Codependency is a term used often both in the addiction recovery world as well as the mental health field.  Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines Codependency as “a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (such as an addiction to alcohol or heroin)”.  This toxic pattern often has the potential to follow individuals from active addiction into their recovery.  But what do codependent relationships in addiction recovery look like and why are they destructive?

The Destructive Road of Codependency

What is a codependent relationship

First, let’s look at what codependency is.  It is often described as a pattern of a person putting other people’s needs before their own while in a relationship.  This type of pattern can be seen in romantic partnerships, between parents and child as well as in friendships.  Codependency and substance abuse often go hand in hand although you may see the pattern elsewhere.  Partners of addicts may find themselves putting the addict’s financial needs above their own. Sometimes going as far as going into debt for them.  Parents of alcoholics may give chance after chance and refuse to set boundaries in fear it puts their love in question.  The enabler may find the addict or alcoholic to be controlling and manipulating yet do nothing to stop it.

Signs of Codependency:

  • Constant desire and need to make others happy.
  • Unable to be alone for periods of time.
  • Low self-esteem & self-worth.
  • Feel responsible for the happiness of others.
  • Trouble setting as well as sticking to healthy boundaries
  • Difficulty saying “No.”
  • Unable to take responsibility for actions.
  • Emotional issues such as depression and resentment.

Codependent relationships in addiction recovery can carry on into new relationships even when both parties are clean and sober.  The root issues of low self-esteem, fear of being alone, trouble setting boundaries, and the desire to make others happy do not just go away when the substance is removed.  Often people find those feelings only intensify which leads many to find themselves back in some sort of codependent relationship soon after entering recovery.  This pattern can result in unhealthy relationships, which in turn can lead to a relapse.

Codependency in Addiction Recovery

So how do you break the pattern of codependency in relationships while in recovery from addiction?  Like getting sober, an addict must first admit and accept they a problem with codependent behaviors and must be willing to make changes within their relationship. The next step is to set boundaries. Setting boundaries can be hard for many people, particularly when someone has little experience with boundaries in the first place.  When setting boundaries, clear communication followed by action is a must.  If a person is used to being with their significant other everywhere they go, healthy separation is important.  Such an example for those in recovery is attending twelve-step meetings without their partner.  Another way to set boundaries is to say no when asked to do something you don’t want to do.  Partners of addicts often have a hard time saying no because they are used to giving up everything for so long

Most psychotherapists agree codependent behavior is a learned behavior that stems from childhood or other life experiences.  Seeking couples therapy or other types of professional help can address these issues more in-depth and allow healing to occur.   Meditation, proper self-care, as well as twelve-step programs are all additional approaches that codependents can try. Healthy relationships in recovery are just one of the many rewards that can come out of recovering from addiction.

You don’t have to go it alone

Depression, sadness, anxiety disorders, stress, and worry can make it difficult to find happiness in your life. We all need support at different times in our lives.  Most of our clients seek help when their current way of dealing with life’s challenges no longer works for them. With a caring, non-judgmental and solution-focused approach, we will explore your issues and challenges in a safe therapeutic environment at our private practice in Delray Beach, Florida.

We also offer remote online therapy from the comfort and security of home that will allow you to learn more effective ways of managing your anxiety and stress.

Let’s walk the path to freedom from depression and anxiety together. If you’re ready to let go of the sadness, depression, fears, worries, and anxieties that are making life difficult, check out our Anxiety & Depression Support Group hosted the 1st Tuesday of each month at the Counseling Center for Growth and Recovery.