It can be hard to watch someone you love harm his or herself by using drugs or alcohol. At the same time that same person suffering from an addiction may unknowingly, or unintentionally take advantage of others. Those being taken advantage of are known as codependents—if they continue to allow themselves to be used. There is actually potential to do more harm than good by granting a person with an addiction permission to continuously take advantage of you. Protecting them from the consequences of their actions can be just as harmful; this act is a form of enabling.
It’s a tricky situation, because you want to help those you love or protect them from foreseeable trouble, but this might actually prevent them from finding a healthy recovery.
Definitions Of Codependency And Enabling Behavior
Codependency and enabling behavior are similar concepts and both just as easy to miss if you don’t know what to look for. “Enabling behavior occurs when another person, often a codependent, helps or encourages the addict to continue using drugs, either directly or indirectly. Examples of individuals involved in enabling behavior are a spouse hiding the addict’s disease from neighbors or their children by lying for the addict and a so-called “friend” giving the addict money to buy drugs.” (National Institute on Drug Abuse – NIDA).
Codependent Characteristics And Behaviors
Codependent behavior can be dangerous for a person suffering from addiction, because it doesn’t ask them to change their behavior or give them a sign that it’s bad. Some of the most common types of codependent behavior are:
- An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
- A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
- A tendency to do more than their share all of the time
- A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
- An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship to avoid the feeling of abandonment
- An extreme need for approval and recognition
- A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
- A compelling need to control others
- Lack of trust in self and/or others
- Fear of being abandoned or alone
- Difficulty identifying feelings
- Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
- Problems with intimacy/boundaries
- Chronic anger
- Poor communications
- Difficulty making decisions
Examples Of Enabling An Addiction
It can be surprising to find out that you’re enabling someone to continue on with an addiction and accepting that you have been supporting an unhealthy behavior is the first step to switching from enabling behavior to healthy behavior—and responding instead of reacting. The following are some of the most common examples of unhealthy enabling behaviors from Washington State Employee Assistance Program:
- Taking over the responsibilities of the user
- Making excuses or covering up errors and accidents for the user
- Going along with excuses for using substances
- Helping the user get out of financial difficulty related to substance abuse
- Cleaning up after the user
Understanding That Addiction Is A Disease Of Relapse
Relapse is defined as a deterioration of a person’s state after a temporary improvement. If an addiction skirts around the harmful consequences, then there’s actually less of a perceived problem or no problem at all. For example, if someone else constantly picks up the broken pieces left by substance abuse, consequently there will be less of a chance for enlightenment or recovery.
Addiction can be hard to understand for an outsider and just as hard from the perspective of a person with the addiction. “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it work.” Addictions can lead to further problems “resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home” (NIDA).
Addiction And Unhealthy Relationships
Codependency frequently appears in relationships where an addiction is present. This is also referred to as relationship addiction. This codependency relationship is often emotionally one-sided and can be destructive to both partners. A drug user’s behavior might not change because along the way they have been led to believe that their behavior is accepted. It goes back to the idea that every behavior is learned; so when a person doesn’t face the negative consequences of their actions, they are not be able to mature and grow.
So what does that mean? Is it always necessary to avoid helping someone with an addiction? Not always. There are two ways to care for people with addiction; healthy caregiving and codependent caretaking. Codependent caretaking is unhealthy and can lead to further dysfunction.
Dysfunctional Families—Who Does Codependency Affect?
Codependency affects more than just the person struggling with an addiction; it can affect their spouse, parents, colleagues, children or anyone else in their lives. The unfortunate truth is that addiction can cause a person to do things out of character and that might involve using those they love to help conceal, protect or accept their addiction.
A dysfunctional family might unintentionally feed into an addiction, thus codependency can affect the person suffering from an addiction as well. “A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame that is ignored or denied.” The members of a dysfunctional family don’t let on that they have a problem with their loved one’s choices or “addiction…to drugs, alcohol, relationships, work, food, sex, or gambling” (UC Davis).
How To Set Boundaries And Stop Enabling A Loved One
There’s no doubt you have the best intentions when helping your loved one out of a bind. All you really want to do is keep them safe by protecting them from perceived danger, but sometimes intervening or refusing to bail them out leads to a healthier outcome. Unfortunately the truth of the matter is that as long as someone is there to come to their rescue every time they get into trouble financially or criminally, they might not learn from their mistakes and continue using drugs or alcohol as a result.
It can be important not to take responsibility for a loved one’s problems and to always keep in mind your needs. It’s also good to admit that you didn’t create their problems, so it isn’t your duty to fix them either. It can just as well be unhealthy for both parties to coddle or marginalize an addiction. One of the most important things you can do, as a friend or family member of someone who’s suffering from addiction, is to tell them how serious you think their addiction is and suggest that they seek treatment.
Codependency Addiction Treatment And Recovery
As previously mentioned, a codependent person often tries to fix others. This can be dangerous and lead to instability or further substance abuse. Treatment works best if it’s left to the professionals. Addiction therapists understand coping behaviors, codependency, substance abuse and can help a person dig down to understand the depth or root of their addiction. In a recovery setting, a person struggling with addiction can get the care and attention that they need. Group therapy, family therapy, peer support, cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy are just a few of the treatment programs that can help a person understand that their behaviors are hurting others.
Codependent relationships aren’t always easy to recognize. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction or have questions about a codependent relationship, healthy behaviors can be instilled to teach you how to live a substance- and manipulation-free life.
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