When the term codependency first came into use in the early 1980’s it was used to describe a person who was drawn to relationships with individuals who were chemically dependent, be it drugs or alcohol. In order to be diagnosed as codependent, S. Wegscheider-Cruise found that a person must meet three specific criteria. These included being in a romantic or marital relationship with an addicted person, having had a parent or grandparent who was addicted to drugs or alcohol, or were found to have been raised in a family that was grossly repressed emotionally. Even today after the term has morphed into a more complex diagnosis, this initial guideline is a very accurate diagnostic tool.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse found that nearly 23.2 million individuals over the age of 12 suffer from or are in need of treatment for an addiction to drugs or alcohol as of 2007. Looking at that number, I can only imagine how many lives these 23.2 million people with addictions are impacting. Think of the number of parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren and other significant relationships involved in these addicts’ lives and you can begin to see how many people have the potential for codependency. It’s a vicious cycle that increases the impact addiction has on society. As this ever increasing potential for codependent behaviors and relationships continues it becomes more important to seek help for yourself as well as those you love. There is help out there, therapists, counselors and life coaches who specialize in this diagnosis can guide you down the road to recovery.
But how does addiction instigate the creation of a codependent?
Addicts care more about seeking out that next drink, smoke, snort, or other high rather than caring about the people they love. For the average person this is a crazy concept, but for the addict and the codependent in their life it is most often a daily occurrence. The impact of this behavior on an adult is huge. The addict spends so much time seeking out their next fix at all cost, those who care for them find themselves spending the majority of their lives assisting the addict in hiding their addiction. Keeping this ugly secret from the eyes of society. It makes them feel important, and gives them a reason to keep getting up each day. This happens to the romantic relationships, parents, and other close adult friends who are close to the addict.
This impact is bad enough, but the impact on children of addicts is much more devastating. These children are unable to see what is happening to them until it is too late; they grow up and begin experimenting with relationships themselves. Unfortunately they find themselves drawn to one addict after another. They don’t know any other way, and as such they very rarely seek out assistance.
Living with an addict puts one in a position of being a caregiver; you are always cleaning up their messes, both figuratively as well as literally. This leads to a feeling of being needed in such a way that the caregiver feels they can’t leave, they are important and to walk away from this feeling and the relationship behind it will remove their very identity and this is something that they are too fearful to do. In a sense they become addicted to the addicted person themselves. It’s not uncommon then for the caregiver to find themselves in a position of such low self esteem, after all they are caring for an individual and protecting them from society as well as others who will judge them at the expense of their own well being, this set of behaviors and emotional negligence leads to the care giver leaning towards addiction themselves.
How do you move on?
In the event that you find that you are in a codependent relationship with an addict there are several steps that you will need to take in an effort to create a healthy life for yourself.
1. YOU need to take care of YOU first, if you’ve ever been on an airplane you know that at the beginning of each flight the attendants will take a few minutes to explain to you the importance of putting your oxygen mask on YOURSELF before you help anyone else. This is common sense, if you are focused on helping someone else and something goes wrong you may BOTH end up hurt or worse. The same is true in the codependent relationship. You must take care of yourself before you can help the addict or you will both spiral down a dark path with no end in sight.
There are many self help books available, therapists, or life coaches such as myself who are experienced and knowledgeable in the treatment of codependency. All of these methods of help are dependent on you first seeing the problem in yourself, your partner, and the relationship that you are a part of and admitting that it is toxic for everyone involved. Once you get to this point you can start the process of creating a more meaningful life for yourself, enjoying who you are and increasing your own self image will aid you in having the courage and strength to face the addict in your life and get them the help they need. Treating the addiction, along with the enabling behavior together will draw you closer together in your recovery.
There is hope for you, your partner, your family, and the well being of your relationship. Coming here is a step in the right direction, talk to someone, reach out to others who have been in this position and want to help you have the relationship you deserve.