Healing from Codependency–When You Love Someone with an Addiction

Healing from codependency is a tall order sometimes, particularly if you are living with an addicted loved one, or are still in a close relationship. And, though we sometimes artificially divide the world into addicts on one side and codependents on the other, this is not really how it is. Many of us are both addicted and codependent.

What Does It Mean to be Codependent?

It is commonly thought that codependency develops in dysfunctional families during childhood and that we carry the patterns established there into adult life. Some of these patterns are being in a relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable, deriving a sense of identifying and purpose from helping others, being out of touch with our own needs and feelings, having little sense of self-worth or self-esteem, feeling anxiety and emptiness, and engaging in compulsive behavior to feel better.

How to Deal with Both Codependency and Addiction?

It makes for a particularly complicated treatment and recovery issue at times. The confusion can be very concrete for people with a foot in both worlds. Even choosing a self-help group to attend can be baffling: do I go to a meeting for addicts or do I go to a meeting for codependents? 

Of course, that has to be your decision, but people do have opinions and suggestions. Some say that nothing else can be healed until you are sober, and this does make good sense. Active substance use impairs us on many levels–from judgment to problem-solving, from memory to concentration… As long as we are impaired by actively using an addictive substance, we find any gains to be elusive.

On the other hand, perhaps you and an addicted loved one are using together. Going off to addiction treatment yourself may be very difficult to do. The relationship can feel threatened, and your loved one can try to sabotage your efforts, feeling threatened, too. At this juncture, you will have to address codependent dynamics in order to do what is best for you.

When Partners Use Together–Codependency and Addiction

Healing from codependency dynamics with a loved one can be an overwhelming task when you are both addicted together. The bonds between partners or spouses run deep, and so much of our identities and our lives revolve around those bonds. Threatening the status quo, however painful the status quo is, can cause deep anxiety.

It is always more difficult to get sober and stay sober when the significant people in your life are not 100% behind your effort. And, even though the right words of support might be there, often the actions to back them up are notably missing. For example, a spouse who still uses substances may not keep your home substance-free when you return from rehab. Or, a still using spouse may not buy into your need for total abstinence and encourage you to use ‘just a little’ or ‘sometimes’. These are examples of codependent dynamics at work in a relationship between addicts.

When Helping Each Other Isn’t Really Helping

Addicts that use together, and have a very close bond, help each other use, continue to use, and compensate for the impairments of use. This becomes a joint lifestyle, with each contributing to the relationship so that substance use continues. When one party seeks recovery, the entire balance of the relationship is thrown off. It doesn’t matter that the using life together was painful or chaotic, it was still familiar and the people involved were highly invested and used to it. Any shift like one party’s sobriety can feel disastrous. The world changes dramatically for the newly sober person, and the partner who continues to use feels abandoned and unsupported. Both quickly realize that more changes need to come, and they are not always in agreement about what these should be.

Healing from Codependency to Save Your Sobriety

Many in early recovery find themselves quickly having to address codependency issues in order to stay sober. Typically, this is in a love relationship with someone who remains addicted, but often, too, it involves the larger family and the social support system.

When substance problems are common among a group of people, it is easy to develop dysfunctional patterns of interacting that have no place in healthier lives in sobriety. For example, denial doesn’t come as easily when you are sober, and so it becomes more difficult to overlook someone’s impairment, irresponsibility, boundary violations, deceitfulness, manipulation and so on. When sober, too, it becomes more difficult to settle for the scant emotional intimacy an addicted person can give when you crave something more authentic.

It is common that early sobriety brings many challenges and not the least among them are relationship issues. As sober time increases, one typically finds elements of life in active addiction fading away. Social relationships shift as others no longer see you in their substance-centered world. And, you are apt to shy away from activities you know will have substance use as their focus.

Of course, social events are far easier to manage than primary relationships with a partner or close family members. When their substance use continues and you are in sobriety, you may find yourself having to make hard decisions. Family gatherings and holidays, for example, take on a different set of issues for a newly sober person when the family typically abuses substances together. And, of course, everyday life at home with an addicted partner poses its own set of stressors. It is not uncommon for people in this situation to seek additional counseling or self-help group support for dealing with such relationship issues and healing codependency.

The Result of Addressing Your Codependency

Healing from codependency can have far-ranging effects, and many of them can temporarily be stressful. For example, when you choose to stop enabling an addicted loved one, you risk upset and conflict certainly, but you also risk the loss of the relationship. And, you risk losing a sense of identity and purpose in the world.

Codependents focus on meeting the needs of others at their own expense–taking up the responsibilities others’ shirk or taking charge of their lives for them. It works well usually when addiction is involved. Having someone cater to your needs allows you to drift off into intoxication. However, the person who focuses on another to the exclusion of him or herself can feel lost and without purpose when these things begin to change.

A recovering codependent must find another focus, and pull caretaking activities back to self. This can feel foreign, unnatural and awkward. Often, codependents aren’t even aware of their own needs, so a great deal of shifting has to occur. And, low self-esteem and low self-worth have to be tended to. Self-help groups and counseling are usually a good approach to support and increasing healthier coping skills, learning about healthy relationships and self-care.

The Tasks Involved in Healing from Codependency

Healing unhealthy relationship patterns can be a comprehensive task. Some of the issues involved are increasing internal awareness of self, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, opinions, values and morals. Increasing self-awareness is an essential foundation for recovery. Codependency is other-focused and reversing that pattern brings one back to the self which has long been neglected and frequently forgotten.

Other aspects of healing from codependency involve interactions with others, particularly setting healthier limits and boundaries. This requires awareness of one’s rights and needs, what is appropriate interactionally and what is not. This is often a difficult shift since interpersonal boundaries are often disordered in dysfunctional families and codependents carry these patterns into adulthood.

Another significant shift in healing from codependency involves learning self-care skills such as assertive communication, stress management, and emotional management. Often these shifts are very concrete tasks to be practiced such as learning to delegate, learning to say ‘no’, allowing others to carry their own responsibilities, asserting one’s needs and protecting one’s boundaries and rights.

Finding Help and Support

Finding help and support for codependency and/or addiction can feel overwhelming. However, there is a great deal of help available. There are counseling services for codependency, as well as self-help groups such as Codependents Anonymous and Al-Anon, or Adult Children of Alcoholics. Also, there are supportive counseling groups available in many locations.

There is also a wide range of treatment services available for people with addictions, and there are many specialized programs such as for women only or for men, for people who have dual disorders, for those of a particular faith and so on. Effective programs will have an intensive and multi-faceted approach to the needs of those overcoming addiction, and relationship issues are commonly addressed, as are other codependent issues such as self-esteem, assertiveness, stress management and emotional management. Also, good relapse prevention planning involves preparing to re-enter the community and the relationships and situations waiting after discharge.

If You or A Loved One Need Help Today

If you or your loved one needs help today to overcome an addiction, give us a call. We will give you a free consultation in which we clarify your particular needs and find appropriate treatment options that also suit your financial situation. If your partner or spouse would like to be involved in treatment efforts with you, we can help you locate programs convenient in location and that will welcome family participation.

Recovery from both addiction and codependency are possible, and there are countless people who have been successful in their recovery attempts. You can leave addiction behind, and you can leave dysfunctional relationship patterns behind, too. The type of healthy and successful life you want can be yours.