Codependency is defined as excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a “partner” who typically requires support due to an illness or addiction. Often these “partners” are the parents, or a spouse, but they can also be grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, or good friends. A person who is codependent may feel that if they can just keep helping the addict, he or she will find their way eventually. Or the codependent might believe that they have done things that make the addict want to drink, take drugs or gamble, and that if only they were a better partner the addict would stop using. The codependent believes that if they can just fix their loved one, then life will be better and everyone will be happy.
The relationship between the addict and the codependent is often very volatile. The codependent often feels as if they are being held hostage by the addict through fear and intimidation. Often times the addict will threaten to commit suicide if the codependent threatens to stop supporting them.
In many ways the codependent is addicted to the addict. There are many people who talk about the high relapse rate of addicts who attend drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. One major cause of this is due to the codependent person or persons, not getting help and learning the role they play in enabling their loved ones addiction. If the codependent does not also get help by attending Al-Anon, educating themselves about addiction, seeking out individual therapy, they can and usually do sabotage the addict’s recovery.
When a codependent person gets help they learn how to set boundaries, how to follow through with consequences, and how they allow themselves to be manipulated by the addict. They also learn how to take care of themselves by taking responsibility for their own happiness. It is very difficult for most addicts to continue to remain addicted to a substance without the loved one also remaining codependent.