Codependency: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment
Codependency in addiction recovery is not uncommon and is a real risk factor for relapse. It is a common co-occurring illness alongside addiction.
Trying to navigate your way through life and relationships, whilst remaining emotionally balanced is not always easy.
It is human nature to want to be loved, to be needed, and to care for those we love.
But what about when want turns into need? When your happiness is solely dependent on another person?
So what exactly do we mean by codependency? How do you avoid becoming codependent in addiction recovery? And, if you do suffer from codependency, what can be done to overcome it?
This is exactly what this article is about. Here, we lift the lid on codependency and look deeper into its causes, its signs and symptoms, and its risk factors.
What is Codependency?
Codependency manifests in family or close personal relationships. One person will need the other. The other in turn needs to be needed. This forms a destructive cycle of dysfunctional behavioural patterns.
Codependency is quite common in those that suffer from addiction. Family members, partners and spouses will often say or do anything they can to control the other. To keep them reliant on them by providing a safety net. This form of codependency is commonly referred to as enabling.
The person with the addiction will also rely on the other person to keep their addiction going. They will allow the other person to save them from facing their own consequences. In codependent relationships, there are dysfunctional and unhealthy behaviours on both sides.
Codependency is a well-recognised disorder in the addiction treatment field. As such, there are many treatment options available. Awareness around the condition is also much better than it was years ago.
(Note: The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Edition 5) includes “dependent personality disorder” but does not include codependency)
What it feels like to suffer from codependency
When the dynamics of a codependent relationship change, such as one person coming into recovery, the other codependent person can feel lost, unneeded, unwanted and with no purpose.
When the codependent person's role of being needed by their loved one is no longer required, the emotional pain they will feel will be all consuming. They will often attempt to control the pain by trying to win the other person back.
Two codependent people will be miserable together and miserable apart. There is no easy solution. Despite their misery, they will still feel compulsively drawn to dance the dance of codependency. They will do this time and time again.
Suffering from codependency causes a person to have an overwhelming fear of rejection, abandonment and of not being needed. The mere thought of being separated from the other person will be absolutely terrifying.
However, in order to recover from codependency a certain amount of discomfort is inevitable. The good news is that this discomfort ends.
Each person can then go on to truly thrive in their recovery.
Could you suffer from codependency in your addiction recovery?
Coming into addiction recovery and trying to establish healthy and nurturing relationships can be challenging. It is not something that usually comes automatically.
For a person that is already in a relationship that was established before or during active addiction, there will be a lot of healing to do on both sides.
In order to avoid codependency in addiction recovery, each person must take complete responsibility for their own recovery. Whilst they can help and support one another's recovery, each must realise that they cannot control it. Trying to control the other person's recovery is only continuing in codependent, addictive behaviours.
And, it is not just partners that can be in a codependent relationship. Often, codependency will manifest in family relationships with parents and their children. This is especially true when it comes to families with addiction problems.
Changing for the better in addiction recovery
As many of us know, coming into addiction recovery so much has to change. Not only do our behaviours have to change, but we also need to learn new and healthier coping strategies. We need to learn how to not self-sabotage, and how to not carry the damage of our past into our futures.
There is so much for us to learn and to unlearn. So much so, that it is rarely wise to add the complexities and distractions of a new relationship. At least not until we have learned how to value and love ourselves.
So, what are the signs of codependency?
Knowing the signs of codependency in addiction recovery can be extremely helpful in trying to build new and healthy relationships. It is also vital to repairing damage caused in already existing relationships.
The signs of a codependent relationship
There are several signs of codependency in a relationship to look out for. Spotting these signs in yourself or in another means that you will most likely need professional help. Professional help can be instrumental in overcoming codependency. It will also teach you strategies for developing healthier relationships with others.
Many people that suffer from codependency find counselling or attending a support group such as CODA or Adult Children of Alcoholics/dysfunctional families helpful.
Before we go into the signs of a codependent relationship, there is one more thing we need to clarify. Codependency is more than just an infatuation or general clinginess to a partner. It is a need that is so overwhelming that it will be to the detriment of both persons involved.
20 signs you’re in a codependent relationship:
- Putting your partner's or family members' wants and needs above your own
- Neglecting your self-care as a result of focusing all of your attention on another
- Allowing another persons opinions and mood to influence yours
- Often saying “Yes” to someone's request when you want to say “No”
- Continually obsessing over a partner or family member's whereabouts
- Covering up their mistakes. Taking responsibility for their mistakes. Lying in order to prevent them from being accountable for their own mistakes.
