Codependency is not a diagnosable mental health condition, but it is an issue that therapists often see in the lives of their patients.
It is also an issue that is frequently linked to substance abuse and addiction.
Codependent personality disorder usually has its origins in childhood experiences, as does substance abuse.
Together these two problems feed on each other and can severely hamper a person’s ability to live a normal and happy life.
What Is Codependency Disorder?
Codependency, or codependent personality disorder, is a psychological condition that is not recognized officially. This means that definitions can vary, as can the severity of the condition from one individual to the next. Experts who see this condition at work in patients would say that someone who is codependent requires another person or people in order to have a sense of self-worth.
This need for external validation manifests in several ways. People who are codependent rely heavily on another person, worry more about other people’s needs, put others ahead of themselves, and may even show signs of being obsessive about another person. When an important relationship ends for a codependent, it’s devastating. Criticism from someone can also be abnormally devastating.
Codependency and Substance Abuse
The first recognized cases of codependency were in the wives of alcoholics. Therapists treating alcoholic men decades ago realized that their wives were often enabling their husbands’ habits. They relied heavily on their alcoholic spouses and took a sense of self-worth from that relationship. The wives also showed signs of addiction with respect to their spouses. Codependency in the wives of addicts led to the very important development of support groups for spouses of addicts. Therapists realized early on that it wasn’t just the addicts that needed help.
Codependency, Trauma and Addiction
The roots of codependency in many people go back to childhood and traumatic experiences. Many codependents had bad experiences as kids. This could include physical or sexual abuse, emotional abuse, parental neglect, or having parents addicted to drugs or alcohol. Sometimes the origins of codependency are from later in life, perhaps from an abusive adult relationship, for instance.
Trauma affects addiction as well. Traumatic incidents often lead people to abuse substances to cope with the negative feelings associated with these experiences. It is not unusual for someone who is codependent to also abuse substances or to be drawn into a relationship with an addict. Sometimes the two people in a relationship feed off each other’s issues. One is an addict and one is codependent and the cycle of their destructive behaviors continues until something drastic happens or they decide to get help.
Codependency, while not an official psychiatric disorder, is a pattern of behaviors that can be terribly destructive. Together with addiction, which can be even more destructive and devastating, codependency can ruin relationships and keep someone from living a normal life. If you recognize any signs of codependency in your relationships be sure to seek help from a qualified and experienced professional.