Despite the tremendous amount of attention codependency has received over the past few years, many people remain unaware how often individuals with an addiction are also codependent.
And, even for those who are aware of this connection between addiction and codependency, they often consider the relationship between codependency and addiction to be “hand-in-hand.”
But, in reality, the relationship between codependency and addiction is more akin to “hand-in-glove,” as for many addicts their codependency issues greatly predate their addictive behaviors.
The Manipulator and the Enabler
While not always accurate, codependency is often thought of in terms of two distinct relationship roles: the enabler and the manipulator (or taker).
It is not at all uncommon for the manipulators in a codependent relationship to have issues with alcohol, drugs, or other addictive substances or behaviors.
In these cases, the other partner in the codependent relationship – the enabler – becomes so caught up in his or her desire to please and fit in with the manipulator, he or she covers up the manipulator’s behavior, often even supporting the addiction (consciously or unconsciously) in order to keep the manipulator happy.
Now, to be sure, there are a variety of reasons or rationalizations for this behavior on the part of the enabler. Enablers may justify this in terms of acquiring drugs or alcohol on behalf of their partners so that their partners aren’t driving under the influence and putting themselves and others in harm’s way. Enablers may take part in the addiction because they see doing so as the only way to gain the attention of their partners. And so on… But, the real reason is due to how the enabling partners feel about themselves, their own lack of boundaries and self-esteem.
Another reason addiction and codependency are often linked in relationships is that many of the problems associated with addiction can only be managed – or, at least, only be managed relatively easily – through a codependent relationship.
Addicts often have difficulties staying employed, managing money, having successful interpersonal relationships with others, as well as engage in high-risk behaviors. Codependents typically end up helping their partners manage these issues and become the stability the addicts lack in themselves.
However, this very stability can easily add more friction to the relationship as the manipulating addict fights the control of the enabler, leading the enabler to even more controlling behaviors which the addict fights against, and so on, and so on, in what becomes a vicious circle.
Of course, the “real” reason codependency and addiction are so intertwined is that many if not all addicts are codependent themselves.
One of the defining traits of codependency is reacting to external rather than internal cues. Focusing one’s thinking and behavior on something outside of one’s self that one can’t possibly control.
Addicts’ lives revolve around their addictions, whether that addiction is to alcohol or drugs or work, or sex, or food.
Addicts are codependent, too!
All of this is why treatment for both addiction and codependency are often undertaken simultaneously.
Unfortunately, codependents (whether or not they’re also addicts) typically only seek help when faced with some sort of crisis, as codependents are usually in denial of their issues. And, while either partner can and should be encouraged to seek help on their own, the only way to salvage a codependent relationship and move forward together is if both partners engage in the process of getting professional help and creating change.
Are you, or is someone you know, codependent? Have you gotten help? What did it take for them or you to seek professional assistance? Do you have questions about the link between codependency and addiction? If so, what are they? Be sure to share your thoughts and questions using the comment section below so we can all learn from and help each other…