Codependency is a complex and very common struggle faced by recovering addicts/alcoholics and their families. Codependent patterns can cause disruption in relationships, decrease self-esteem, contribute to enabling behaviors, and often breed resentments. If left unaddressed, codependency can increase the chance of relapse.
While treatment at Northbound focuses on addiction, we recognize that unhealthy relationship patterns (such as codependency) must be attended to in order to maximize chances for long-term recovery. Treatment for codependency and other relationship issues are integrated throughout Northbound’s codependency treatment programs in Orange County, and provide individuals with the insights, tools, and guidance to develop healthy, lasting relationships and bolster their recovery.
What is Codependency?
Codependency describes a set of learned behaviors that are typified by over-focused on another’s thoughts, feelings, preferences, and well-being over our own. Many people, both those within family systems impacted by addiction and those with no substance abuse issues, struggle with codependency.
It is important to understand that while codependent patterns can have a highly negative impact on an individual, their family, and their recovery, codependency typically stems from a place of love, not malice. From a strengths-based perspective, codependency can be thought of as “over-loving” – becoming so invested in another person’s reality that we neglect our own, fail to maintain healthy boundaries, and experience a loss of self in the process.
At its extreme, codependency can enhance chances for abuse within a relationship, can intensify depression and other mental health concerns, and can hinder the likelihood of a sustained recovery.
Codependency therapy in Orange County centers on assisting the individual and family in establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries, teaching and implementing effective communication techniques, fostering self-esteem not predicated on validation from others, and exploring and addressing the core issues that have lead to the development of the codependent patterns.
Codependency is built over a lifetime, but with effort and quality interventions, these harmful patterns can shift and healthy, lasting relationships can flourish.
What Causes Codependency?
When looking at what causes codependency, it is important to understand that it exists on a spectrum. We all have, at one point or another, experienced some of the symptoms of codependency. For some, these symptoms are minimal and do not cause great distress. For others, codependency blossoms into a problematic or even debilitating issue.
There are many factors that can contribute to codependency. Growing up in a family where communication is poor, or where there are unspoken rules governing emotional experience and expression such as “we don’t talk about our feelings” or even “we don’t feel” certainly enhances the chance for codependent patterns to develop. Experiences of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse are also risk factors.
The term “codependent” originally came from examining families with alcoholism – the alcoholic was the “dependent” and those in close relationships were the “co-dependents” – one of the most common factors increasing the likelihood for codependency is being a part of a family where substance use disorders are present. There are also many for whom none of these risk factors are at play, but who do fall into codependent cycles.
What are Behaviors, Characteristics, and Signs That Someone is Co-Dependent?
The behaviors, characteristics, and signs that someone is co-dependent vary from person to person. What these relationships share is a lack of balance between involved parties and difficulty with communication and emotions. Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), breaks codependency down into several areas: denial, low self-esteem, compliance, control, and avoidance. Within each of these areas, there are numerous behaviors and characteristics that may indicate a codependent relationship. Some behaviors include:
• A need for approval from others to validate one’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors
• Denial of one’s own feelings, or inability to recognize these feelings
• Always doing what others want despite one’s own interests or needs
• Taking care of someone else’s needs even when one can do it themselves
• Giving others gifts or favors to win them over or please them
• Avoiding intimacy, whether it’s physical, emotional, or sexual
• Accepting others’ criticisms and believing they are deserved
• Avoiding conflict and confrontation
A person who is submissive in a codependent relationship often feels they are not good enough, that they are responsible for others’ problems, has trouble saying no, and gives up who they are to please others.
A person who is dominant in a codependent relationship feels the need to have control. They tell others what to do or take on the role of the ultimate caretaker.
Both types of individuals have trouble expressing their feelings, confronting problems in a healthy way, and connecting with others in a mutually beneficial manner.
The Connection Between Codependency and Addiction
One of the issues that can arise from or be exacerbated by codependency is addiction. Individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with their emotions. Substance use may be used to help them relax, forget about their problems or cope with the stress within their unbalanced relationships. The family system may struggle to differentiate between healthy support and detrimental enabling behaviors, which can also intensify the substance use issues.
This happens largely because family and friends of addicts and alcoholics often want nothing more than to help their loved ones and to prevent them from suffering. These efforts to “help” can look like extending excessive financial support, making excuses for poor behavior, covering up mistakes, and not setting or holding limits – all codependent behavior choices.
While these choices may seem like the loving thing to do at the time, when seen in the context of addiction, these well-intentioned family members end up preventing their loved ones from experiencing the natural and logical consequences of their addiction and thus extend the life and severity of the addiction itself. This type of (largely unintentional) collusion with addiction is termed “enabling” – the behaviors of loved ones that enable an addiction to fester and grow.
Codependency Therapy and Treatment Options
Treating codependency is a complex and long-term process. Individuals and families are guided in identifying root causes beneath codependency and developing healthy habits to replace problematic patterns. While all effective treatment is individualized to meet the unique needs of the client when treating codependency.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is often utilized to identify and reshape maladaptive thinking patterns and beliefs that underpin codependent behaviors. Interpersonal work on improving communication, intrapersonal work on building self-esteem, and family therapy are all often indicated as well.
If a substance use disorder is involved, concurrent treatment for drug addiction or alcoholism is imperative. Active substance use disorders serve as a distraction and a crutch and disempower an individual or family from doing the deep work required to heal codependency. Understanding the relation between codependency and addiction provides both valuable insights for sustainable healing. Treatment is readily available to help you and loved ones rebuild your relationship.
Get Treatment for Codependency at Northbound
Codependency and addiction are not conditions that need to control your life or set limits on your future. Both are treatable at Northbound, where we help you develop a healthier lifestyle and become the best version of yourself. If you or someone you love is struggling with codependency or addiction, contact Northbound today to turn your life around.