Codependency: Are You Helping Your Loved One Stay Sick?

Loved ones of an addicted individual are usually the ones who make the initial contact to a treatment centers or an interventionist. They know that the person they love has a substance abuse disorder, and they are doing their best to help them. Reaching out for professional assistance is crucial because unfortunately, family members often “help” so much that their loved one can’t get receive the treatment that he or she needs.

What is Enabling?

When a person with a drug or alcohol abuse disorder gets into trouble because of their addiction, they often reach out to a loved one for help. For example, a daughter who is arrested may call her mother for bail money, without any agreement for paying it back. Or, maybe a wife always arranges an Uber for her husband who is drinking at the bar because she’s afraid he’ll neglect to use the phone app and try to drive himself home.

People help their addicted loved one because they don’t want them to come to harm, but they often don’t set limits and unwittingly prevent their loved ones from facing consequences for their behavior. By loaning money, covering up for an absence, or otherwise mitigating the effects of the substance abuse, they prevent their loved one from experiencing the results of their drug use.

Codependent Enabling

Sometimes, an enabler takes care of their loved one to the extreme and actually gets to the point where they are also experiencing a type of addiction themselves. This phenomenon is known as codependency. The feeling of being needed and the fear of the addicted person changing if they stopped using drugs cause a subconscious pattern of actually encouraging the drug use. It’s true that people with addiction issues have a disease. However, codependent enabling prevents the addicted person from confronting the pain and experiencing the consequences of their addictive behavior. Thus, they can more comfortably continue being active in their disease because of the lack of consequences.

The result of codependent enabling is that a loved one is encouraged to repeat the same (or worse) mistake repeatedly. A codependent person tells themselves that they are doing it out of love and because they want to help a loved one. But this doesn’t help the loved one at all; it shields them from reality.

Addressing Codependency

Codependency is a typical reaction to an abnormal situation – if you suffer from it, you’re not alone. When you’re watching somebody suffer and spiral into self-destruction, it’s painful, and people adopt coping behaviors. As you enter recovery for codependency, you don’t need those behaviors anymore. It’s time to replace them with healthier ones.

Left unaddressed, codependent people can repeat old habits and contribute to a relapse if their loved one gets sober for a time. It’s common for people new to recovery to relapse when they return home to the same family dynamics and behavioral patterns from whence they came to treatment.

Addiction is a family disease. Everyone needs a bit of help adjusting to life in recovery – and for many addicted persons, it’s crucial that their whole family get help.

Getting Help for Codependency

Getting help adjusting to a new way of life is just a phone call away. If your loved one is in treatment, family counseling can help you learn together about breaking old patterns.

There is also an amazing network of self-help groups, like Al-Anon and Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA). These groups have meetings for loved ones of family members suffering from addiction. Meetings are anonymous and based on the 12 steps, and are very supportive. You can find many meeting in your local area.

A 12-Step meeting may sound scary, but the truth is that they’re filled with people just like you, from all walks of life, who have been bewildered by the pain of addiction. Some people who go to these meetings have family members who have stayed clean and sober for years, while others are still trying to get their loved ones into recovery.

Give a meeting a try, and you’ll find that there are a lot of people with experience and hope who want to help you learn to live a happier, less codependent life.

This guest blog post was provided by Michael H, founder and CEO of American Addiction Foundation.