- Fixating on your own mistakes
- Having feelings of guilt and shame
- Giving your partner or family member money that you cannot afford
- Tolerating abusive or demeaning behaviour
- Constant feelings of anxiety, stress, and low self-worth
- Avoiding confrontation with the other at all costs
- Not expressing your true feelings for fear of reprisal or rejection
- Inability to communicate truthfully
- Denial that there is a problem
- Doing things for your partner or family member that do not feel right in order to keep them happy
- Poor boundaries, or a lack of boundaries
- Placing the happiness of your partner or family member above your own
- Measuring your worth based on what the other person thinks of you
- Feeling compelled to take care of the other person
If you do spot the signs of codependency in addiction recovery, it is wise to seek the correct help without delay. This will enable you to take the right steps towards building healthier relationships and a happier future.
What causes codependency?
There are several factors that can lead to developing codependency. The same causes can also be responsible for a person developing an addiction, or at least they can contribute.
If you do suffer from codependency in addiction recovery, it is extremely likely that this will have been a problem for you during active addiction. You just may not have realised it at the time.
Research has found the following risk factors for developing codependency:
- Addiction is present in the family
- Mental and/or physical illness
- Childhood trauma, including sexual abuse, rejection and abandonment
- Lack of love and nurture during childhood
- Suffering from physical, psychological or emotional abuse
- Taking on the role of the main caregiver during childhood
- Controlling and overprotective caregiving by parents
Codependency is a condition that is often influenced by childhood environmental and parenting factors. The more factors you have, the higher your risk for becoming a codependent person.
Those that suffer from codependency can often pass the traits of codependency on to their own children. This can then carry on from generation to generation. Unless someone (along the line) takes some positive action to help stop the codependent cycle.
Let’s now look at the actions that can be taken to break the cycle of codependency and overcome it.
Stopping the cycle of codependency in addiction recovery
If you spot the signs of codependency in your own addiction recovery, then it is great that you have made it this far. You can now look at how to overcome it. Admitting you have a problem and actively looking for a solution, vastly increases your chances of making a full recovery.
In overcoming any problem, the first step is to recognise the problem and to admit it. However, that in itself is not enough. There is a great need to go much further.
The following suggestions are clinical recommendations you can take as steps to overcoming codependency.
How to stop the cycle of codependency:
- Arrange couples counselling or family counselling. The other person will also need to be willing to address codependency
- Start individual therapy with a counsellor that specialises in codependency. This will help to heal any deep-rooted issues from childhood. It will also create greater awareness of your condition.
- Access support with others who have overcome codependency. Attending support groups such as Codependents Anonymous (CODA) will help you to feel supported
- Set healthy boundaries in the relationship, boundaries that you are willing to voice and enforce.
- Find new interests that are separate from your partners. Interests such as a new hobby, learning a new skill or studying. It is important to have your own interests in a balanced relationship
- Spend time with other family members and friends. Talk to them about your problems
- Learn all you can about codependency and how to overcome it. Attending groups and reading books on codependency will help
- Keep talking to others that understand codependency. The more you learn and the more supported you feel, the better your chances of a full recovery.
Suffering from codependency in addiction recovery can feel very isolating without the correct help and support. Thankfully, there is a wealth of experience and support available from others who have been there and gotten well.
Speaking with others in recovery from codependency will help you to not feel so alone. It will also give you a safe and confidential space to talk about and process your emotions.
By joining Recoverlution, we can also help you to feel supported. We have an abundance of free advice, support and activities to offer, all of which are designed to help you move towards a healthier and happier recovery from addiction.
If you need professional treatment and help locally for codependency, you can find out about the services available to you within our Hub of Hope
Sources & references:
- What is codependency? https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/1097-4679%28199109%2947%3A5%3C720%3A%3AAID-JCLP2270470515%3E3.0.CO%3B2-5
- Patterns and Characteristics of Codependence.
- The concept, the symptoms and the etiological factors of codependency. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24670293/
- Living with Addicted Men and Codependency. The Moderating Effect of Personality Traits. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5115643/
- Diagnostic criteria for codependency. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 18(1), 15-20. Cermak T.L. (1986).
- Symptoms of codependency. Lancer, D. (2016). https://psychcentral.com/lib/symptoms-of-codependency/