It sounds like a cheesy hair band lyric out of the early ’90s: “I’m addicted to you baby.” Those words can be said (or sung) with sincerity of heart and a little bit of self-delusion. However, at their essence is a relationship reality that multiplies many of the already volatile circumstances are common in drug and alcohol addiction.
Can we actually be addicted to another person? The answer is, in some ways, yes. It’s called “codependency,” and it is similar to other kinds of addiction. As well, it’s definitely not as romantic as the typical poet or musician would have it be. Codependency is built on the rickety foundation of low self-esteem and moves up to become not just an enabling aspect of an addict’s life, it can also lead to depression and acting out in ways that engender more and deeper addictions.
When the Partner Is Codependent
A spouse or partner of an addict always has a role to play. In an ideal world, they have a solid foundation of self-worth and personal identity. This will allow them to recognize the existence of a problem and design or look for possible solutions.
In the less-than-ideal world, a codependent partner becomes enmeshed in the life and identity of their significant other. This leads them to ignore or deny the existence of a problem. Instead of helping, the codependent person makes excuses to shield their loved one or goes so far as to continually rescue them from the consequences of addiction. This helps the addict to feel needed. Ultimately, they also feel justified in their drug or alcohol abuse. It is a cycle that feeds itself in dysfunction and leads to suffering in the lives of everyone involved.
When the Addict Is Codependent
Codependency can work as a lens to understand addiction. Again, the base of codependency is low self-esteem. When an addict is codependent they still find meaning in the object of their affections. A person with a codependency on another human gets their self-worth from that other person. They are valuable in as much as they are needed by that singular entity. In a similar fashion, drugs or alcohol can make a person temporarily alleviate the feelings associated with low self-worth. And just like with a codependent relationship with a human, a person with this disorder will be in denial about any problems.
Again, it is an ugly cycle where the object of a co-dependent person defines who they are. Which of course is never a healthy situation.
How Codependency Hurts Recovery
A codependent person will not work on their problems. Since internal work is fundamental to lasting recovery, codependency undermines recovery at its very foundation.
A codependent person will stay in a stressful situation or relationship, which could lead to relapse.
A codependent person will live in a world that doesn’t exist. To hide from the reality or to find get away from the pain of the moment, there is always a danger of a return to substances that can change or alleviate the discomfort of the immediate.
A codependent person may associate so strongly with the actions of their partner or loved one that they begin to take on their addiction. This often happens in unhealthy romantic relationships where an addict will bring their boyfriend or girlfriend down with them in the cycle of destruction.
A codependent person cements the addiction of another person by enabling their substance abuse, which cements the amount they are needed.
At First Steps Recovery, our programs are designed to help you manage your physical and emotional life and issues. If you are dealing with codependency and addiction, our counselors are equipped to help you work through the confusing maze of habits and emotions involved. Please call one of our addiction specialists today to find out more about our program: 844-244-7837.
*Are you afraid you are living in a way that is enabling your loved one in their addiction? Here is a helpful resource on what to do to best care for the addict in your life: Living With an Addict.