16 thoughts on “‘Addicted’ to an Addict? 5 Warning Signs of Codependency

  • September 25, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Very good summary of the enmeshment that happens in codependency. I’d add that codependents find each other. It’s a “co” relationship, which means that the addict is codependent, too – on their addiction, which they have to become abstinent from in order to recover from the underlying codependency. I see many couples who aren’t in relationships with addicts, but they’re codependent as well. They may feel trapped in the relationship and unable to assert their autonomy. Note that some codependents put up rigid boundaries to protect themselves from becoming enmeshed or getting hurt. They may stay out of relationships altogether. Finding help is the first step to healing. I explain the causes, symptoms, and dynamics in depth in “Codependency for Dummies,” which has a complete self-help plan of recovery.

    Reply
    • April 1, 2016 at 9:33 am

      That’s a great bool. I bought it on amazon. But a book is no substitute for individual therapy, huh? It’s horrible being in an addictive relationship where your whole day revolves around the other person

      Reply
  • September 25, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    I’m very concerned about this this philosophy. I think it confuses mistakes cause and effect. Living with an addict will cause many of these behavioral patterns. This comes perilously close to the myth that the partner “is as sick as the addict”. There are some extremist sentences that bother me greatly, i.e. “enmeshment is the only way they know how to be in a relationship”, and “The codependent partner resents the addict for being sick, yet fears getting well could mean losing their identity as the addict’s caretaker.” There’s just a lot about this entire approach that bothers me, especially coming from the CEO of a network of behavioral treatment facilities. I strongly question its clinical legitimacy.

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    • October 2, 2012 at 6:39 pm

      In living with someone with alcohol or drug problems, the spouse or partner is often pushed into decisions or choices during crises that are the lesser of two evils. These crises sometimes involve work (covering for absences), the law (lying about where your partner was the night before), or the family (missing a wedding, a child’s performance),medical (concealing that they have been abused). What tends to distinguish people for whom co-dependency is a problem is that in between the crises they are unable to make changes that set limits with their partner or to separate from a bad situation. Many people with co-dependency repeat this pattern over and over by choosing partners who are not able to function effectively. What ’causes’ co-dependency? People who were deprived, neglected or abused in childhood are more likely to show this pattern. Having been raised in a family with alcoholic or addicted parents or parents with severe emotional disorders makes this problem more likely. The importance of recognizing co-dependency is that it calls attention to the importance of helping the partner of the alcoholic or addicts.

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      • October 4, 2012 at 12:36 pm

        Thanks for this thoughtful response, David. In retrospect I have some mixed feelings about the tone of the comments I originally posted. I’ve recently become very sensitized to the charge that is being increasingly leveled against addictions therapists (especially in the field of sex addiction) by adherents of the burgeoning “trauma-model” movement (to use an inevitably broad-brushed term for a relatively new conceptualization). Within this context any reference to codependency in partners of addicts is likely to generate an almost visceral response, especially if it is at all viewed as being applied in a sweeping manner. The concern driving such a reaction is based in the fear that words like codependency blame the victim and mistakenly attribute the effects of relational trauma to an independent pathology.

        That idea, which I have been increasingly steeped in, sparked my reaction to your post. But nothing is worth saying if it is not done respectfully, so I want to affirm the respect I have for you and the many behavioral health facilities that your leadership represents.
        -Bill

        Reply
  • September 29, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    OMG!!!!!!!! I am SUCH A CODEPENDENT!!!!!!!!!!!!YIKES…NO wonderI am SO MESSED UP!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • September 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Straight and to the point ….

