Codependency has long been associated with substance addiction.
In fact, as Scientific American points out, “the term ‘codependent’ was first used to describe how family members of individuals with substance abuse issues might actually interfere with recovery by overhelping.”
5 Telling Symptoms of Codependency in An Addicted Relationship
Since its founding then, codependency has had its roots deep in substance abuse and addiction. And while it may have started with alcohol, it’s since been extended to substance use disorders of all sorts to describe imbalanced relationships that occur as a result.
But similar to addiction, recognizing the signs of codependency in your own relationship can be incredibly difficult to do. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself on the symptoms of a codependent relationship – you may realize you just might be in one!
What Is Codependency?
Also known as interdependency, codependency is a term used to describe an imbalance of power in a relationship – so much so that one partner feels a profound inability to make decisions for themselves or establish their own identity.
They may bear the financial burden of the relationship, blindly support their partner without voicing any criticism or advice, and may even lose sight of what they stand for or who they really are.
This type of relationship is quite common when one partner is struggling with a severe mental health disorder.
Maybe they’re addicted to an illicit substance like prescription pills and rely on their partner to pay for their lifestyle, manage social relationships, support them emotionally, and essentially keep them from engaging in high-risk behaviors
Or perhaps they’re struggling with a mental problem like bipolar disorder or severe depression but refuse to get the professional help they so desperately need.
No matter what kind of disorder it is though, it’s important to remember that most partners in a codependent relationship both rely heavily on each other to function.
The addict, for example may feel loved and accepted despite their severe dysfunction and may not be pushed to change and grow as a result. For the caretaker, feeling needed satisfies a desire for approval and compensates for an inability to cope with abandonment.
Interdependence, Mental Health, & Addiction
Both codependency and addiction are intricately linked. If one partner in a relationship is struggling with a substance use disorder (the “addict”), they may have a number of issues that cause the other partner to essentially pick up the slack (the “caretaker”).
Beyond that, substance abuse often correlates quite highly with mental health disorders. This is often referred to as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis. And while you may not know it, the overlap between substance abuse and mood disorders may be higher than you think.
In fact, data from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that approximately 7.9 million adults had co-occurring disorders.
What’s more, NIDA found that individuals with mood, anxiety, or antisocial disorders were about twice as likely to also be suffering from a substance use disorder. In that same vein, individuals with a substance use disorder were also twice as likely to suffer from a mood, anxiety, or antisocial disorder.
In the end, these co-occurring disorders can contribute to a relationship where the needs of one individual outweigh those of the other. And that is a textbook definition of codependency.
Codependency & Enabling
Besides the lack of personal identity, imbalance of power, and numerous mood disorders that can come about as a result of a codependent relationship, this imbalance of power can be particularly damaging in that it enables an addict to continue abusing drugs.
Many times, family members and partners are so afraid of upsetting the addict that they begin to “cover” for them.
Maybe they clean up after a bender without a word of reproach. Or they might give excuses to family and friends for their behavior that conceal their partner’s addiction. And more likely than not, they may even be in a state of denial themselves about their loved one’s addiction and are unable to see the clear signs that they’re enabling.
But rest assured, no matter how they may convince themselves that their partner’s behavior is excusable, by not addressing the addiction head on they are only making eventual recovery that much harder.
After all, if their actions are never challenged or questioned, how are they ever going to change?
5 Codependent Symptoms & Behaviors
Codependency hasn’t been narrowed down to an immutable set of characteristics. As such, there’s bound to be some slight variations between codependent relationships.
Below are just some of the symptoms of codependency. Not all codependent relationships will have them, and just because one symptom isn’t listed here doesn’t mean it isn’t an indicator of codependency.
For a look at even more symptoms of an interdependent relationship, head over to What Is Codependency.
Symptom #1: An Inability to Say “NO”
When you hear the term “codependent,” the first characteristic you probably think of is a people-pleaser that just can’t say no to their partner, or anyone else for that matter.
