Signs of Codependency and How to Break the Cycle

codependency

It’s natural to want loving and healthy relationships with family, friends, spouses, and significant others. However, when you worry too much about another person’s needs and put yours aside, it can make for an unhealthy, codependent relationship.

Codependency and addiction play off each other, creating a toxic bond between two co-occurring disorders. Codependent alcoholics will choose alcohol over people and responsibilities, and this will only get worse until they are willing to seek help. Before you can get help for codependency and addiction, you need to first understand how codependency develops and how it relates to substance abuse.

What is Codependency?

Codependency is a condition, both emotional and behavioral, that affects a person’s ability to have a healthy relationship with someone. Codependent people excessively put their partner’s or loved one’s needs before their own, and they’ll do almost anything to keep a relationship intact. Codependency can destroy your relationships, jobs, and overall health.

You may be codependent if you show the following symptoms:

  • Intense emotional reactions
  • A need for control
  • A desperate need to please others
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of rejection
  • Obsessing over other people
  • Difficulty communicating your feelings and thoughts

People who are codependent are terrified at the thought of being alone and or left behind. Codependent people in relationships revolving around alcohol and other substances can either enable or manipulate the other person.

The enabler encourages or “enables” a person’s negative behavior, and they may not even realize they’re doing it. Enablers may be passive and usually have low self-esteem. They might tend to give up part of their identity for the sake of their partner or family member.

The manipulator, on the other hand, is typically the codependent alcoholic, or the person abusing substances. Manipulators constantly control people around them to get what they want (money, drugs, or alcohol). They take advantage of their loved ones once they know they have control over them.

How Does Codependency Develop?

Codependency is a learned behavior that can stem from several factors, many of which are environmental and biological:

  • Childhood abuse
  • Mental health disorders 
  • Dysfunctional parents
  • Chronic physical illness

Some studies show that there is a high chance of women with an alcoholic parent developing codependency later in life.

In a healthy household, parents provide a stable home and supportive environment for their children. If this doesn’t happen, the children become the caretakers, and they become people-pleasers while feeling guilty about things they didn’t do. 

How Do Codependency and Addiction Relate?

Codependency is already a destructive behavior. When you add addiction to the mix, these two conditions feed off each other and destroy relationships. It’s quite easy to develop codependency in a relationship with substances. Addicts and alcoholics use substances to make them feel better and distract them from their problems. Even after an addict becomes sober, they will find codependency following them in all sorts of aspects. This is why it’s important to seek therapy once entering alcohol addiction treatment.

A codependent alcoholic will constantly rely on others for comfort and alcohol supply. If they don’t have enough money to buy drinks, they’ll ask a family member, friend, or significant other to do it for them. This person (considered the enabler) keeps buying them alcohol so that they can keep their loved one happy. They would never want their partner to be upset or angry with them. But this is a dangerous cycle that will keep repeating until someone gets hurt or, contrarily, decides to get help.

The Stigma Surrounding Co-Occurring Disorders

There is a stigma surrounding co-occurring mental illnesses and addiction. A codependent alcoholic may not get the help he or she needs because they feel ashamed for seeking help. Part of getting help for your conditions is letting go of the old patterns and people you used to know, and this can be scary and difficult. People with mental illnesses and addictions tend to be criminalized and institutionalized instead of being listened to. 

At Coastal Detox, we won’t judge you for your co-occurring disorders. Much of our staff have suffered from addiction and mental illness as well, and you’ll be staying with fellow patients who also share your experiences. 

Treatment for Codependency and Addiction

If two codependent alcoholics are ready to get help for their addiction, detox is the first step of treatment. However, therapy is an essential component of your recovery. Codependency is not an easily unlearned behavior. You and your partner have been feeding off each other for so long, and you need to learn how to live independently so that you can recover from your addiction. If you and your partner truly love each other and want to stay together, you will have to create a different kind of relationship that’s healthy.

Coastal Detox offers treatment for codependent alcoholics who want to get sober and establish healthy relationships. When treating co-occurring disorders, you must treat them both at the same time so you can understand which one may have caused the other. 

  • Individual therapy: Individual therapy will take place during one-on-one sessions with your mental health counselor, who will observe your codependency and addiction and help you determine how you got to where you are now.
  • Group therapy: You can get to know other recovering alcoholics in group therapy. Here, you can see others’ perspectives and learn about their experiences, and you can learn from them and your counselor.
  • Couples counseling: For people in codependent alcoholic relationships, couples counseling can be beneficial. This mode of therapy can help you identify how you became codependent and how your substance abuse began. 

Outpatient and residential treatment options are available for codependent alcoholics in recovery. 

Relationships in Recovery

If you’re a codependent alcoholic in recovery, it might be best to concentrate less on your familial relationships (let alone starting a romantic one) and focus more on your wants and needs. It can be easy to latch on to somebody when you’re feeling alone and scared. By entering a relationship or trying to fix an existing one, you’ll feel like you have a partner who can support you as you take on sobriety. However, being with someone right now could be detrimental to your well being.

Your friends and loved ones surely suffered throughout your addiction. You probably told them many times that you would get help, and they believed you, but then you fell short of your promises. This repeated hurt can have negative effects on the ones you love, and they may be hesitant to get close to you again, even after you finish rehab.

Naturally, you’ll want to repair these relationships quickly since you feel guilty about your previous behavior as a codependent alcoholic or substance abuser. However, now is the time to focus on your progress in recovery so that you can be a better husband/wife, brother/sister, mother/father or boyfriend/girlfriend to your loved ones.

This is not to say that having relationships isn’t important in recovery. It is extremely helpful and beneficial to have family and friends cheering you on as you go on this new journey, as well as join support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Review the relationships in your life, and stick with the ones that support and nurture you instead of hindering and hurting your progress. Also, avoid the ones that encourage codependency in your life.

If you do meet someone during your recovery who you connect with romantically, make sure to disclose that you’re recovering from addiction. If you had a codependent relationship when you abused alcohol or drugs, a new relationship could be dangerous territory right now. However, if you’re honest with this new person, you could have a new chance at happiness. Just make sure that you’re focusing on your needs as much as possible.

Codependent Thinking

If you’re a codependent alcoholic, the important thing to remember is that the problem doesn’t lie with the substance; it lies with you. You are your solution. To blame the substance is to avoid taking responsibility for your actions. Even though alcohol may have caused you to do things that have landed you in bad situations, your codependency caused you to start drinking. With that said, you need to understand how you relate to other people and turn away from toxic relationships. Creating healthy ones is what therapy and recovery are all about.

Imagination easily takes over for many, and in codependent relationships, we can find our thoughts revolving entirely around one particular individual — or even drugs. It is when this happens that we must search for support groups or seek independence and alone time.

When you’re codependent, you must recognize your behaviors and make sure they’re still taking care of themselves. Often times this codependent behavior can cause problems in recovery such as:

  • Relapse
  • Confused emotions
  • Clouded and irrational thinking

Become Independent at Coastal Detox

Relying on somebody or something too much? Recovering from chemical dependency will help you to be able to truly feel again. It takes getting sober before we regain our senses and begin focusing on the things that matter. If you or a loved one is struggling with chemical dependency and are ready for help, contact Coastal Detox today. We can give you any suggestions possible and set you or your loved one on a path that we can all be proud of.

Content Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.