    Reply
  • September 30, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    Dr. David Sack,

    My wife just committed suicide this last June. We were together for 25 yrs. She and both of us had problems with alcohol, but since she was a nurse she started taking pain killers, anti-anxiety pills, and other mood altering drugs. Later in disabilty retirement she was extremely addicted to oxycotine and hydrocodone. She attempted a suicide about three years ago; I called paramedics, she went to the hospital, she revived, they sent her to a nursing home where her psychologist could see her. When she came home we both went cold turckey from alcohol and her primary doctor would not give her anymore narcotics. Within the last year or so I needed pain killers, the oxy’s, the hydrocodone and even some morphine because I had osteo-necrosis in both my hips and hip-replacement surgery. Because I had all these drugs coming to me, I shared some or half of them with her. Julie always complain about knee pains for years. We had just went to a knee-specialist and he denied her a partial or total knee replacement. This was just two weeks before her suicide. When we had come home from seeing this specialist, we were both angry and frustrated with his decision. I tried to ask her to see another specialist but she said no, that she wouldn’t see another specialist.
    I didn’t realize how many drugs she was skimming from my drugs, until the paramedics moved the bed where she had fallen next to and found four empty rx bottles including her ambien for sleep. She had been telling me that she could not sleep for the last five days, becoming very irritable. I did not realize she had overdosed for several days because I didn’t see the rx bottles; she looked like she was sleeping; my hips were killing me with pain and I couldn’t lift her, so I let her sleep or what looked like sleep; turns out she was really in a coma from all the pills she had taken. When they finally got her to the hospital, they told me that there was very little brain activity from a cat scan; they had trouble even keeping her stable. She was transfered by helicopter to larger hospital a ways away for a drive and when I got there they took me aside and again explained the very little brain activity and that there was nothing they could do. I called her family and they took her off the resperator and we watched her pass away. I am still devistated and extremely emotional about her death.

    I think I was addicted to her as an addict; both my parents and her parents too where alcoholics, it was something we both had in common.

    I’m not sure why I had to tell you this story, but I guess I wanted to get your thoughts on our codependency and ultimately her suicide death?

    Thank you, Dave

    Reply
    • July 6, 2018 at 1:23 am

      what a moving letter, I hope that time has brought with it some peace.

      Reply
  • October 1, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I have the deepest regard for Dr. Sack and the contributions he has made to the field of addictions, and I know that he understands the good intentions of families that suffer with problems of addiction. As such, I was surprised to see his blog on the 5 warning signs of co-dependency.

    As the leader of several NIDA-funded studies examining the effects of substance use on families and of clinical trials examining ways to help family members better manage the challenges they face, I don’t believe the term “co-dependency” accurately describes the significant others that I have encountered. While the behavior patterns that Dr. Sack describes are real, the term “co-dependency” suggests that every family member that behaves this way has some illness.

    The research and clinical experiences of my study team strongly suggest that the vast majority of family members dealing with their loved ones’ addiction are normal folks dealing the best way they can with a serious medical problem (i.e., addiction). Our observations suggest that family members begin by wanting to protect and help the person they love because they believe that family members do that for each other. They usually have to deal with the situation in the absence of reliable information, guidance, and support, so it is not surprising that they struggle.

    When a child, spouse, or other close relative becomes sick and cannot take care of him or herself, family members engage in all the behaviors that Dr. Sack describes: they take over that person’s responsibilities, put that person’s needs before their own, and feel that they cannot desert the sick person. They may have trouble talking to the person about seriousness of the illness or the possibility of death and be overwhelmed and confused about what to do.

    Sometimes with the best of intentions, they might do the wrong thing. They may fail to take care of themselves because they are so concerned about their sick loved one. Sometimes there is one member of the family who takes on more of the caretaking responsibilities than the others. Other family members might be overwhelmed and withdraw. Most of the behaviors are very similar, whether the loved one has debilitating cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, or an addictive disorder.

    Yet it is only the family members dealing with addiction that earn the label “co-dependent.” Stressed and struggling? Yes. Having difficulty functioning optimally? Usually. Doing the best they can with a medical disease that’s been stigmatized in society – and leaves them isolated without guidance? Absolutely.

