The Codependency-Substance Abuse Connection

Edited by Living Sober

Last updated March 29, 2013

Co-dependent behaviors and relationships are not always obvious, and they’re more common that one might think.  We’ve all known people at some point in our lives who constantly put others before themselves.   While many of us praise the selflessness of these individuals, the reality is that constantly putting others before oneself, even to the point of self-neglect, is not good for anyone.

Co-dependency can be especially damaging in relationships where a parent enables a child to continue drinking or doing drugs by unknowingly supporting their behavior.  This can play out in numerous ways—the parent may give the user a place to live or make excuses for the user’s substance abuse, for example.

Co-Dependents Anonymous has outlined five pattern areas and specific behaviors within each area that are indicative of co-dependency.  They include:

  • Denial Patterns- Perceiving oneself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others, for example.
  • Low Self-Esteem Patterns- Embarrassment at receiving praise, recognition or gifts, for example.
  • Avoidance Patterns- Judging others harshly for what they do, say or think, for example.
  • Control Patterns- Believing others are incapable of taking care of themselves or attempting to convince others of what they should think and feel, for example.
  • Compliance Patterns- Compromising one’s own values to avoid rejection, for example.

There are many additional behaviors that fall into each of these five patterns.  Many of us may even find that we have a few co-dependent behaviors.  It becomes problematic when a person makes constant sacrifices for others to their own detriment in order to find approval and love.  A co-dependent parent may say they can’t or won’t draw a line in the sand with the user (by kicking them out of the house, for example) because the user could end up seriously injured or dead as a result.  The parent may feel they are protecting their son or daughter by keeping them “safe” at home.  But enabling the user’s behavior will only encourage the user to keep using.

Co-dependency is so damaging because it doesn’t allow healthy relationships to flourish.  In order for people to truly give of themselves, their needs must be met as well, which means breaking co-dependent behaviors.

Northbound Treatment Services incorporates a family program at its state-of-the-art drug and alcohol treatment center to help families learn how to break co-dependent behaviors.  To read more about the program and all of our treatment options, click here.

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