And while it’s true that refusing a request causes most people at least some anxiety, a codependent caretaker will likely find it nearly impossible to do so under almost any circumstance.
What’s more, they’ll often take on far too many responsibilities to handle effectively, just so that they can accommodate the needs and desires of those around them.
Symptom #2: Prioritizing Other People’s Need at the Cost of Your Own
Not to be confused with the prior symptom, this caretaker characteristic is concerned more with a deep desire to help others and feel needed than the people-pleasing inability to say no to requests.
You may desperately seek out ways to solve another person’s problem and continue to give them advice, even if they don’t ever follow it. You may also go to great lengths to try and solve a particular issue in their life, even when they ask you not to.
This stems back to a powerful longing to feel needed in relationships as well as build an identity based on the approval of others.
Symptom #3: Low Self-Esteem & Shame
Both the caretaker and the addict themselves (as addiction and shame often go hand in hand) may experience profound self-esteem problems as a result of a codependent relationship.
The caretaker, for instance, may be convinced over time that they don’t actually deserve to have their needs met in the relationship. The addict on the other hand may think that they’re incapable of doing anything on their own since they’re so often being cleaned up after.
In any case, a relationship that causes either party to feel like their self-esteem has been compromised is a solid indication that something isn’t quite right.
Symptom #4: Issues with Control
Control is an integral part of every codependent relationship because it represents power over the other party.
The addict of the relationship may control the caretaker through manipulation or even direct physical or emotional abuse. These tactics (which are never okay) may leave the caretaker feeling powerless and hopeless, making them easier to control.
However, control can be an important part of the caretaker’s role as well in that individuals can use control to avoid taking chances, opening up emotionally, or risking abandonment.
Either way, members of a healthy relationship will never abuse their control over their partner.
Symptom #5: Mood Disorders
Given the significant strain that codependency can have on an individual’s sense of self along with their self-worth, it isn’t at all surprising that many members of an interdependent relationship tend to suffer a variety of mood disorders as a result.
Studies have shown that family members of substance abusers experience significant emotional burden that can sometimes carry over into anger, anxiety, depression, fear, and other emotional problems.
Can A Codependent Relationship Be Saved?
While it may seem like the difficulties from a codependent relationship may make it impossible to ever overcome the imbalanced power dynamic, it doesn’t mean you need to abandon it altogether.
A codependent relationship can still be saved. But it’ll take some work.
First thing’s first, you’ll need to start being honest with your partner about your feelings. Rather than pushing them down in order to keep the peace, try telling them about how their comment made you feel or why you reacted the way you did. It can be hard at first, sure, but honesty is the bedrock on which every healthy relationship is built.
Also, be sure to take care of yourself. Start communicating your needs rather than just focusing on those of your partner. You may be surprised to see just how much change can come from simply telling your partner what it is you want.
Saving the relationship will also require you and your partner to confront their substance abuse problem head on. That might mean checking into a rehab center or even staging an intervention to get your partner the help they need. No matter what though, tackling that substance use disorder is key to keeping this relationship alive.
And finally, regularly remind yourself that a codependent relationship is not healthy. You may be tempted to sink back into old habits that are more comfortable, “safe,” and familiar, especially when confronting major changes. But resist that urge with everything you’ve got because an interdependent relationship is toxic.
Learning How to Overcome Codependency & Addiction
If you or someone you know is in a codependent relationship fueled by a substance use disorder, there is help out there. Counseling, talk therapy, and more can all help you two develop life skills and strategies to foster mutual respect and build a relationship that’s equally balanced.
Beyond that, finding a professional treatment center that specializes in dual diagnosis can be incredibly helpful in overcoming the substance use disorder plaguing your relationship while also treating the resulting mental disorders.
There are also a variety of organizations that specialize in helping family members of substance abusers like Al Anon and Nar Anon.
So, don’t give up hope. Remember that a healthy relationship is built on mutual trust, respect, and love. And most importantly, remember that you deserve each.
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