    Labeling these individuals as “co-dependent” may help to identify a pattern of behavior that isn’t helpful to the family member or the person suffering from the illness, but research by my team and others indicates that we can help family members change their behavior without giving them a label that increases the stigma of the illness.

    Kimberly Kirby,PhD
    Treatment Research Institute

    Reply
  • October 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I have the deepest regard for Dr. Sack and the contributions he has made to the field of addictions, and I know that he understands the good intentions of families that suffer with problems of addiction. As such, I was surprised to see his blog on the 5 warning signs of co-dependency.

    As the leader of several NIDA-funded studies examining the effects of substance use on families and of clinical trials examining ways to help family members better manage the challenges they face, I don’t believe the term “co-dependency” accurately describes the significant others that I have encountered. While the behavior patterns that Dr. Sack describes are real, the term co-dependency suggests that every family member that behaves this way has some illness. The research and clinical experiences of my study team strongly suggest that the vast majority of family members dealing with their loved ones’ addiction are normal folks dealing the best way they can with a serious medical problem (i.e., addiction). Our observations suggest that family members begin by wanting to protect and help the person they love because they believe that family members do that for each other. They usually have to deal with the situation in the absence of reliable information, guidance, and support, so it is not surprising that they struggle.

    When a child, spouse, or other close relative becomes sick and cannot take care of him or herself, family members engage in all the behaviors that Dr. Sack describes: they take over that person’s responsibilities, put that person’s needs before their own, and feel that they cannot desert the sick person. They may have trouble talking to the person about seriousness of the illness or the possibility of death and be overwhelmed and confused about what to do. Sometimes with the best of intentions, they might do the wrong thing. They may fail to take care of themselves because they are so concerned about their sick loved one. Sometimes there is one member of the family who takes on more of the caretaking responsibilities than the others. Other family members might be overwhelmed and withdraw. Most of the behaviors are very similar, whether the loved one has debilitating cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, or an addictive disorder.

    Yet it is only the family members dealing with addiction that earn the label “co-dependent.” Stressed and struggling? Yes. Having difficulty functioning optimally? Usually. Doing the best they can with a medical disease that’s been stigmatized in society – and leaves them isolated without guidance? Absolutely.

    Labeling these individuals as “co-dependent” may help to identify a pattern of behavior that isn’t helpful to the family member or the person suffering from the illness, but research by my team and others indicates that we can help family members change their behavior without giving them a label that increases the stigma of the illness.

    Kimberly Kirby, PhD
    Treatment Research Institute

    Reply
  • October 3, 2012 at 8:04 am

    I was interested in what Pia Melody said in her book “Facing Codependence” about the ways the symptoms of codependence can sabotage our lives.

    1. Negative control: we determine someone else’s reality for our own comfort;
    2. Resentment: a need to punish the other for perceived blows to our self esteem that cause shame;
    3. Difficulty experiencing connection to Power greater than ourself;
    4. Avoiding reality: use activities or physical illness to avoid facing the reality of our relationships.
    5. Impaired ability to sustain intimacy.

    For my part, I think codependency is really a word that describes emotional immaturity. There must have been some developmental arrest, probably around the separation-individuation phase of development that prevented the person from growing to achieve the full mantle of adulthood. With codependent personalities, the needy child is running the show.

    I think all women in this culture are socialized to be codependent. It’s not until rigid gender roles are more flexible will women really be able to grow up as vital, efficient and effective mature people who don’t see their identities as being entirely wrapped around a man.

    Reply
  • October 3, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    Thanks to those who pointed out some of the fallacies in this description of co-dependency.

    I feel this can be a very harmful approach for a clinician to take with a patient or a family. Addiction can often be the most obvious symptom of another core disorder, i.e. consider high functioning Aspergers or bi-polar disorder.

