Few if any people overcome challenges in life without the helping hand of a friend, family member, or another support person. It is healthy and normal for people to lean on people in times of distress and moments of despair. Friends, family, and even coworkers can provide vital emotional support, motivation, advice, and help at critical crossroads in life.
Sometimes, though, relationships can have adverse effects on a person's well-being. Codependent relationships can result in the enablement of destructive behaviors like addiction and alcoholism.
One of the standard depictions of a codependent relationship is the marriage where the codependent wife takes care of the alcoholic husband (to his own detriment). That’s old news.
Today, we know that the codependent can be anyone regardless of age, sex, gender, job status, nationality, ethnicity, or any other demographic characteristic. It isn't old news that when there is a substance use disorder, there are often codependent people involved.
According to an article on Medical News Today, codependency is a cycle in which one person needs the other person, and that person needs to be and feel needed in return. This cycle can occur in romantic relationships, friendships, parent-child relationships, and many other relationship dynamics.
Many people might rely on or expect certain people that they have a relationship with to be present in their lives. For someone who is codependent, someone will experience an incredibly emotional, social, and/or physical dependence on another person. Frequently, the codependent person will make themselves tremendously busy taking care of the other person while simultaneously neglecting their own needs and wants.
Codependency is not an officially distinct personality disorder in the DSM-5, but it is a psychological issue that has symptoms that overlap with dependent personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and others.
To answer whether codependency is an addiction we need to first look at what an addiction is.
As defined in the DSM-5 (the American Psychiatric Association’s official manual for assessment and diagnosis of mental disorders), “Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life.”
The AMA is quite clear that addiction occurs when drug use causes obsessive behavior and destructive effects. But we should also remember that drug addiction and alcoholism took decades to be considered a disease according to the medical community.
A recent article in the medical journal, Quality of Life Research, describes codependency not as an addiction, but as a psychological characteristic that frequently occurs within families affected by substance use disorders. The core elements of codependency include:
When someone has been struggling with addiction, and a support system of different people help that person overcome their addiction, the addicted person is more likely to recover from their substance use disorder. These support systems can help someone improve their health, have a stable place to live and call “home,” develop of purpose for living, and build a community of positive, supportive relationships.
However, a person's alcohol or drug addiction does not mean someone else should have to suffer with them. It is natural and human to empathize and sympathize with the pain of someone stuck in the cycle of addiction, but it is also reasonable and healthy to not be codependent on "fixing" them.
There are 12-step communities and meetings called CoDA, whose sole purpose is to help people suffering from codependency. If you are worried about someone's drug or alcohol use, there are addiction treatment specialists who can provide additional resources and information to help someone recover from addiction. These health professionals can walk you through ways to take care of yourself, maintain healthy boundaries, and still help loved ones who are battling the addiction disease.
If you have a loved one struggling with addiction or are concerned you might be in a codependent relationship contact the professionals at Genesis Recovery for help.