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Codependency has increasingly become a focus of addiction treatment as rehabilitation facilities continually work to address the family issues that contribute to addiction.

Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. The disorder was discovered as a result of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics. Codependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behavior. It happens when clear boundaries about where you start and where your partner, family member or friend ends are not clearly defined. Many people find themselves repeating the same unhealthy relationship patterns despite their best intentions.

Originally, codependency was a term used to describe partners sharing chemical dependency or persons living with or in a relationship with an addicted person. Recently, the term has broadened to describe any codependent person from any dysfunctional family.

Codependency – Is It a Family Affair?

A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame that is ignored or denied. Dysfunctional families do not acknowledge that problems exist. They don’t talk about them or confront them. As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs. They develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions. They detach themselves. The identity and emotional development of the members of a dysfunctional family are often inhibited.

Codependency can often form from early childhood issues. At birth, we are completely dependent on our parents for food, safety, and warmth. From that dependence, attachments are made to our parents and our development begins. Through that attachment and development, children often adopt the behaviors and vulnerabilities of their parents. A child is forced in to a caretaker role when a parent is unreliable or unavailable – often due to substance abuse. They learn from a young age to put their parents needs before their own. These traits are then carried on through adolescence and into adulthood and lead to codependent relationships.

Behaviors of Codependent People

Co-dependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to be themselves. Some try to feel better through alcohol or drugs and often become addicted. Others may develop compulsive behaviors like work-alcoholism or gambling. They try to take care of a person who is experiencing difficulty, but the caretaking becomes compulsive and defeating. The problem is that these repeated rescue attempts allow the needy individual to continue on a destructive course and to become even more dependent on the unhealthy caretaking.

Unresolved or untreated codependency may lead to serious problems, including drug addiction, alcoholism, and eating disorders. People struggling with codependency are less likely to seek needed medical attention and more likely to remain in stressful or abusive relationships and unhealthy situations. Left untreated, codependent behaviors can develop into social anxiety and stress-related disorders such as depression, ulcers, high blood pressure, headaches, respiratory issues, and cardiovascular problems.

Characteristics of Codependent People

People with codependent behaviors often have the following symptoms:

  • Low self-esteem and a need for perfection
  • Overly valuing other people’s approval of your thinking, feelings, and behavior
  • Feeling embarrassed by or unworthy of receiving recognition or praise
  • A need to control situation, people, and their feelings
  • Difficulty creating healthy boundaries
  • An inability to identify or ask for what you need and want
  • A need to make other people happy
  • Negative emotions such as depression, resentment, and despair
  • Compromising your own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger


Codependency and Addiction

Codependency and addiction are often closely related, according to published data. People with a drug or alcohol addiction often have a range of problems stemming from their addiction. The codependent partner does what they can to support the addict through those problems. There may be some effort to help the addict become sober, but ultimately the codependent ends up being an enabler for the addict. They often help the addict engage in their substance abuse, clean up and cover for them. They may even provide financial support for the addict’s substance abuse.

Typically, codependent relationships are not established in manipulative ways; the enabler often believes they are acting out of love. But the harsh reality is that their own needs are driving their behavior. The codependent person may be attempting to control the other person, determine their fate or give them a reason to return. The enabler is likely to become depressed over time because it’s exhausting to constantly care for someone else’s needs to satisfy their own.

While a person addicted to drugs or alcohol is completing treatment, often the partner left behind. The codependent receives no help. This is difficult, not only for the addict but also the codependent. Without assistance and support, the codependent cannot begin to change their distorted way of thinking and increases the addict’s risk of relapse after treatment.

Codependency recovery is a process, just as overcoming addiction is a process. The codependent person wades through denial, survival tactics and unhealthy coping mechanisms developed over time. Codependents often have an addiction to one or more substances or behaviors. These are often means of coping with pressures and stresses of living with an addict.

Treatment for Codependency

When addiction exists, treatment for the addicted person is usually the best course to stop substance abuse and repair the challenging relationship. Treatment often occurs when the addict has some form of crisis and is forced to make major life changes. In some cases, this can be complicated because the codependent partner does not see the harm their behavior causes. In fact, they view their actions as helping their partner and do so as an expression of their love. The challenge in treatment is to objectively look at the behaviors of the codependent and how they affect the health, happiness, and well-being of their partner in all aspects of their life.

Treatment can be in the form of individual or couples therapy, depending on the needs of both people. Because co-dependency is usually rooted in a person’s childhood, treatment often involves exploration into early childhood issues and their relationship to current destructive behavior patterns. Treatment allows the codependent to rediscover themselves and identify self-defeating behavior patterns.

Goals of Treatment

According to Models and Interventions of Codependency Treatment, Systematic Review, proper treatment for a codependent person can lead to:

  • Increased self-confidence
  • Improved coping skills
  • Enhanced decision-making
  • Improved communication skills
  • Reduced anxiety, stress, heavy reliance, and depression
  • Increased self-esteem

Benefit of Holistic Treatment

Holistic rehab programs utilize an integrated physical, mental, and spiritual model for treatment to teach participants how to heal the whole self and restore the mind-body-spirit connection. Types of holistic treatment include:

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Reiki

The key similarity between different holistic approaches is that they are all intended to treat the whole person rather than only a single element of an individual’s symptoms or behaviors. The goal is to address the underlying reasons that led to the destructive behavior in the first place.

By working to heal the whole self, holistic treatment causes you to become more centered with and in tune with yourself and your needs. The different methodologies work together to help reduce stress and anxiety – allowing you to further focus on your recovery – which in turn helps to increase self-confidence and improve self-esteem.

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