Codependency and Substance Abuse Influence Family Relationships

Most people would agree that loving someone means being prepared to be part of their life during good and bad times. When someone we care about is facing a personal challenge, we step up to do whatever we can to help them. Our hope is that the people we are closest to would do the same for us. This type of interdependent relationship is healthy and a source of strength, but codependency in a relationship is different situation entirely.

What Is Codependent Behavior?

On the face of it, codependent behavior can look a lot like providing support to a spouse, partner, child, or other family member. The difference is that instead of the relationship being one of mutual “give and take,” the codependent person “gives” and the other person “takes.”

Codependency may be associated with these behaviors:

  • Attempting to “fix” other people or their problems
  • Difficulty with intimacy
  • Fear of being abandoned or rejected
  • Guilt
  • Lack of trust in self and others
  • Need for control
  • Perfectionism

Someone who is codependent will place the needs of a loved one above their own. This is not something that they do situationally or in extraordinary circumstances to deal with a crisis. This type of learned behavior can become a way of life.

Codependency and Substance Abuse: Life with an Addict in the Family

No one ever anticipates a situation where they will have an addict in their family. Even though research has shown that addiction is a brain disease and not a character flaw, there is still a stigma to face. Many families still feel some combination of guilt or shame when they realize that a loved one has developed a substance abuse problem.

Early Stages of Addiction
In the early stages of the substance abuse, the person who is becoming more dependent on drugs or alcohol is likely to hide evidence of the existence of his consumption or the amounts consumed. He is likely to deny that there is a problem at all.

During the same stage, a spouse or partner may not immediately want to jump to the conclusion that an addiction exists. Children in the family who notice that a parent or sibling is acting “different” may conclude that they have “done something” to cause the situation.

All family members who notice a change in the family dynamic may alter their behavior to try to improve the situation and restore the family relationships.

Addiction Is Firmly Established
At this point, the addict is drinking or using drugs regularly. She may think that she has things under control; however, her addiction is at the point where cracks are starting to show. She may be missing work or school and having issues getting along with coworkers or supervisors. Financial problems may be starting, as funds are being used to support the addiction instead of paying bills. The addict may be spending less time on family activities and hobbies, as the addiction takes up more of her time.

A parent, spouse or partner who is codependent will go to great lengths to keep up the appearance that everything in the household is working well. They will not discuss their loved one’s addiction with people they consider to be outsiders. In some instances, the subject is not even discussed within the family even though the family knows about it. This enables the addiction to flourish by keeping the addict from feeling the consequences of her actions.

Addict Goes to Treatment
When an addict goes to treatment for his addiction, he is making the positive step to get help for substance abuse. Going to detox and seeking professional drug and alcohol treatment are the first steps toward the goal of long-term sobriety.

If the codependent family members don’t seek help as well, the recovering addict leaves treatment to return to the same family dynamic that existed before he sought help. Family members will continue to behave in the same codependent manner, which will not be the healthiest way to support someone new to recovery.

Family Program at English Mountain

The Family Program at English Mountain Recovery provides support for family members. It allows for healing in the relationship between addicts and those who care for them. One of the main areas of focus is identifying unhealthy patterns and learning new, healthier ones. Healing emotional scars allows the entire family to move forward in a positive manner.

By Jodee Redmond