The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) contains dozens of different mental illnesses and disorders but codependency is not one of them. Despite the sudden surge in the use of the term over the past decade, the American Psychiatric Association does not recognize codependency as an official mental condition.

Originally it was a term used to describe the behavior and thought patterns seen in the spouses of individuals with substance use disorders. However, codependency has broadened to include anyone who displays similar enabling behaviors.

What exactly is codependency and how does it impact those with addiction or alcoholism? How does it affect the codependent person themselves? And can codependent behaviors be altered and overcome? Continue reading to learn more about this unofficial diagnosis that millions of people live with every day.

Codependency: Taking a Deeper Look

With no official psychiatric diagnosis, the definition of codependency is more of a generally agreed upon but loosely-grouped pattern of behaviors. It was initially used to describe the wives, husbands, or parents of an alcoholic or addict.

Most everyone understands that addiction and alcoholism do not affect the addict or alcoholic alone. Often described as a “family disease,” substance use disorder touches upon the lives of everyone who loves the substance user. Those closest to the person often develop unhealthy behaviors to help them cope with the actions of their loved one.

Codependency is summed up best by describing it as someone who enables another individual. Some signs of codependent behavior include:

  • Taking responsibility for the behavior and actions of the substance user
  • Covering up or making excuses for their loved one
  • Getting involved with or backing up excuses made by the addict or alcoholic
  • Helping their loved one out financially, especially when related to their substance abuse
  • Cleaning up the messes made by their substance using loved one, both literally and metaphorically
Signs of codependent behavior

You commonly see codependent behavior in those closest to someone who abuses drugs or alcohol. For example, parents who have a child with a drug or alcohol problem may bail their child out financially. Whether paying for housing, bills, a car or other material wants or needs, their child never has to take responsibility and pay their way.

Spouses of alcoholics and addicts may often have to make up excuses for their partner’s behavior or absence. If the person needs to miss work, the spouse may call in for them and back up whatever story substance user comes up with as an explanation.

The Dangers of Codependency

When someone is codependent with an alcoholic or addict, this can quickly get out of hand or even dangerous. Alcoholism and addiction are serious diseases that can lead to harmful situations to both themselves and those closest to them.

When someone enables a substance user’s behavior, the person hardly ever has to take responsibility for their actions. Since they have someone to back them up at all times, they are often able to get away with their mistakes or lies.

Since substance use disorder is a progressive disease, the longer the codependent loved one enables their behavior, the longer the problem lasts. The codependent loved one may think their actions are helping when they are actually hurting the user in the long run.

If they do not take action to address their codependent behaviors, they may enable the addict or alcoholic to the point of harming themselves or someone else. While an addict or alcoholic can never truly blame the decisions they make on their codependent loved one, their loved one may play a significant role in some situations.

Addressing and Changing Codependent Behavior

Although it may feel harsh or harmful to detach from or cut off the person they are codependent upon, this is often the best decision someone with codependency can make. The longer they enable the addict or alcoholic’s harmful behavior, the more dangerous their behavior may become.

Not only does codependency harm the substance user, it also harms the codependent individual themselves. Oftentimes they neglect their own needs in order to help their loved one. They may stop spending time with their own friends or family as a result of taking care of and covering up for the addict or alcoholic.

If you are struggling with codependency, realizing, addressing, and changing your behavior is one of the best things you can do. Not only for yourself, but for your loved one as well. When you stop enabling their behavior, they will have no other option but to change or to find someone else that will enable their actions.

Are you wondering whether you might be codependent? Are you confused or scared, worried you may never know how to function without that person in your life? Or do you fear they may not be able to function without you?

Living with these fears often leads to an isolated lifestyle but you do not have to continue the cycle. There are treatment facilities like Hawaii Island Recovery that can help both you and your loved one. By addressing their own substance abuse, your loved one can make the choice to accept the help they likely need.

But whether or not they choose to take the help, you should seek assistance with changing your own thoughts and behaviors. Through counseling sessions with our certified and professional staff, you can challenge the habits you developed over years of living as an enabler. It might seem impossible to change but there are many counselors here who can help you.

Call HIR admissions office today at 877-721-3556 to learn more about the programs offered at Hawaii Island Recovery. Both you and your alcoholic loved one deserve the opportunity to recover. Make the choice today to take back control of your own life and you might find that you save the life of your loved one, too.