Codependency is a term used to describe a double-sided relationship where one person controls and the other enables. This relationship can happen between any two people: a husband/wife, parent/child or siblings. In fact, sometimes this relationship can be seen in the family unit as a whole. A codependent relationship isn’t healthy to begin with, so when drugs or alcohol are involved, the relationship becomes even more destructive. The trouble is that many people don’t recognize that they are involved in a codependent relationship, and this allows the behavior to continue.
Enabling is NOT the Same as Helping
The biggest misconception that enablers have is that they are doing their loved one a favor. A wife may think that she is protecting her family by hiding her husband’s alcohol problem. A parent may downplay his child’s dependency by calling him into work and making excuses for missed appointments. As addiction takes its toll, the addict focuses more on themselves and getting their drug. They neglect their responsibilities, and this leaves the other person picking up the slack.
There are also high-risk behaviors to be concerned about, such as drinking and driving, stealing from loved ones, working under the influence or even taking care of children while drunk or high. Even though enablers think they are doing their family a favor, they are actually contributing to these high-risk actions and putting others in the way of danger.
It’s not a cakewalk for the enabler, either. Not only are they putting others at risk, but also themselves. It’s common to see the enabler obsessing about where their loved one is. They may go through great lengths to cover up lies, pay back money and make excuses for why their loved one is missing work, school or other important events. They become so involved in hiding the addiction, this becomes their reality.
Enabling is Often a Consequence of Addiction
It’s clear that codependent relationships are unhealthy. You have one person doing the controlling, and one person doing the enabling. The trouble is that the enabler often has other needs that are not being met, and this is what is driving the behavior. For example, some people who enable are actually unhappy with themselves and instead get satisfaction from taking care of others’ needs. They try to control other people in order to achieve this satisfaction.
It’s important not to generalize, though, as most people don’t enter a relationship with someone who is already addicted. Usually the relationship has already been established, and it’s hard to turn the other cheek when the abuse starts. It’s only natural to want to pick up the slack, especially when it comes to paying bills or taking care of children. Enabling then becomes a normal and understandable consequence of addiction. The important thing is that this behavior is recognized as being an unhelpful response so that it can be corrected.
Codependent Relationships Can Change, But Intervention is Needed
Codependent relationships can be changed for the better. In order to be effective, both people in the relationship need to work with a professional counselor. A family counselor will look at the family dynamic and understand where the behavior is coming from. When both people are able to work through their struggles, they can see their own contribution to the problem and work toward correcting it.
When an addiction is involved, it makes things more complicated. The relationship can’t repair itself fully until the addiction is treated. But, even if the addict refuses help, the enabler needs to realize that they can’t allow the behavior to continue. This is where family members need to take a step back and stop certain behaviors, such as making excuses or loaning money.
If you know someone that is in a codependent relationship, or think that you are in one yourself, it’s important to seek professional counseling immediately. People who live with an addict cannot sit idly by and allow this behavior to linger on. The addict could hurt someone else while drinking or driving, or send the family into homelessness because they spent all the money on drugs. For more information on getting the help your family needs, call The River Source at 866-770-1236.
Photo credit: Alexander Redmon