Today, an estimated 18.5 million Americans struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. That means 1 in 20 Americans is expected to have a drug or alcohol addiction at any given time. And, if 4.9% of the U.S. population has a drug or alcohol use disorder, it makes sense that nearly that many of us would be in relationships with, married to, and dating those persons with substance use disorders. And for those of us who do, it’s often very natural to slip into the role of caretaker. After all, you love them. You want the best for them. And, without your help, they’d often fall. You might lose your house, them their career, or some other tangible or non-tangible asset like reputation or how someone they care about sees them.
The thing is, for some of us, that natural extension of taking care of someone evolves into an equally insidious disorder. You become so invested in taking care of your loved one that you don’t know who you are without taking care of them. You might feel hostile to them getting treatment because it might mean losing them. And you might even enable them – on purpose – because it means maintaining the relationship where you are the caretaker.
This disorder is known as codependency, and for many of us, it goes from taking care of someone to an out-of-control behavioral addiction while we’re not even looking. And, when it comes time to stop or to get your loved one into help, that can prove very difficult.
Symptoms of Codependency
Codependency can have many symptoms. Eventually, the only real way to say you’re codependent is that you’re unable to stop engaging in patterns of behavior that contribute to your loved one’s substance use disorder. But, often, there are other symptoms which can be far less noticeable and far less visible even if you’re aware to be looking for them.
Low Self-Esteem – Codependency is usually the process of defining yourself as a caretaker, valuing yourself as someone who cares for someone else, and only doing so. That normally means you struggle to value yourself in other and healthier ways. Low self-esteem can originate from nearly anything. You might have a history of exposure to poor mental health habits, substance abuse, former abuse, emotional abuse, or have simply spent a long time with a substance abuser. The thing is, if you find that most of the reasons you value yourself stem from your ability as a caretaker or a provider or your ability to keep someone else going – you have mental health problems yourself and you should seek out help.
Enabling Your Addict – Enabling behavior is the process of taking part in activities that allow your loved one to continue using. If you care about someone, these kinds of behaviors can be difficult to avoid. E.g., you pay the rent so you don’t lose the house you share – but doing so allows your loved one to keep using without consequences. But, codependent persons can take this much further. You might actually buy them drugs or alcohol. You might drop them off to parties. You might lie to their boss or to their doctor. This kind of enabling behaviors is dangerous for you and for them – because it erodes your self-esteem while allowing your loved one to continue using.
You Deny Addiction – Most people are well aware that addicts often suffer from denial. Here, the addict lies to themselves to deny that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol. But, if you’re codependent, you can deny the problem to yourself. This ranges from simply ignoring and avoiding how much your loved one is actually using to more dangerous problems like blaming yourself. In fact, codependent people often take personal responsibility for their loved one’s problems. You might take a lot of emotional or even physical abuse if you think you’re responsible for the problem – which is one reason why many codependent people stay in even abusive relationships.
You’re Dependent – If your life is entirely dependent on your partner, you likely have a problem. But, if your life entirely centers around taking care of someone else – especially if they have a mental health disorder like a substance use disorder – that’s significantly worse. People with healthy relationships have their own hobbies, interests, and time to themselves. People with healthy relationships don’t structure their lives around someone else. That person should share your life, not be your life. And, that’s an important sign of codependency.
You Have No Boundaries – Codependent people often suffer from a problem of lacking boundaries – where you might not know how to say no, might not have any personal boundaries, and might take anything from your loved one. That can create significant anxiety and stress over simple things – like being separated from your loved one. This is medically known as enmeshment and is enough of a mental health problem on its own to necessitate behavioral therapy. If you’re struggling with this, you should seek out that help, because you deserve to have boundaries, to live comfortably without someone else, and to not have anxiety over someone else’s needs above your own.
Can You Be Codependent and Addicted?
For many partners of people using substances, it’s only natural to use those substances as well. Often, we take social cues from the people in our lives. And, not drinking or using can be significantly difficult if your partner frequently is. That’s one reason why codependency is often a comorbid or co-occurring disorder with alcohol use disorder. You spend your time and energy taking care of someone, while yourself developing an addiction – until both of you are addicted. That becomes even worse if you’re high functioning and can continue to meet obligations while they cannot.
If you or a loved one is struggling with any of the behaviors listed above, mental health treatment or comorbid behavioral health and substance abuse treatment might be in your best interest. If you’re unsure, you can always discuss your relationship with a therapist or your doctor. You can also seek out support from Co-Dependents Anonymous or Al-Anon if you want to talk to people in a more informal setting.
In either case, it’s important to assess your relationship, how you interact with your partner, and how you live your life around them. It’s okay to be in a relationship with someone struggling with drug or alcohol abuse. It’s okay to take care of them. But, if you find yourself in a position where you enable them, where your life revolves around them and their disorder, and where you constantly find yourself doubting yourself except in taking care of them, you have a problem.
Contact Us at Sheer Recovery at 1-888-979-7703 and speak with one of our experienced treatment team today in complete confidence about any questions you have on rehab, or about our Top-Rated Southern California Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center.
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