It isn’t difficult to understand the role of codependency in substance abuse. About 19.7 million people in the United States ages 12 and older lived with some type of substance use disorder in 2017. Some of these individuals carry on their daily lives with little intervention from friends or loved ones. Others rely heavily upon their loved ones for support.

Statistic of PTSD and substance use disorder

These people who rely on their loved ones create the problem of codependency in substance abuse. It’s difficult to hold down opportunities when their drinking or drug use affects performance at work or school. They might need to borrow money, to live with a friend or family member, or some other kind of support.

This is where the codependent loved one steps in. They find ways to help the person get by and ensure they’re never without a place to live or an alternative solution to a problem. Do you find yourself trapped in a relationship like this? Many codependents don’t realize the reality of their situation until someone else points it out to them.

If you find yourself playing the role of codependency in substance abuse for someone else, this article might help you. Continue reading to learn more about the effects of someone else’s drug or alcohol use on those closest to them.

Unpacking the Role of Codependency in Substance Abuse

The Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) program created the term codependency roughly 30 years ago. Codependent individuals share a set of similar behavioral traits and qualities, such as low self-esteem and controlling behavior. Since its introduction, professionals throughout the mental health field adopted it into their practices.

Unfortunately, codependency isn’t as straightforward or concrete a diagnosis as substance use disorders are. Codependent isn’t an actual medical diagnosis. There are no guidelines for diagnosing codependency in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

This led to many professionals labeling people codependent when they don’t necessarily qualify for the initial classification. The definition of codependency in substance abuse washed out to include any number of people displaying natural desires for love. It’s normal to want love. Everyone wants to be loved. This doesn’t necessarily mean someone is codependent, though.

It’s normal to want love

What Exactly is Codependency?

Codependency, according to its original definition, refers usually to people who developed their codependent behaviors in childhood. These children grew up in homes with a parent who struggles with alcoholism or drug addiction. Children don’t entirely understand their role in the world yet and form their conceptions during developmental years.

If they have a parent who can’t take care of themselves, they often adopt the caretaker role. They might take care of their parent when they’re under the influence. In certain situations, these children may have to assume a role as the parent for their siblings as well.

Some children who spend their developmental years assuming these large amounts of responsibility develop codependent patterns of behavior. This explains the role of codependency in substance abuse. They don’t have the opportunity to find and build their own sense of self. Instead, they’re taking care of the needs of those around them.

Signs of codependency include:

Assuming a Caretaking Role

Children who grow into codependent adults commonly take their caretaking behaviors with them. They a role of codependency in substance abuse due to their parent’s negligence. Whether taking care of themselves, of their parent or parents, or of their siblings, their caretaking role is deeply embedded.


People pleasing helps a codependent person feel in control of a situation. Even when things are falling apart around them, if they can keep people happy then it gives them control over at least one aspect of their lives. Giving to other people helps them find and fulfill a sense of purpose.

Having a Hard Time Trusting People

Those who grow up in alcoholic or drug abusive homes usually live amongst the chaos. Things are rarely stable or steady and they can’t trust the people they should be able to trust. Sometimes their parent lies to them, threatens them, physically or emotionally harms them, or abandons them. It makes it difficult to trust people when you can’t even trust those closest to you.

Carrying an Extreme Sense of Guilt

Children of parents who struggle with addiction or alcoholism often blame themselves. Even if it makes no logical sense they often turn the blame towards themselves. They might feel like the reason their loved one uses drugs or alcohol. Or they might feel guilty for not being able to fix the situation they’re in. This guilt often carries over into adulthood.

Incredibly Controlling

Codependent individuals tend to be very controlling in order to compensate for their lack of control when they were younger. They usually had to run the show while growing up in order to make sure things got done. This coping mechanism helped them survive when they were younger and is difficult to let go of even after they grow up.

Treating Codependency

Codependency isn’t treated in the same way as substance abuse or other medical problems. Instead, codependent people benefit greatly from cognitive behavioral therapy. In order to overcome the role of codependency in substance abuse developed as a child, they must reframe their mindset. Things that worked to help them survive while young no longer work for them.

Fernando Manon providing EMDR therapy

Meeting with a therapist and creating a plan for counseling will prove beneficial. Find a therapist who understands how to work with adult children of alcoholics or addicts. They can help you create new thought patterns and behaviors that will prove more to you. Want to learn more about helpful treatments for codependency? Call Hawaii Island Recovery today at 877-721-3556 to speak with an admissions counselor.