For someone with a substance use disorder their addiction patterns and drug-seeking behavior can become ingrained in the relationship with their loved ones. Arguments, domestic violence, and cycles of breaking up and reuniting can become familiar patterns within the relationship. Boundary issues can lead to one or both parties feeling exploited or manipulated. When these symptoms are present in the relationship dynamic, it can that there is a problem of co-dependency.
Co-dependency may mean different things to different people, but it indicates an unbalanced, unhealthy relationship that encourages problem behaviors in both parties. Treating co-dependency in addiction treatment helps people recognize harmful patterns in their relationships. They learn about healthy boundaries, saying no, and avoiding relationships that put their sobriety at risk.
What is Co-Dependency?
Co-dependency is not a clinical diagnosis but a type of relationship or behavioral pattern. It occurs more often when one or more of these factors are present in the home:
While the word “co-dependence” sounds like two people depend on each other, this destructive pattern involves more harm than good, even if one or both parties think they’re helping.
For example, a spouse with a substance use disorder may rely on their partner to handle life’s essential tasks and help take care of them. The other partner may keep going in this situation because they think no one else will love them, that they have a responsibility to take care of their partner, or that they cannot abandon someone who needs them.
Co-dependency can also be seen in children of parents with substance use disorders. The parent-child pattern of care and responsibility breaks down, and the child begins to feel responsible for the parent and tries to take care of them. At the same time, the child has started to develop a lifetime of unhealthy relationship patterns.
Co-Dependency and Addiction
Unhealthy boundaries often plague families dealing with addiction. People with a substance use disorder may do things their loved ones know they would not do when sober. They may ask for money, lie about why they need it, steal money or items, and manipulate others to help support their habit.
The personality changes that can accompany addiction may shock family members or spouses, leaving them struggling to reconnect with the person they feel like they used to know.
Because people with addiction focus so entirely on their drug-seeking behaviors, they may manipulate or take advantage of the love their family still has for them.
People at the most significant risk for being pulled into a co-dependent relationship with someone struggling with a substance use disorder include those who:
For a person with a substance use disorder, these behaviors make loved ones less likely to leave them or force them to seek help. If the loved one does bring this up, the addicted person may become angry, guilt trip their loved one, or criticize their loved one for their own flaws.
For family members of a person with substance use disorder, emotions may range from anger and frustration to grief and guilt. Co-dependency in addiction often affects an entire family as each person struggles to cope with their loved ones’ behaviors. As the co-dependent loved one continues to offer support, this also allows the person to continue their harmful behaviors without changing them.
Co-Dependency in Residential Treatment
During treatment at Everlast Recovery Centers, clients with substance use disorders will learn about healthy relationships, how to set solid and appropriate boundaries, and accept others’ boundaries. They will also confront the ways their behavior has harmed loved ones in the past and, most important, how to keep from repeating those mistakes.
Some people find help in group therapy, where they learn that the patterns of co-dependency happened in many families other than their own or that others deal with the same problem.
Addressing family and relationship issues in residential treatment can initiate some uncomfortable conversations. However, because co-dependent behaviors happen in so many relationships, many people may feel relieved to discover that they have company. Other treatment modalities that help with the process of healing co-dependent relationships include family therapy and one-on-one talk therapy.
Treatment for co-dependency takes time. People have often been developing parts of this pattern in past relationships or their own families for long periods of time. For many people suffering from addiction, residential treatment may be the first time they learn about co-dependency and how to move forward in their relationships. Let Everlast Recovery Centers walk you through this journey and learn how to heal.