The term “codependency” is one with a debatable meaning in psychology. Official guides, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, do not recognize codependent personality disorder, but in many practical ways it does exist.
Look beyond the debate, if you have a loved one suffering from alcohol or substance abuse. Because when codependency and addiction align, it’s especially dangerous.
What Is Codependent Disorder?
Sometimes codependency is referred to as simply being a part of a dysfunctional relationship or family. It applies to many, many people. Originally, codependency referred to alcoholics and partners who cope by caring for and enabling the addict.
Codependency in the partner or spouse (or even child or parent) of an addict is characterized by several traits. The codependent person typically has low self-esteem. He or she feels a need to be a caretaker and always wants to please people. Codependents have a hard time with personal boundaries and react with great sensitivity to what other people say or feel about them. Codependents feel a strong need to be in control, they obsess about other people and their relationships. And, as the term suggests, they depend on others for their sense of self-worth.
Codependency and Addiction
Codependency is a common reaction to loving a drug addict or alcoholic. The codependent often feels responsible for the addict’s problem. He or she wants to take care of their loved one and make sure they’re always happy. This particular trait of codependency is dangerous in relation to addiction. It means that the codependent enables the addict, which is not healthy for either person. And it makes it harder for the substance-abuser to admit to having a problem and to get help. Both people in a codependent relationship are in denial about the addiction.
A codependent in a relationship with an addict responds to the stress of addiction by trying to take control. Being in control makes the codependent feel safe in the face of the uncertainty of addiction. He or she may be bossy and take charge in most situations, because it gives a sense of control that is otherwise lacking. Codependents also rely on addicts to fulfill their emotional needs, for a sense of self-worth and for the need to care for someone.
Codependency by itself is an unhealthy aspect of many relationships. When combined with addiction, it takes on even greater significance and risk.