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January is National Codependency Awareness Month…(Yuck.)

It's a topic we want to avoid, but that's why it’s important to raise awareness. Who wants to get more aware of Codependency?


Yeah, this subject is not at the top of anyone’s list for entertainment.

Codependency is like… that word, that thing, that problem that happens to other people. It happens to other people when it’s a real problem. Other times we’ll explain away our peculiar behavior using “codependent” as a self-deprecating punch line during cocktail hour. “Codependency” is a funny little word that was popularized back in the 80’s. Although Melody Beattie didn’t invent the concept, her book titled “Codependent No More” introduced the term to the rest of us. There’s no one clear-cut definition, and the condition is not listed in any version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. And yet, many therapists and treatment professionals will swear very seriously that “codependency” is a very real affliction that is caused by, and causes, other health and mental health disorders. Many therapists will agree that “codependency kills”.

Codependency does kill. This is dark, morose stuff. Not light reading. It’s a topic we want to avoid. I guess that’s why it’s so important to raise awareness. Who of us should be aware? And why? Traditionally, “codependency” describes a type of relationship between two people: the “dependent” and the “co-dependent”. The “dependent” historically is a person addicted, or dependent upon, mind-altering substances. The “co-dependent” is someone whose own behavior enabled the dependent to continue using at less personal cost to the dependent. The co-dependent often rescues or provides resources, at their own personal cost, so that the addict can continue on without suffering the consequences of their substance-abusing behavior. Here’s the short version of what’s going on:

  1. Addiction is progressive. It gets worse over time, ultimately until death. Addiction kills.

  2. Addiction requires resources:

    1. The substances themselves

    2. Money to pay for the substances, as well as for any consequences for substance use

    3. A connection or a supplier to obtain the substances

    4. Access, time, supplies, and a “safe” place to use the substances

    5. Recovery time, space, and supplies

  3. As a progressive disease, more and more of the addict’s energy, time, finances, social world, and thinking are focused on getting, using, and recovering from the use of substances. Work, relationships, and responsibilities take an increasingly distant back seat to substance use.

  4. Addicts become very adept at finding people who will assist them with food, housing, finances, and other life necessities. Many of these “helpers” in their efforts to help, also prevent, cover up, or pay for the consequences of the addict.

  5. The more an addict has “help”, the less they are responsible for themselves, and there is greater opportunity to use more.

  6. As substance use increases, so does the opportunity for overdose or other substance-related fatality.

  7. The people who “help” addicts in their active addiction actually co-create an environment that makes using and abusing substances much easier. This is one reason why the “helper” is “co-dependent”. The codependent, in an effort to help, actually accelerates the drug use which may in turn, accelerate the user’s untimely demise.

Like we said, this stuff is dark.

But it’s also REAL and happens all around the world, every single day. According to the CDC, in the US alone from 2020 to 2021, over 100,000 Americans lost their lives to overdose. That’s about 274 preventable deaths per day. These deaths don’t include substance-related deaths caused by accidents, homicides, suicides, or secondary health problems such as cirrhosis or kidney failure.

These stats also don’t include substance-related domestic violence, work loss, property loss, financial loss, strained relationships, and the domino effect these losses cost the user, his/her family, community, and society as a whole. Did you know that 80% of all crime is related to substances? Eighty percent of all inmates are incarcerated directly or indirectly related to substance use. What would the prisons do without 80% of its inmates? This article doesn’t even have time for all of that.

We are not talking about addiction awareness, however. This month is about codependency. So who should be more aware of codependency?

The simple answer is: all of us. But let’s take a more targeted look here.

If there is an addict in your family or social world, you might want to perk your ears. And don’t forget that there are many types of addictions. Gambling, gaming, “screens”, pornography, work, food, sex are some of the more common addictions. All of these addictions have the power to negatively alter a person’s life.

But just because you have a social relationship with an addict, does that make you codependent? No. Not necessarily.

There are thoughts and feelings that are common to persons who are codependent. Typically these inner thoughts/feelings originate in the codependent’s own childhood and continue to manifest into relationships of choice in adulthood. These thoughts/feelings are the most prevalent:

  • Guilt: “I don’t do enough. Things are always my fault.”

  • Shame: “I am bad. Unworthy. I am not enough.”

  • Fear: “If I don’t do such-and-such, I will be abandoned (or judged, criticized, humiliated, unloved).”

  • Panic: “If don’t do such-and-such, something really terrible will happen.”

  • Anger/Resentment: “I always take care of things, but nobody appreciates what I do. So-in-so doesn’t help/change.”

  • Sadness: “I don’t deserve a better life. Things will always be this way.”

  • Victimized: “Bad things always happen to me. I am powerless. If other people behaved better, I would be happier.”

So it is clear that someone struggling with codependency has their own inner turmoil that they live with. Compassion is much needed and much deserved.

However, thoughts and feelings rarely operate without corresponding behavior. This is where codependency really wreaks havoc on individuals and relationships. It is in the acting on negative thoughts and feelings that codependents unwittingly contribute to the problem. Behavior they think is helping actually makes a situation worse. Here are common examples:

  • Lying for the addict so s/he doesn’t get into trouble

  • Giving money to the addict that s/he didn’t work for

  • Paying for consequences of the addict’s behavior

  • Pleading with the addict to stop. “If you loved me you would…”

  • Pleading with others in your shared social circle to change to make the addict’s life easier

  • Cleaning up after the addict

  • Inability to tell the addict “No”

  • Providing housing, food, finances without requiring money or a contribution from the addict in return

  • Giving up self care because taking care of the addict is more important

  • Indulging in your own addictive behavior to cope with increased stress of taking care of the addict

  • Letting go of healthier relationships as the addict’s wellbeing takes increasing more time and prominence in your life

  • Allowing yourself to be manipulated by the addict and yet…

  • Trying to manipulate the addict, and others, in return

These are just a few of many examples. The bottom line is: as long as the codependent is lying for, paying for, cleaning up after the addict, etc. etc., the addict has more time/money/opportunity to continue using. And using is like rolling the dice with life. Most overdoses are not intentional. But the more opportunities to roll that dice, the more opportunity to hit that unlucky number.

So hopefully it’s clear at this point that we raise awareness for Codependency because we want to save as many lives as we can. We want people who fall into the codependency trap to understand how they got there, to recognize that what is often perceived as “help” actually hurts instead, and that change is possible. We want addicts to feel their consequences sooner so they will be more motivated to get help earlier in the progression of their disease. We know with all those painful feelings underneath, change for the codependent is not easy.

We also believe that persons who struggle with codependency deserve better. No one deserves to be trapped in their own painful cycle of negative feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Everyone deserves to live their own lives without feeling compelled to take care of people who can and should take care of themselves.

In South Florida there is a treatment center on every corner ready to help addicts. Who or what is available to help codependents?

There are some intensive inpatient treatment programs specifically designed to help codependents. Most people don’t need or can’t afford that level of care. There are self-help groups such as Al Anon, Codependents Anonymous, and Adult Children of Alcoholic/Dysfunctional Families in the community that are very helpful. And, there are also therapists on every corner to help persons who struggle with the low self-esteem and self-destructive behavior common to codependents.

If you are ready to learn more and make some changes in your own life, maybe you will consider a #teamsoulspring therapist to help you. We believe that you, and your addict, deserve your best life.

Don’t you agree?


Thank you so much to #teamsoulspring counselor Wynne Stallings for her contributions to the content of this article.


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