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Addiction and Codependency | A Recipe for Disaster

Addiction and codependency go hand in hand.

We’ve all heard of codependency. These days, like narcissism, codependency is a term many people throw around without knowing what it means exactly.

This condition is somewhat of a mental and emotional disorder where a person (who lacks a feeling of wholeness) depends on other people around them to meet their physical and emotional (or spiritual) needs.

Are you addicted to drugs or know someone that is? Chances are that if you’re reading this blog that you fit into one of these two categories.

An addict (someone with a substance abuse problem) is usually extremely codependent. In active addiction, a person depends heavily on the people around them that seem to have it all “figured out.”

For example, they may live in their mothers’ basements or the little room in a grandparents’ or aunt and uncle’s house.

Free rent at a house with running water AND electricity?! That’s every addict’s dream.

Family members often enable an addict’s behavior by giving them food, shelter, money, and taking care of their kids.

This allows the addict to stay in their addiction indefinitely. That’s why there are interventions; family members don’t know how to cut the ties of codependency between them and their loved one who abuses substances.

But codependency doesn’t just affect an addict while using; sometimes their codependent behavior gets worse when they get sober.

Other addictions such as love or sex addiction include severe codependent behaviors. So let’s jump in (I’ll jump if you do!)

That was supposed to be a codependent joke… anywho!

What Is Codependency Exactly?

Codependency is a condition that is mental, emotional, and of course behavioral. It deeply affects relationships and keeps them from being healthy and satisfying to everyone involved.

These one-sided relationships are the breeding ground for destruction and emotional as well as physical abuse. When you combine addiction and codependency, you have a recipe for disaster.

So let’s look at the classic model for codependency; the manipulator, and of course the enabler or enablers.

Addicts take the role of the manipulator and use it to their advantage to get whatever they want (much like a baby who’s crying for their bottle). The manipulator will do anything that they think will (usually emotionally) affect the other person.

Here’s an example of a scenario the manipulator may try create:

“You were horrible parents!”

An easy way to go after a parent is to tell them how they royally fucked up the son or daughter’s life. By rehashing the past, the addict will shift all the blame and responsibility of their addiction to their parents.

“Well I wouldn’t have become a drug addict if you hadn’t sent me to that awful school” or “You and dad got a divorce, and I’ve never been the same since. The heroin is the only thing that takes the pain away.”

These are events in the past and don’t excuse an addict’s current behavior. As insensitive as it may sound, even someone who suffered severe trauma as a child can’t blame their current addiction and codependency on these types of events.

No doubt, severe trauma puts a person at high risk for developing a substance abuse problem, but there are plenty of people who have experienced horrible things as a child or an adult that don’t become drug addicts. 

At any rate, the manipulator will do whatever it takes to take emotional “hostages” so that the enabler will feel so bad about themselves that they will comply with whatever the manipulator wishes.

Enabling Makes Addiction Worse

Enablers such as family members think they are helping by bailing their addicted loved ones out from the severe consequences of addiction. It’s hard to let a person you care about sleep on the street when it’s freezing outside.

However, the enable is keeping the addict from reaching their bottom. This feeds into the addicts’ delusion that they don’t have a problem and are managing their lives somewhat successfully.

In this way, what seems to be helpful actually is the opposite. Enabling behavior can literally contribute to an addict’s death.

That’s why addiction is called a family disease. Everyone plays a part, and the enablers need recovery just as much or more than the addict. Al-Anon is available for people who love addicts. These people can get sponsors and work the 12 steps.

By going to meetings and fellowshipping with people in similar situations, al-anons (as they are sometimes referred to as) can learn how to establish healthy boundaries and stick to their bottom lines

Why Are Addiction and Codependency So Often Found Together?

Codependent people lack self-worth and struggle with having a personal identity. Meeting people and making friends is usually stifled by severe social anxiety. Addicts struggle with “being themselves” and they tend to feel like they “don’t belong” in any group of people.

Well, this makes using drugs (even alcohol) very enticing. I know that in high school I had severe social anxiety, so as soon as I got introduced to alcohol and marijuana, I was off to the races.

All of a sudden I became a “smooth operator” and could manage situations such as talking to the cool kids with ease.

I desperately needed to belong to a group of people, so I started doing more and more drugs as my associates became dealers and other addicts that used like I did… all the time!

When it comes to addiction and codependency, addicts can even have a codependent relationship with the substances they abuse.

When an addict gets separated from the drugs, they don’t just go through physical withdrawal—they go through a mental and an emotional withdrawal.

Mourning the end of this toxic relationship, many addicts quickly turn to people to fill the missing hole, which sometimes turns into sex and love addiction.

Sex / Love Addiction and Codependency

When you combine poor self-esteem with an identity crisis, it’s no wonder a codependent addict usually jumps from one romantic relationship to another. Sex and love addiction is a real thing, and some of its characteristics include:

  • Becoming emotionally attached to someone without even knowing the person
  • In an attempt to not feel alone, returning to or staying in toxic and sometimes abusive relationships
  • Having sex and feeling “in love” are confused with nurturing care and support from another
  • Idealizing a person one minute and hating them when they fail to meet the addict’s needs

Rehab romance happens all too often. Sex and even flirting releases dopamine, which is the closest thing an addict can get to the feeling of euphoria they get while using.

Sexual and romantic relationships between addicts in early sobriety are often extremely toxic and distract them from their recovery. This can lead to relapse. In this way, rehab romance actually has the power to kill.

Addicts need time to get to know themselves and become comfortable in their own skin, and this usually requires staying single (if they aren’t in a committed relationship) for this process to take place.

Getting Help for Addiction and Codependency

Addiction and codependency must be treated simultaneously for the best possible outcome for the sufferer. Once a person has gone through the physical withdrawal from drugs and/or alcohol, the underlying conditions must be addressed and treated. 

Going inpatient somewhere allows the addict to benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, group counseling, recovery lectures, and introduction to 12-step meetings for both substance abuse and codependency.

Let Us Know How We Can Help

Are you or someone you know struggling with addiction and codependency? If so, I hope that reading this was helpful, and as always, we would love to hear from you!

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John Norris
John Norris
2 months ago

Thank you. This is very insightful and helpful.

Adam Fout
Adam Fout (@adam)
2 months ago
Reply to  John Norris

Thank you for reading!

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Michael Palma

Michael Palma is a drug addict in recovery who is passionate about recovery and recently has taken to writing about his own experience, strength, and hope and hopes to share this with as many people in recovery as he can. He has been a professional jazz pianist for over 20 years. He has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Cobb (drummer for Miles Davis), Daniel Platzman (drummer for Imagine Dragons), Robert “Sput” Seawright (drummer for Snoop Dogg and Snarky Puppy), Greg Osby, and Terri Lynn Carrington to name a few.