Co-dependency is a common condition that occurs to family members of those with addiction. It causes these individuals to develop their own dependency but instead of being addicted to a chemical substance, they are instead dependent on the addict and begin to revolve their life around the individual. But how does co-dependency occur? To understand why family members develop this condition, it is important to look at addiction first and how it impacts on the lives of those around the addict. In this way you will understand if you or a loved one suffer from co-dependency themselves.
Most people think of substances such as illegal drugs when they hear the word “addiction”, and many believe it to be a lifestyle choice rather than an illness. An addiction is a pattern of behaviour that interferes with the affected individual’s everyday life. So, while abuse of illegal drugs can lead to addiction, so too can abuse of other substances such as alcohol, prescription medication, and even behaviours such as gambling, shopping, and sex.
It is important to remember that nobody chooses to become an addict; it is an illness and not something that affects “those with no willpower”. Most people also believe that addicts have a choice in whether they take a particular substance or engage in a specific activity, but this is not the case.
It stands to reason that someone would stop doing something that is obviously causing harm to his or her own life or to the lives of those around them, but when it comes to addiction, this rarely happens. Most of those with addiction are unable to see the harm their actions are causing, and those that are aware are unable to resist their urges regardless.
It is often difficult to appreciate how the actions of one person can have a knock-on effect on those around them. When one member of the family develops an addiction, every other member will be affected in some way.
Each member of the family will typically react in a different way. Some will practice denial and will refuse to accept that their loved one could possibly haven an addiction. The negative stereotyping of addiction has led most people to believe that addiction is something to be ashamed of. They believe that it is a consequence of poor decision making and that those affected are weak or bad. Family members who practice denial will often rather pretend that nothing is happening than admit there is a problem.
Others will be spurred into action and will try their best to help or ‘fix’ their addicted loved one. They will believe that they can reason with their family member to get them to stop using drugs or alcohol. They fail to realise that their loved one has changed and is no longer thinking clearly. After many broken promises and conversations that seem to fall on deaf ears, these loved ones may give up in frustration. They will check out and try to get back to their own lives.
Then there are those who become co-dependent. They will become so obsessed with helping their loved one that they will change their own behaviour in response.
When a family member’s life begins to revolve around that of the addict, he or she can be said to be co-dependent. Trying to cope with the stress of living with the unpredictable and chaotic behaviour of an addict can take its toll, and many family members react by changing how they themselves behave. Their every thought and action revolves around the addict to the point where their everyday lives are severely affected. Below are a few ways in which co-dependent family members act:
Some family members will withdraw from their own social lives because they will not want to discuss their addicted loved one or because they fear the addict will cause a scene. This is particularly true for the partners or spouses of addicts who will prefer not to attend any type of social gathering for fear their addicted loved one will be under the influence of either drugs or alcohol and will embarrass them.
Children of addicted parents also tend to withdraw into themselves. They will avoid making friendships in school so that they do not have to bring anyone home. They would rather isolate themselves from others than have anyone discover that their parent has an addiction.
Shame and embarrassment often cause family members to lie and cover up for their addicted loved one. They will phone the addict’s employer, for example, and pretend that he or she is unwell, knowing full well that this person is under the influence of a chemical substance or recovering from it. They will make excuses to other extended family members as to why the addict cannot attend a family gathering or other such event.
Covering up for an addict can mean that the harm caused by it is also covered up. Family members will supress any pain or hurt that they are feeling, and although these feelings will be getting more intense as time goes by, they will be kept quiet.
Co-dependent family members often try to control their addicted loved one. They may take steps to try to stop him or her from using alcohol or drugs, which can result in arguments and plenty of shouting. It almost always ends with the addict reverting to substance use.
Trying to find reasons as to why the addict is using alcohol or drugs is another common characteristic of the co-dependent family member. They may say that it is the individual’s job or their friends that have led to this out-of-character behaviour.
Family members often get to a point where they will start to blame themselves for the addict’s behaviour. Some believe that they should have done more to prevent their addicted loved one from heading down this path. Maybe it was because they were working all the time or that they did not show the addict enough attention. Some will blame another family member believing that this person caused the addiction by giving in to the addict so much.
Whatever form co-dependency takes, it does no good for anyone involved. In fact, it can be quite harmful because as long as family members are covering up and enabling the addict, he or she will be reluctant to change.
The addict is not forced to take any responsibility for his or her actions, while everything is being brushed under the carpet. As long as the harm and damage that is being caused by the addiction is kept under wraps, there is no onus on the addict to get help.
Other family members will also be affected, particularly children who may be upset and confused about what is going on. They will realise that something is not quite right because the addict’s behaviour has changed dramatically but so too has the co-dependent family member.
The longer things are left this way, the further down the path of addiction the affected individual will fall and the worse the situation will become for the entire family.
The impact of addiction is felt far and wide, but it is felt deepest at the heart of the family unit. While those who abuse drugs and alcohol are at risk of developing many health problems, there is also a negative impact on relationships with family members. Without treatment, once healthy relationships can be destroyed, and sometimes they are damaged beyond repair.
As an addiction progresses, the individual will need more drugs and more alcohol to achieve the feelings he or she desires. This means that more money will be required to fund the addiction, and this can leave many families struggling to get by.
Financial struggles are part and parcel of addiction, but it is usually the family that bears the brunt of this situation. The addict is unable to think clearly or see the extent of the damage that his or her actions is causing. To them, all that matters is the drug or alcohol that they crave, and they will spend any available money they can get their hands on in order to feed their habit. Unfortunately, this attitude often leaves their family in dire financial straits.
For more information on co-dependency rehabilitation, please call us on 0203 553 9263