For a family member, friend or peer struggling with an addiction it’s absolutely crucial that you, as part of their community, are present to them and their needs during their recovery journey. Those close to the struggling loved one play an important role in their journey as a healthy community of people who can bolster motivation and provide encouragement and support on days that are especially hard.
However, there is a fine line between helping your loved one and allowing the relationship to develop into something more dependent than is healthy. Codependency, while usually not intentional, can occur in the process of recovery, but knowing the signs can prevent it from developing into something unhealthy and negative.
What is codependency?
It’s relatively easy to confuse codependency with enabling — whereas enabling is the act of (usually unintentionally) allowing your loved one to continue with substance abuse habits under the guise of helping them, codependency is the name of the actual relationship between the two people.
According to Mental Health America, codependency “is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. “
While codependency can develop between any two individuals, it is not uncommon to see it occur between those struggling with addiction and their loved ones. Because of the way addiction impacts one’s brain, the way relationships are viewed can become skewed and unhealthy — someone struggling with addiction may rely to heavily on their loved ones or result to tactics of manipulation to avoid doing the hard work of recovery.
Those who have the intention of simply wanting to help their loved one often become trapped in this unhealthy relationship; their assistance is often taken advantage of, or their impulse to help turns into an unhealthy “over-helping,” where they don’t allow their loved one to strive for and face the challenges of recovery on their own.
Signs of codependency
Codependency can develop quickly, especially if boundaries are not set or not maintained. However, there are signs of codependency which, if you are knowledgeable of them, can be identified and addressed immediately in order to prevent continued enabling of addictive behaviors.
Those in a codependent relationship often exhibit certain behaviors, such as:
- An extreme need for approval from others
- Low self-esteem which drives the desire to be affirmed in this codependent relationship
- An unhealthy dependency on the relationship (they will do anything, including excuse poor behavior, to hold onto the relationship)
- Fear of being alone
- A tendency to consistently do more than their share of work (for example, allowing your loved one to stay in your home without taking on responsibilities, etc.)
- Difficulty adjusting to change
- Poor communication
- An obsession with the relationship (which provides a false-sense of self-importance and often leads to manipulation)
- A total lack of boundaries
- A sense of guilt when asserting themselves or saying no
Again, it is not uncommon for codependency to develop in a relationship with your loved one battling substance use disorder. After a long period of time under the influence of substances, it takes time for their brains to heal and their mentality on relationships to be properly reordered. You can help in this process by setting proper boundaries and ensuring that the time you give them is intentional and healthily limited.
The difference between codependency and proper help
As you watch someone you care about battle addiction, you may feel obligated to help them — but it’s essential to help them in the proper way.
If you slip into enabling behavior, like making excuses for their behavior or absences from work or school, or assist them financially as they struggle to pay their bills, you may be part of the reason a codependent relationship forms.
To properly help a loved one, there are many things you can do to get them on the path to sobriety:
- Trust the healing process to a mental health professional — substance use disorder is a disease as severe as some physical conditions and can only be correctly addressed by a therapist or psychologist
- Don’t give them money or pay their bills, but offer to help them find job opportunities
- Avoid making excuses for their behavior — suffering the full consequences of their actions is actually an important aspect of recovery
- Talk to them about your concerns with their behavior and offer to help them find a treatment facility
- Attend meetings with them to show your support of their recovery journey
- Don’t be afraid to say no, especially if you feel the demands on your time are too great or your own mental health is suffering as a result of the relationship — you can’t help them if you don’t help yourself first
While your desire to assist your loved on during this trying time in their life is noble, it’s important to set the right boundaries to make sure your help is truly helping.
Looking for an addiction treatment facility?
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction and/or caught in a codependent relationship as a result, help is available for both of you. Contact Silvermist Recovery to speak with a mental health counselor and find the best treatment options for your current situation.
Contact us online or by calling our office at 724-268-4858.