Addiction recovery is a challenging process on its own without adding interpersonal relationship considerations to the mix. Codependency with another person is sometimes an addiction in itself.
Understanding what codependency is, how it impacts recovery, and how to avoid this situation is essential to a successful path to wellness.
What Is Codependency?
Codependency is characterized by a relationship in which one person is exceedingly needy –either mentally, physically, or emotionally– and the other is willing to do whatever it takes to meet those needs.
The person that is fulfilling the excessive needs of their partner is the one considered a “codependent” as they find fulfillment in the caretaking process. The danger of being codependent is that the person responsible for meeting the needs of their partner to this extent often does so at the expense of their own well-being.
Codependency is impactful to both the codependent and the person they are caring for; both get what they desire from the relationship and come to rely on things just as they are. Codependent individuals become addicted to the process of caring for someone with addiction while that individual struggles with their substance of choice.
What Relationships Can Become Codependent?
Many people make the mistake of thinking that the only relationships that can become codependent are romantic ones. However, some of the most common codependent relationships among those in recovery are with parents and/or children.
Children especially feel the need to take on the role of caretaker for parents struggling with substance or alcohol abuse. Once the parent begins to heal, the child may not know how to interact in subordinate roles.
Parental relationships with people struggling with substance abuse are also commonly codependent. This stems from a parent’s need to help their child, even though the person struggling with drinking or using must be the one to seek, accept and utilize the help in question.
Signs of a Codependent Relationship
Signs of a codependent relationship vary depending on the individuals involved. However, avoiding codependency means understanding what the relationship structure looks like:
- Difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries
- Exhibiting extreme loyalty (even in unhealthy relationships)
- Constantly soliciting others for praise
- Engaging in extreme caretaker responsibilities for another person
- An extreme desire to help others feel better about themselves
- Obsession with being in a relationship
- Taking on more than their share of the responsibility in every area of their life and that of the person with which they are in a relationship
Negative Impacts of Codependency
People recovering from substance abuse are already trying to find their path to healing and wellness. Any kind of interpersonal entanglements can derail this effort, especially participation in a codependent relationship.
Codependent relationships are common among individuals struggling with addiction. In part, this centers on the family members and friends that believe they can save their loved ones from addiction.
This is why breaking the chains of codependency is so important; it ensures that the person in recovery can learn new coping mechanisms to address their addiction as well as allowing an individual to get the help they need.
Codependency can also create setbacks if those in recovery fall back into old habits while overcoming their addictions. Codependent individuals can sometimes unknowingly create conditions where someone in recovery may relapse.
For instance, individuals that try to talk their loved ones out of recovery, or encouraging those in recovery to return to their home environments, which may not be the best place for the individual to continue the healing process.
Overall, codependency causes the person struggling with addiction to lose focus on their recovery. Overcoming a substance use disorder requires focus, tenacity, and a deep level of self-prioritization. A codependent’s pleas for attention may detract from that process.
How To Deal With Codependency in Recovery
Dealing with codependency in recovery starts by acknowledging that an issue exists. Acknowledging the problem fits in with the entire narrative of recovery, which is centered on understanding where a person might have trouble setting and adhering to boundaries.
Addressing the issue of codependency also allows a treatment program to work these issues into the treatment plan. This will ensure that as the person dealing with addiction recovers, they won’t leave behind any lingering issues that have not been addressed.
Additional ways to deal with codependency in recovery include:
- Refrain from romantic interludes with other people in recovery. After all, recovering from addiction requires full mental focus.
- Encourage codependent individuals to get help for their issues/trauma relating to addiction. Recovery is not just for those who have struggled with addiction; it is also a process navigated for those impacted.
- Set and maintain healthy boundaries in all relationships during treatment and after. Enforce those boundaries strictly until the desire to be codependent fades.
- Be up-front with family and friends. Make it clear that recovery is the priority over everything else. They should be aware of this to ensure that they don’t impose predetermined boundaries.
As is the case with all facets of recovery, overcoming issues of codependency may not be a linear path; it may require practice and continued counsel to recognize the signs of codependency and create solutions to address the issue.
Addiction Recovery with No Matter What
The important thing for those dealing with substance abuse is to persevere in this area just as they have with the addiction from which they are recovering. There is a reason that people in treatment are advised to wait before pursuing a romantic relationship. Codependency is a real risk for those in recovery, especially in close relationships.