There are many people who assume that addiction is an illness that affects the individual in question only and that those who suffer from it have somehow chosen the life they are living. Some go as far as to say that addicts should be left to get on with their addictive behaviour – after all, they are only harming themselves. This is, very obviously, not the case.

Addiction is a far-reaching illness that affects many more people than just the person using the drugs or drinking the alcohol. Family members are particularly affected, and some of these may even go on to develop a condition known as co-dependency. So how does co-dependency develop? And what exactly is it? These are questions you may want an answer to; especially if someone you love is affected by addiction.

What Is Co-Dependency?

When someone you care about is affected by addiction, it is likely to have a profound impact on your life too. Family members tend to react in different ways when one member is struggling with addiction. Some will do everything in their power to try to ‘fix’ their loved one, begging and pleading with him or her to get help. Others might become angry or upset with the addict, even blaming him or her for the situation.

Then there are those who practice denial, hoping that by doing nothing the situation will resolve itself. It is often easier to deny a problem exists than to face up to it and having to deal with it.

Others become what is known as co-dependent. This means that they become so wrapped up in their addicted loved one that they start to neglect their own wellbeing. In effect, they develop their own dependency; only they are dependent on their addicted loved one and not a particular chemical substance.

While trying to cope with their addicted loved one’s behaviour, they will change their own behaviour and may start to become obsessed with the addict.

When Does Co-Dependency Start?

It is common for family members to ponder the question of ‘how does co-dependency develop’. Some family members feel a huge sense of responsibility to others, which can lead them to believe that they must do everything they can to change their addictive behaviour.

It may be that they are feeling guilty about the addiction and are blaming themselves and wondering if there was anything they could have done to prevent their addicted loved one from walking this path.

The issue of how does co-dependency develop can be difficult to comprehend as for some people it can be a natural progression and they do not even realise that they are changing their behaviour. They will start to sacrifice their own happiness and needs in order to take care of their addicted loved one.

How Can I Know If I Am Co-Dependent?

Co-dependency can take a number of different forms while those affected often suffer from low self-esteem as well. The co-dependent person’s intentions are usually good, but what often happens is that their need to take care of the addicted person will become compulsive and damaging.

Co-dependent individuals tend to cover up for the addict, which could entail lying to others so that they will not find out about the addictive behaviour. If you are suffering from co-dependency, you may, for example, be lying to other extended family members or friends so that they do not discover about your addicted loved one’s problems.

You might have phoned your loved one’s employer and said that he or she was ill and could not go to work when in fact, he or she was suffering the after-effects of too much alcohol or too many drugs.

Or maybe you have started to rationalise your addicted loved one’s behaviour to yourself and to others. You may be making excuses as to why he or she is acting in this way, and you could be blaming the addiction on a stressful job or other individuals that the addict has been socialising with. Some family members will blame themselves for the addiction. They might start thinking that it developed as a result of something that they did or didn’t do.

Co-dependent people sometimes withdraw from normal life too. They might stop going to social events with family members or friends because they do not want to talk about their addicted loved one or because they are worried that he or she will make a scene while under the influence.

What is important to realise is that repeated attempts to help an addicted loved one usually allow this person to continue with his or her addictive behaviour unchecked. The addict is not held to account and continues with the destructive behaviour, all the while the co-dependent person becomes even more dependent on being ‘helpful’ and on caring for the addict.

Co-dependent people often develop a sense of satisfaction from being needed by the addict and may get to the point where taking care of him or she becomes compulsive. They will put their own needs second to the needs of the addict and caretaking then becomes the most important thing in their life.

Have You Developed Co-Dependency?

Co-dependency is difficult to spot in yourself because you may passionately believe that you are helping the addicted person. It is important, however, to take a good look at your own life to determine if you could have become affected by this condition. Many people do not realise that they have become co-dependent until they take a step back. They then realise that they have been putting the needs of the addict above their own. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you been making excuses for your addicted loved one’s behaviour?
  • Do you give this person one money for bills or necessities because he/she has spent his/her own money on feeding the addiction?
  • Do you sacrifice your own needs or wellbeing to care for the addict?
  • Is your own mood affected by the mood of the addicted individual?
  • Do you find it difficult to say no to him or her?
  • Do you believe that you can ‘fix’ this individual’s addiction?
  • Do you turn down invitations to spend time with extended family members or friends because you are worried they will find out about your loved one’s addiction?
  • Do you forgive your loved one’s addictive behaviour when he or she promises to change?
  • Do you often take the blame for the actions of this person?

If you have answered yes to the above questions, it is likely that you have developed co-dependency. If this is the case, you should know that, despite your best intentions, you are not helping your loved one. In fact, you may be making it easier for him or her to continue with the addictive behaviour. Co-dependency is intricately linked to enabling, which is where family members or friends unintentionally adapt their own behaviour to make it easier for the addict.

Taking on your addict’s responsibilities or providing him or her with money to pay bills or other essential commitments is not helping – it is enabling, and it needs to stop. The only way your loved one will ever get the help that he or she needs is if you stop making it easy to continue with the destructive behaviour.

You may have heard the saying that you ‘have to be cruel to be kind’. This is especially true when it comes to addiction. It is important that you start to put yourself first again. It is all well and good being there for this person and supporting him or her on the road to recovery, but remember that you cannot recover for them.

Getting Help for Your Loved One

It is natural to want to do everything you can to help your addicted loved one get his or her life back on track. But remember, you can do this without sacrificing your own wellbeing and happiness. You can talk to someone about how to encourage the addicted person to get help, but you cannot force him or her into recovery.

If you would like more information on getting help for your loved one, or if you would like to talk to someone further about the question of how co-dependency develops, please contact us here at Recovery Lighthouse. We have a team of expert advisors who can talk to you about your own needs and those of your addicted family member. We provide first-class recovery programmes for addiction and a big part of our programmes focuses on family therapy.

For more on our treatment programmes, or if you simply want to talk, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us today.