Hand?


You can compare codependency and addiction to an abusive relationship. It’s toxic but tantalizing, and many times, one does not exist without the other.


Addiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are always additional influences and decisions that maintain the addictive behavior. Often, these influences are people themselves.


That’s because loved ones often have no idea how to navigate the addiction minefield. Rightfully, they feel terrified of taking the wrong step. They don’t want to cause more problems and make things worse.


Rather than face the problem directly, they often resort to more codependent tactics like:

  • Becoming passive-aggressive (“oh, you’re drinking again...no, it doesn’t bother me...you’re a grown-up”)

  • Becoming hostile (“What is wrong with you? Why the hell do you keep drinking like that? You’re so stupid”)

  • Minimizing the problem (“It’s a Saturday night. Everyone should be allowed to unwind!”

  • Bargaining with the other person (“Let’s just stick with two drinks tonight.”

  • Enabling by engaging in the same behavior (“I’ll get drunk with you!”)

  • Denying the problem altogether (“He doesn’t have a drinking problem. He’s just stressed with work. He can stop if he really wanted to stop.”)

People engage in these tactics because they often feel safer than confrontation and honesty. Make no mistake: loved ones desperately want the individual to change their behavior, but they often fear the idea of pushing them away.


Breaking The Cycle


Identifying the force between codependency and addiction can be eye-opening. It’s painful to realize that you may be playing a role in keeping your loved one sick. That said, try to avoid blaming yourself. Chances are, you’re looking out for your loved one’s best interest, and you didn’t realize there was a different way to intervene.


At The Resurface Group, we’re passionate about including family members and loved ones into our integrative treatment. We believe that effective therapy requires that everyone grows, changes, and enters a recovery.


Are you interested in learning how we can help you get things back on track? Contact us today to learn more.

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