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What Is Codependency in a Relationship With an Addict?

Relationships can be tough to begin with and tossing addiction into the mix certainly doesn’t make things any easier. Particularly if there’s a codependent dynamic at work in the relationship already.

But exactly is codependency?

James Madison University describes it as “becoming so invested with each other that you can’t function independently. It typically plays out as one person being more passive, lacking confidence, depending on being taken care of, and often having difficulties making decisions. The other person in the relationship is more dominant, controlling, takes charge, and gets some satisfaction from making decisions and taking care of the other person.”

To put it more simply, it’s an imbalanced relationship where one person gives more than they get so to speak and the other is left feeling vulnerable or helpless without their partner.

That’s what a codependent relationship might look like, what is it in terms of someone with a substance use disorder though.

What Is Codependency in a Relationship With an Addict?

The big takeaway word for what codependency is in a relationship with an addict is “enabling”.

It’s not something that’s necessarily intentionally done either. If your partner is a drug addict or alcoholic you may begin to feel like you can save them through your care. What that looks like in practice is different for everyone but can be as basic as:

  • Making excuses for their behavior
  • Lending money
  • Rationalizing their overuse and justifying their behavior
  • Feeling responsible for their issues
  • Taking on their responsibilities
  • Lying to protect them from consequences

All of these enabling behaviors and actions may come from a place of love but are incredibly damaging in the long run in a couple of meaningful ways.

First, if you obfuscate the addiction of your significant other and essentially continue to remain in denial about it, it only cements their substance use disorder further which makes subsequent treatment more arduous and puts additional strain on the relationship.

Secondly, it’s damaging to you as well in a number of ways. Carrying the burden of trying to “save” someone is exhausting and unhealthy. Being overly invested in their issues leaves less time for your own life, which only gets worse with time.

Codependency and addiction are among the worst bedfellows. One is fuel for the other in a sense and as a person falls further into addiction, the partner essentially becomes addicted to the relationship and taking care of the other.

How to End a Codependent Relationship While Still Supporting Your Loved One

Codependency isn’t being supportive. Codependency is unhealthy. Of course, this is unsustainable and something eventually has to give.

That said, ending a codependent relationship doesn’t mean giving up on your loved one. In fact, it can be a way of supporting them more fully and for real.

The main thing is to recognize the situation for what is. Be honest with yourself and them and work to understand the true nature of the relationship.

Have a genuinely honest conversation about the negative and painful aspects of this codependency and stop the enabling behavior. 

Allow yourself the space to heal. Work on changing how you think and not wrapping up how you feel about their addiction.

Create boundaries and stick to them.

This doesn’t mean you don’t care about your loved one, it means you want the best for both of you and to get that requires changing the nature of the relationship.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, consider the benefits of counseling. At Inneractions, we have bi-weekly group meetings focused fully on codependency where you can learn how to build a healthier relationship. Get in touch with us to learn more.