Understanding Co-Dependency

Originally referred to as co-alcoholism, co-dependency has been identified as an extremely common personality disorder that affects both drug and alcohol addicts, as well as non-addicts. The term co-dependency has been in use for several decades, and often occurs in relationships in which one person abuses drugs or alcohol. Co-dependent relationships do not have to be romantic in nature; co-dependency can also occur in a relationship with a child, sibling, friend or parent. In general, the person in the relationship that formerly or is currently suffering from addiction relies on the other person in the relationship as a means of coping with addiction, abuse, fear of abandonment or other underlying factors.

Meanwhile, the other co-dependent may consciously or subconsciously exhibit behavior that enables his or her loved one’s addiction. This co-dependent may make excuses for his or her loved one, attempt to play down the addiction, hide the problem or cover up his or her mistakes, according to Addiction Treatment Magazine. Therefore, as the name suggests, a co-dependency places both people in the relationship in a position where they need the other person.

Signs of co-dependency 

There are numerous signs of co-dependency and individuals will display different symptoms depending on their specific relationships. However, there are several common symptoms that may point to a person being in a co-dependent relationship. PsychCentral notes that people in co-dependent relationships often have low self-esteem that may be masked by a person speaking highly of themselves. These feelings may be coupled with a sense of guilt or shame, because in actuality the person feels inadequate.

Other common clues include controlling situations and caretaking. That is to say, a person may feel the compulsive need to take care of the addicted person in the relationship and constantly place his or her needs over his or her own. By doing so, the co-dependent enables the person suffering from drug and alcohol addiction or another mental health disorder. Thus, the addicted person’s abusive behaviors can continue and are in some ways nurtured.

Co-dependents also exhibit a tendency to work hard to please others. In an attempt to ensure good relationships and encourage others to like them, co-dependents may become obsessive in this goal, and do anything to satisfy those around them. PsychCentral notes that this obsessiveness is caused by the dependency and anxiety that a mistake may result in the person abandoning the co-dependent.

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Addiction and co-dependency 

For a person that has a dual diagnosis of drug or alcohol abuse as well as co-dependent personality disorder, both issues need to be addressed simultaneously. Co-dependent behavior often occurs as part of a person’s addiction, and therefore if not addressed in treatment may lead the person to relapse or continue using. Recovery Connection notes that treatment is necessary for an addict to identify co-dependent behavior patterns and learn to avoid those behaviors in the future. With that said, a person who falls back into co-dependency may subsequently experience a relapse into drug or alcohol abuse.

Avoiding relapses relies on a robust regimen of continuing care. Co-dependent addicts must first learn how to live independently, both of the other person in the relationship and of their addiction. However, this is an ongoing process that begins with comprehensive residential rehabilitation. Spending time in a rehab facility, specifically one that addresses co-occurring disorders, allows the co-dependent addict to identify his or her behaviors and build a strong foundation for overcoming them. This should then be complemented by continuing therapy, support groups and mindfulness-based relapse prevention to produce the best long-term outcomes.