While it is essential to support someone with a drug addiction during their recovery, be mindful that other members in their family may be going through their own recovery, as well. At one time, it was normal to solely focus on improving the health of the drug user or alcoholic in the family. However, a new practice emerged in which the family was also included in the recovery process. This practice has led to codependency treatment, in which family members, or codependents, receive treatment, as well. When this treatment first debuted, for example, the partner of an alcoholic might have been called a “co-alcoholic.” Now, however, this term includes drug addiction and has become “co-chemically dependent” or “co-dependent” for short.
In 1984, S. Wegscheider-Cruse considered a codependent to be any person who had a family member with a drug or alcohol addiction or was raised in an emotionally repressed family. The meaning of codependent developed further and eventually became a term used to describe a person in a dysfunctional family who feels powerless in these relationships. (Rosenberg) A dysfunctional family is one in which its members ignore each other’s emotions and feelings.
An addiction to drugs or alcohol by a family member is often the underlying problem within a dysfunctional family. In these situations, the members of a dysfunctional family might not want to acknowledge that such a problem exists. As a result, the family members learn to repress their emotions and disregard their own needs. They pick up behaviors that enable them to reject, ignore, or avoid troublesome feelings such as fear, pain, shame or anger. This behavior is rooted in non-communication, such as not talking to or not confronting each other. Once this problem was identified in the late 1980s, codependency treatment was developed to provide treatment and support services for both the codependent and the user.
Codependency occurs when the codependent person places the user’s health, well-being, and safety before their own and consequently stops caring about their own well-being. In other words, the codependent focuses all of their energy and attention on the family member with the addiction, sacrificing their own needs and even losing their sense of self in order to take care of their family member. It can become “an excessive emotional, physical, and psychological reliance upon a relationship that is dysfunctional” (Recovery Connection), and it is crucial to understand how a codependent also suffers from their own set of problems.
Certain characteristics exhibited by a codependent can be used to determine if treatment is necessary. Common characteristics include an exaggerated feeling of responsibility for others, such as believing that the user can’t make the right decisions or solve their problem by themselves. A codependent might also display a need for appreciation and recognition and become hurt when others don’t recognize their efforts. They also fear rejection and being abandoned. They may lie and be dishonest about the user’s behavior in order to distance themselves from being blamed or held responsible for the bad behavior. They are compelled to control others and lack trust in others.
Therapists have designed specific questions to identify signs of codependency, however only a qualified professional can make a diagnosis. These questions include:
Do you neglect your needs to attend to another’s first?
Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?
Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?
Do you have trouble saying ‘no’ when asked for help?
Do you have trouble asking for help?
If you or someone in your family identifies with several of these characteristics, professional help may be necessary.
Codependency treatment usually includes education about what the condition is, what it means, and how it can develop. It is important to understand the course and cycle of drug or alcohol addiction and how it extends into the relationships in the family. The treatment includes individual or group therapy in which codependents can rediscover their needs and selves while identifying their dysfunctional behavior. In therapy, it is essential that the codependent acknowledges and embraces their feelings and needs that have been ignored.
Codependence in the family can be prevented if all family members are open and honest with each other. In the case of having a family member with a drug or alcohol addiction, it’s especially important to avoid the development of a dysfunctional family situation. It is important to acknowledge if a problem exists and discuss how to best handle it as a family. Communication within the family is key, as it establishes a strong support base for each family member and creates a healthy dynamic for the family as a whole. Together, the family can face its challenges, move forward in the recovery process, and live a healthy, fulfilling life.
Recoveryconnection. “Top Ten Indicators That You Suffer from Codependency.” Recovery Connection. Lakeview Health, 27 Apr. 2016. Web. 09 Jan. 2017.
Rosenberg, Ross. “The History of the Term.” Psych Central.com. PsychCentral.com, 21 Nov. 2013. Web. 09 Jan. 2017.
Wegscheider-Cruse, Sharon. Co-dependency, an Emerging Issue: A Book of Readings Reprinted from Focus on Family and Chemical Dependency. Pompano Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc, 1984. Print.