The Drug Class Blog

Mar 27


Thanks to Maria and Lynn for the guest post article.

Are You in a Codependent Relationship?

The concept of codependency has its origin in addiction treatment. In the 1930s, Dr. Bob and Bill W. created Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which changed the perception of addiction from a weakness in character to a disease. In the 1950s, Lois W. (Bill’s wife) and Anne B. created Al-Anon, which addressed the issues of the friends and family of the alcoholic.

By the 1970s, medical treatment models for addiction were shifting focus from the addict to the context of the addict to include partners, social networks, and families. In the 1980s, drug addiction treatment programs were using the phrase “chemical dependency,” and the concept of “co-alcoholism” became “co-chemically dependent,” or “codependent.” In its infancy, co-dependency was used to reference a person’s compulsive fondness for relationships with the chemically dependent. It began to shift, however, and be used for the chemically dependent person’s partner or others whose behavior enabled the addict. So, like Al-Anon before it, treatment programs began including services for family members and partners of the addict.

Now, codependents are those who form relationships with addicted individuals. Codependents are consistently attracted to people who are neither motivated nor interested in relationships that are balanced and reciprocal. Instead, these partners are self-centered and the codependent has to relinquish all of their power. This leaves them feeling undervalued and disrespected, yet they feel powerless to make changes. If your partner suffers from an addiction and you feel you are sacrificing your needs and identity to attend to their needs, you are likely in a codependent relationship, which will have both unhealthy short-term and long-term outcomes.

Your Family History May Play a Role It is possible for anyone to find themselves in a codependent relationship, but research indicates that people who were neglected or emotionally abused by their parents during their developing years face a higher risk than the average person. When this occurs, you are taught to ignore your own needs to satisfy an emotionally unhealthy parent. This sets you up to follow a pattern of seeking love and care from difficult people. You are probably replaying a pattern from your youth filled with development gaps.

Signs You Are Dealing with Codependency

Deep down, you probably know already if you have become codependent, but these signs can help turn suspicions into concrete understanding.

  • Ask yourself: 
  • Do I recognize unhealthy behaviors in my partner but continue to stay in the relationship despite them? 
  • Am I incapable of finding satisfaction in my life outside of my partner? Am I sacrificing my mental, physical, and emotional health to support my partner? 
  • If you have been told that you are overly dependent upon your spouse or partners, that may also be a sign. 
  • Do people ever ask you if you desire more independence? Would you like to separate, but you feel too much anxiety? Codependent people feel anxiety more consistently than any other emotion when they are in a relationship. 

You Need to Be Able to Set Personal Boundaries

Just because you are in a codependent relationship with an addict doesn’t mean you need to run away. In fact, doing that may just lead you into a new codependent relationship. You need to begin changing how you relate to your partner. Codependent people don’t have healthy role models and this means they struggle to protect themselves from harm by establishing boundaries. This can make them say yes when they want to say no and to take charge of situations they don’t want to. Just as the addict in your life needs treatment for heroin addicts for example, to get sober, you need interventions, like counseling and support group meetings. The goal is not to help you and the addict; it’s just to help yourself. 

It’s time you learned to care for and love yourself.

Lynn R has been a member of Al-Anon for a decade. Her writing often addresses the friends and family members of addicts because of both her personal experiences and those of the many people she has counseled through the program.

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