It may start off innocent enough: a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol and you step in to make sure they don’t harm themselves or others in their addiction. However, despite well-intentioned efforts to stop the dangerous behavior, the addict continues to use and you are left feeling drained, overwhelmed, and confused. 

As addiction is a family disease, meaning that if affects everyone in the family (not just the addict or alcoholic), it can be extremely difficult to watch a loved one suffer the consequences of their decisions with addiction. However, by protecting the person you love from the repercussions of their decisions, you in turn may be doing the addict more harm than good for their own recovery. This form of allowing an addict’s behavior to control your own behavior is a form of enabling and codependency.

What is Codependency?

Although the term “codependent” is defined in many different ways depending on the source, codependency is most commonly understood as a behavior that enables another person’s addiction, poor behavior, or under-achievement. Even if the behavior is unintentional, codependents have a difficult time separating themselves from a loved one’s addiction and tend to carry the weight of their loved one’s harmful decisions. Unfortunately, the word “codependent” has carried negative implications in the past and, therefore, may make someone want to deny their codependency with an addict.

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However, admitting one is codependent is the first step for true recovery for yourself, and even possibly for the addict/alcoholic. By allowing your loved one to make their own choices, even the harmful ones, you are allowing them to come to terms with their own desire to get well. After all, as you may know (especially if you’ve been down this road long enough with your loved one), you pushing them to treatment can only keep them sober for so long. In the end, long-term sobriety depends on your loved one’s healthy decision-making and their desire to get well, not your decisions for them.

Signs of Codependency

To understand if you are struggling with codependent behavior, it is helpful to look at some of the characteristics of codependency. 

Some common characteristics of codependency are: 

  • Believing most people are incapable of taking care of themselves 
  • Having a difficult time making decisions
  • Struggling to ask for what you need 
  • Having a hard time saying no (people pleasing and inability to set boundaries with others)
  • Feeling responsible for solving others’ problems
  • Fearing rejection (feeling of being unworthy, unlovable)
  • Feeling like a victim of others’ behaviors (feelings of powerlessness, fear of being out of control)
  • Thinking that everyone else’s feelings are more important than yours
  • Neglecting time for yourself because you are too busy taking care of others

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As this is only a short list of codependent behaviors, it would be beneficial to look more thoroughly through other codependent behaviors online or through reading a book. There are many online tools, quizzes, and resources that you can use when working through codependency. Sometimes gauging your level of codependency can be helpful in moving forward and seeing how much progress you are making as a result of your awareness to the issue. Remember, admitting you are codependent is a sign of strength, not weakness. It is important to note that most people struggle with codependency to one level or another. Families of addicts/alcoholics are understandably affected by the disease of addiction tremendously and codependency is a typical symptom of the repercussions of this disease. The key is to admit it and move forward, as living a more peaceful, fulfilling life will bring to it much more freedom and hope than one drained through the efforts of keeping their loved one sober.

How to Set Boundaries with Your Loved One’s Substance Abuse

Learning to set boundaries with a loved one and their addiction could be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself and for the addict/alcoholic in your life. This could look like: refusing to bail a loved one’s out of the consequences of their decisions, removing yourself from harmful situations, not giving your loved one money or paying for their rent, clothes, or gas because they are unable to with their addiction, or not making excuses for them (e.g.- calling in sick for them at work, etc.). 

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It is important to remember that by setting healthy boundaries, you are not withdrawing your love from the addict/alcoholic in your life. Although they may be shocked at first and possibly upset/angry at your new behavior, they will most likely appreciate it down the road. By allowing them to make their own decisions, they have a better chance of wanting to turn their life around instead of waiting for a loved one to simply bail them out of trouble. Bailing them out of the consequences of their poor decision-making increases the likelihood that they will continue using drugs because they will have no consequences for their behavior.

How to Get Help for Codependency

Because nearly everyone struggles with codependency to one level or another, it may be beneficial to note that you are not alone. Realizing that there are other people out there with similar patterns and behaviors can relieve someone of any stigma around codependency and, therefore, make it much more likely to get the help they need. 

One way of doing this is through attending Al-Anon, a support group for people who have a loved one in addiction or recovery. As there are many Al-Anon groups out there, doing a quick online search for meetings near you will provide you with meeting days and times. Additionally, if your loved one is in treatment currently or seeking treatment, there are family programs/counseling that can help you identify codependent behaviors, understand addiction more thoroughly, and provide you with a wealth of knowledge around how to handle a loved one’s addiction without sacrificing your own tranquility. 

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There is a way to live in peace regardless if your loved one is using drugs/drinking or not. Don’t delay seeking help. You are worth investing time and energy into your own growth instead of investing it all in your loved one’s addiction. 

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