Are you Codependent?

I started getting better the day my Mother started learning how to stop her enabling” – Matt, age 20, Former Heroin User

If you are in a relationship with a person (spouse, child, parent, friend) who has a substance use disorder, you may be unconsciously ‘enabling’ the person to continue their same behavior.

Signs of Codependent Behavior

The following are a few key indicators you might be enabling a person with a substance use disorder and becoming codependent:

  • Lying for another’s drug use
  • Obsessing about how to get the addicted person to change
  • Ignoring mood-altering substance abuse patterns
  • Walking on eggshells to avoid arguments
  • Tolerating an individual driving under the influence
  • Protecting people from the consequences of their actions

If you want your friend or family member to stop using substances, …stop enabling…

These types of behaviors are what can propel an individual’s addiction and keep them from getting well. They must hit rock bottom, with no net (that would be you) before they can start to recover. Rock bottom can be you not being willing to live with active addiction and taking action to keep your commitment to your decision.

The denial of addiction (rationalizing, justifying, blaming, avoiding, defending, etc,) is such a powerful dynamic that there must be sufficient emotional pain, as in ‘hitting their rock bottom’ to break through the system of defenses that have been established by the disease process.


girl enjoying natureOnce you have realized that your actions are not helpful, and can be particularly damaging to the addict themselves, you must begin the process of detachment if you want change.

The first step is to acknowledge your lack of control over that individual’s addiction. Much like an addict needs total abstinence from their drug, a codependent person must also abstain from what they have no control over—the addict themselves.

Most people are very apprehensive at the idea of detachment because they have the common question or concern of: “If I don’t take care of them, who will?” Typically the denial of a codependent can be a greater force than the drug over the addict themselves, and most will need a form of professional therapy to recover. A codependent should always seek professional help in addition to any established peer-based community support groups.

Learn to Set Boundaries

Codependent individuals put the feelings of others before themselves, setting aside their own needs in order to serve someone else. Codependent people typically do not set personal boundaries for themselves and cannot recognize boundaries set by others. Their behavior is based on sacrifice and a perceived obligation to help others fix their problems. They commonly work to protect others from the consequences of behavior and do things for others they are capable of doing themselves.

Compassion and codependence might be explained as opposites because compassionate individuals control their own lives and allow others to do the same. Compassionate people have boundaries.

The purpose of a boundary is to make clear separations between different turf, different territory. Boundaries define limits, mark off dividing lines. The purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves. We need to be able to tell other people when they are acting in ways that are not acceptable to us. We have not only the right, but the duty, to take responsibility for how we allow others to treat us.

Some boundaries are rigid – and need to be. Boundaries such as: “It is not OK to hit me, ever.” and “It is not acceptable to call me certain names.” In recovery, it is not enough to set boundaries. Boundaries must be enforced. We need to be willing to go to any length, do whatever it takes to protect ourselves.

It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who has no boundaries, with someone who cannot communicate directly, and honestly. Learning how to set boundaries is a necessary step in learning to be a friend to ourselves. It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves – to protect ourselves when it is necessary. It is impossible to learn to love ourselves without defining ourselves as separate individuals in healthy ways. We must own our rights and responsibilities as co-creators of our lives.

Lasting Recovery offers outpatient day or evening treatment as well as help and education for the family members too.

Lasting Recovery – “Where Wellness Begins…”

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