However, some relationships can have the opposite effect, resulting in increased potential that the individual will either never get help or relapse even after receiving effective, research-based treatment.
Codependency is one of the relationship issues that can lead to these results. When a person is struggling with addiction or substance abuse, having a loved one who is codependent can make it more challenging to quit. In addition, the codependent individual can make it difficult to stick to the post-treatment plan, resulting in relapse and a return to destructive, drug-abusing behavior.
As described in an article from Psych Central, codependency defines a relationship in which one partner has extreme physical or emotional needs, and the other partner spends most of their time responding to those needs, often to the detriment of the codependent partner’s life, activities, and other relationships. Codependency can result in a difficult spiral in which the codependent partner cares for and enables the loved one’s challenges, making it easier for the loved one to maintain the challenging or destructive behaviors.
Symptoms of codependency include:
Codependency does not necessarily occur with drug abuse, but it was first recognized in relation to family members of people struggling with alcoholism, as explained by Mental Health America. Codependency is commonly found in those who have close relationships to people who struggle with addiction. It can manifest in multiple ways:
The codependent partner in the relationship is not necessarily a spouse. In fact, Psychology Today explains how to recognize codependent behavior in children. Often, children of people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol become codependent, especially when an addiction has gone so far that the child feels the need to take on a caretaker role with the parent.
When a person is in a codependent relationship with someone who is abusing drugs, both individuals may experience multiple negative effects and even risks based on the situation. For example, a study from the journal Science and Collective Health indicates that there can be serious implications not only to the family dynamics surrounding codependent relationships, but also to the health of the codependent individual. Some of these risks include:
Codependency generally results in the individual working so hard to care for the addicted loved one that the codependent individual’s needs are neglected, which can also result in poor health, low self-esteem, depression, and other mental and physical consequences.
As for the person struggling with substance abuse, the codependent relationship can also have severe consequences on the addiction itself as well as on potential treatment outcomes. First and foremost, the codependent relationship serves as an enabling influence in the person’s life. The codependent person may want to help their loved one, but at the same time, they may subconsciously fear that the other person won’t need the codependent person any more if the addiction is resolved. This tends to thwart any truly effective attempts to get help, leaving the loved one continuing to struggle with addiction and with the physical and mental health risks it creates.
A study from the International Journal of Culture and Mental Health states that this factor can also be a risk if treatment is undertaken. Because the codependent partner feels dependent on the addiction to maintain the relationship, returning to the relationship as usual after treatment can actually increase the risk of relapse for the addicted partner. For this reason, codependence should be considered as part of the individual’s treatment plan when the person enters a rehab program.
Because of the issues described above, when a person who is struggling with addiction is also in a codependent relationship, this should be taken into account for treatment. There are elements of research-based treatment programs that can help both partners in the codependent relationship; for example, a study from Substance Abuse and Misuse demonstrates that having addiction treatment professionals work with the addicted person’s family members to modify codependent behaviors can have lasting effects even after addiction treatment is completed.
In more severe cases of codependency, it can be helpful for the codependent partner to seek their own treatment program. Psychiatric professionals can provide behavioral and personal therapy to improve the codependent individual’s self-image and ability to set goals, define needs, and draw boundaries that make it possible to have a stronger sense of self-worth, deeper emotional intimacy, and healthier relationships.
As explained by Psych Central, some of the steps in beginning to draw healthy boundaries include:
By learning to establish boundaries, the codependent person and the drug-addicted person can learn how to create a healthier relationship, making it more likely that treatment will have a positive outcome for both partners.
When seeking help for substance abuse or addiction, a reputable, full-service treatment program can provide individualized treatment plans that can help with the challenges created by codependency. Through research-based methods, these plans can help the individual struggling with addiction to learn to navigate the obstacles that arise from codependency, creating a higher likelihood that the person will be able to maintain long-term recovery.
In addition, these types of programs can provide resources to help the codependent family member get control over codependency, learning not only to set boundaries and provide healthy support for the addicted partner, but also to improve self-esteem and healthy relationship values.