Codependency exists when an individual becomes overly concerned with the lifestyle, choices, judgments, behaviors, and actions of someone else. It is normal to have concern for the people around us, especially our loved ones, but you must ask yourself if this concern is healthy?
A codependent relationship, despite being based on one person’s good intentions and compelling desire to help another person, is actually a dysfunctional one. Codependency applies when we have a significant relationship with someone suffering from alcoholism and/or addiction. As you watch their life spiral out of control you may want to intervene, but you must remember that the addiction is not yours to deal with, it’s theirs.
In short “Codependence” can be defined as: a state of being overly concerned or obsessed with the problems of another, to the detriment of one’s own wants and needs. Losing one’s self in another person’s behavior, and thus having their happiness determined by the actions or inactions of the other person.
Relationships between a non-addict and an addict can be a very tricky subject as both parties experience the disease of addiction differently. Addiction has earned its classification as a disease because of addicts’ involuntary brain activity that causes them to crave and suffer. The activity stems in the midbrain (the part of the brain that is absent of choice and responsible for survival) as opposed to the frontal cortex (the decision-making conscious brain). An addicted person’s midbrain tells the rest of the body that their drug of choice is needed to survive. When that happens they have zero control over their cravings for the drug and the suffering they feel when they don’t have it.
As mentioned before, a non-addicted person is still affected by the disease of addiction, just in a different way. They are outside spectators to what is actually going on inside the mind and body of the addict. Because the symptoms of the disease are out the addict’s control, a non-addict can’t expect to have any control in their disease, either. As obvious as that may seem, a non-addict often DOES attempt to control, help and manipulate an addict. It’s a fruitless attempt that constitutes codependency. Imagine having a near death experience: whose life would flash in front of your eyes, someone else’s or your own?
Although the normal brain activity in addiction-free people may serve as a baseline, it doesn’t mean that a non-addicted person can’t be codependent, which is psychologically unhealthy. One cause of codependency is a non-addict’s desire to be productive or fix things, even when they are resentful about it. For example, they think: “I can do this quicker or better if I do it myself” or “If I don’t do this, it won’t get done”. And regarding the addict specifically: “They don’t know what’s best for them, but I do because I’m sober”. These thoughts patterns are “textbook” pathological codependency, and they often leave the codependent person physically and mentally exhausted. Make no mistake, if you are codependent you have an emotional illness and require help to treat it.
It’s easy to see that people battling substance abuse and addiction need help, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones. A codependent person can think they’re in control because they don’t share in that struggle, yet they don’t realize they’re maintaining a relationship addiction. Codependency is a psychological “addiction” that keeps a person from functioning as their innate self due to their “dependency” on the other. Outsiders to the relationship may feel sorry for the codependent, and the codependent can even feel like a victim. They often blame the addict for their own lack of freedom even though it’s their own choice. Their energy is constantly transferring back to the addict in someway, and when that happens they have little or no energy left to spend on their own quality of life.
As 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous suggest, an alcoholic or addict doesn’t change until they reach a “bottom” or are faced with “jails, institutions, and death”. The codependent, contrary to the substance abuser, doesn’t have such cut and dry parameters to inspire a change. Instead their codependency is punished in both mental and physiological ways. They develop symptoms such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and even heart disease. Honest and open discussions with family members, counselors, psychologists or other skilled professionals can help bring the codependency and its detriment to light. Without recognition change cannot be implemented. Shifting behaviors will benefit both the codependent and the addict. The addict may discover their own path to change once they realize the codependent isn’t readily available to do things for them or to bail them out when they’re in trouble. They will have to face the repercussions of their behaviors on their own.
If any of this hits home to you, as someone you love is suffering from alcoholism or addiction, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s ok to seek the gift of recovery for yourself even when you’re not abusing substances. You are entitled to live a happy, healthy and productive life regardless of how those around you chose to live.
There is no “one size fits all” determination of codependency. If you think you may have a role in a codependent relationship take this quick self-assessment survey. Think of your answers as they pertain to you and the substance abuser in your life.
If you’ve answered “Yes” to five or more of these questions that’s a good indication that you’re in a codependent relationship. The first step in any recovery process is acceptance, and once you recognize that codependency is an issue the next step is learning what YOU can do to change that. It is possible to break the cycle and go on to lead YOUR best life.
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