So your loved one has an addiction? You feel like you’re about to lose your mind? It’s a good chance that you’re a victim of Co-Dependency. In this article we will identify what is co-dependency, why we should learn about co-dependency, understanding addiction, how addiction affects family and friends, living with an addicted person, how co-dependency can lead to long –term problems, and practical steps to overcome co-dependency.
Recently, I taught a seminar addressing Co-Dependency using material that was developed by the Texas Department of State Health Services Professional Licensing Unit, about Co-Dependency published in 2012, Channing Bete Company Inc
In order to understand co-dependency, we first have to gain some form of understanding about addiction and how it’s considered a family disease according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Addiction according to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) addiction is a condition in which the body must have a drug to avoid physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Addiction’s first stage is dependence, during which the search for a drug dominates an individual’s life. An addict eventually develops tolerance, which forces the person to consume larger and larger doses of the drug to get the same effect ii Understanding addiction is important to understanding co-dependency.
Addiction is based on denial. Addicted people are often unable to admit they can’t stop their habit. They may insist that they can quit “whenever they want” or if others would leave them alone. We also understand that addicted people have lost control. Even when they realize they’re harming themselves and others, they can’t stop their behavior. Without treatment addictions will get worse. Addicted people will continue their behavior unless the addiction is addressed. They will risk losing home, family, health and even their lives. Addiction is a progressive disease. People don’t become addicted because they’re bad. They’re suffering from a problem they can’t control.
How does addiction affect family and friends?
The addicted person’s actions are difficult for loved ones to understand. Often times, family and friends of the addicted person will react with denial. Family and friends may find it hard to accept that a loved one has a serious problem. They will react with feelings of responsibility. They may think they can control the person’s behavior and cure the addiction. Thirdly, they may react with anger and shame. The addicted person’s harmful or embarrassing actions can lead to great resentment.
Living with and addicted person
Living with an addicted person puts a strain on the whole household. Each family will react differently to the addiction or the addicted person. However, there are commonalities that are present in most addicted families. The family may react by hiding the problem to protect the family from feeling ashamed, they may stop discussing feelings and having visitors. They may attempt to control the addicted person. For example, the family may try to stop the alcoholic from buying alcohol, or control the gamblers free time. It’s not uncommon for family and friends to make excuses for the addicted person’s behavior. For example calling in sick for a drunk person is an example of this kind of behavior. This is also known as enabling (Look for and article addressing The Dangers of Enabling in upcoming editions). Children are affected by the addiction and may react in the following ways. Overachieving: They may feel the pressure to be the best in school, sports, etc., to give the family something to be proud of. This is also known as “The Hero Child” discussed in family roles during family therapy sessions. Children may also rebel or cause trouble to draw attention away from the family’s other problems and may act out of anger. They may also seek to relieve tension at home by never seeming to take anything seriously. This is known as “Clowning” or in family therapy this child is known as The Mascot. You may notice that some children will withdraw or avoid the addicted person or the effects of addiction on the family. They may spend time alone to escape from family life. This child is known as The Lost Child.
Co-Dependency can lead to long-term problems
Co-Dependency can lead to long-term problems. Many co-dependents experience what’s known as emotional numbness. After experiencing painful feelings for a long time many co-dependents simply stop feeling at all. In some cases the co-dependent will begin to form an addiction to substances as well. Some may turn to alcohol, food, gambling, to try to deal with the pain. Depression is often present with co-dependents. The tension and uncertainty of the co-dependent’s life may lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, some may even attempt suicide. Some Co-Dependents may have a low self-esteem. The co-dependent often feels that when the addicted person fails, they’ve also failed. They may internalize the addicted person’s failure as if they have failed as well and begin to self-blame and experience shame and guilt. Co-Dependents may not be willing or able to share the trust, openness, and honesty needed for a close relationship. Thus they have difficulty with or problems with relationships or they often develop unhealthy relationships or may become victims of infidelity. Lastly, Co-Dependency can lead to long-term health problems. The stress of co-dependency can lead to or worsen pre-existing physical problems such as headaches, ulcers, asthma, and high blood pressure.
But there is hope for co-dependents!
Breaking Out of Co-Dependency
As we close out this article, let’s look at a few practical steps that we can take to break out of co-dependency. First we have to understand that it takes time, help, and courage-but it can be done! Family and friends can begin to regain control of their lives by following a few steps.
1: Recognize the situation. Before healing can begin, co-dependents must realize that their loved one is truly addicted to a drug or behavior.
2: Get Help: Co-dependents need help from people who understand their problems, without it, problems may get worse. Contact your local Mental Health Mental Retardation (MHMR) Agencies. Co-dependent Self Help groups: Codependent Anonymous (CoDA) 1-602-277-7991. Al-Anon Family Groups 1-800-344-2666. Nar-Anon Family Groups 1-800-477-6291
3: Take care of their own needs: Co-dependents are used to thinking about the addicted person’s needs- at their own expense. Learning to care of themselves and lead healthier lives will take time.
4: Accepting limits: Co-dependents have to learn that the addicted person is responsible for his or her addiction. It takes courage to give back control. Co-dependents have to realize that with addiction there are no guarantees that the addicted person will get help.
Facing addiction and co-dependency is not easy. It means facing some powerful feelings. But the reward is a chance to live a healthier and happier life. Co-dependents can take charge of their lives! Hope lies in learning more. The more you understand co-dependency the better you can cope with its effects. Reaching out for information and assistance can help someone live a healthier, more fulfilling life.
Bryan Smith Sr, LCDC, CART, BCFT
President and Founder
Selah Christian Counseling