    This description really puts the non-affected family member(s) in a double bind. They are no longer seeking help for stress management, or different communication strategies, they now have something wrong with their lives as a result of their own dysfunction. Some patients will get justly exasperated with such an approach, those who’ve sustained more damage and need more help may buy into this for a while and then find that the buy-in is causing more problems without understanding why.

    Some level of co-dependency is definitely a hazard for people who have family members with hidden disabilities and obvious addictions when there is not enough help to go around. There are indeed many “enmeshments” that can occur when a family member has an addiction: financial, parenting, housing, relationships in common, and more. But those enmeshments, though certainly problematic, are not necessarily desired or caused be the non-addicted person. They may simply be a fact of survival or ethical choices, especially in the parenting category. One does not leave one’s children in the care of the other parent when the other parent has a neurological disorder and also an addiction.

    As a member of a support group for family members of adults with Aspergers, I often hear of the emotional damage that clinicians unwittingly add to the already heavy burden of extra responsibility that healthy family members carry.

    No one heals much when that happens.

    Reply
  • January 20, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    There are options to combat codependency, there are several ways to combat it but there are steps. Obviously the first sign is to distance yourself from the victim. For a codependent, this is complete drugery. It’s a painful feeling. You never understand why and what you did wrong to your victim. At the same time, it can also be seen as giving the victim space. It is also good to have a third party get involved. Second, confront the victim (when both sides are ready), talk over your problems and work on ways to improve the friendship or relationship. Third, understand that no matter what happens, your friend is always going to be there for you through thick and thin but always be aware friendships and relationships can end as a result of codependency. The last thing as a codependent, you got to be happy with yourself. Be happy with what you have done. Look at the great things you have done for people. I’m one of those people, I take great pride in getting involved in someone’s life. Being a mentor, being a good friend, helping people when I can, writing books, teaching people about autism, Aspergers, and now codependency. Look forward to small things like that golf outing with your family, going to dinner with another friend. Also get your other friends involved, it helps when more people are involved in your life. It helps in terms of recovery. Codependency can be overcome. I did it three times, will do it a fourth time and be a stronger person as a result of this. If I can overcome codependency, you can overcome this as well, should you feel the symptoms.
    la co-dependencia

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  • December 14, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    As a new therapist, this is one of those issues that I find both fascinating and quite hard to deal with. It’s so insidious and subtle in so many ways, but of course so dangerous to the health of a relationship. This was a very professional and succinct rundown of an important topic, and i thank you for it.

    Reply
  • April 7, 2016 at 11:30 pm

    As an infant I lost my father. He was an addict. Ironically he was hit by a drunk driver and was pronounced DOA at the age of 21. My mother remarried when I was 10. My stepfather was just that..A STEP PARENT. I resented everything. I resented the verbal abuse, neglect, the competition for the attention if my mother.
    I’m now in my mid 40s. I’ve married the same addict twice. I met him smoking pot. That quickly turned to cocaine, then pills (which I stuck with for many years), and next meth.
    We have a preteen daughter. I’ve left no stone unturned. I denied, joined in, covered for him, made excuses for him and now after 17years.. I LEFT! No more pills, no more dope, no pot! The self hate I had was over whelming, the resentment for my mate made me literally sick, the frown lines have aged me.
    In February I met a recovering addict. We go to church, we talk about our future, he fills my love bank everyday. I am an addict. There will always be that so called itch that I can’t scratch. Am I co dependent? Sure. I could easily fall into that again because I did whatever it took to just maintain. A new love that doesn’t require the tiring effort of co dependency is refreshing and very hard to trust. My joy has returned, I catch myself giggling again, I’ve gained 5lbs of the 60lbs I lost in seven months!
    I’ve prayed for this my entire life, so why do I catch myself sabotaging the new love? Because I don’t trust anyone… Including myself.
    My life paralleled my mothers. How do I break the cycle with my daughter? How do I be all in without being “co dependent”? And how the heck to I let go of the luggage I drag behind me??? It’s heavy and addiction is dark and sad. God bless anyone and everyone that suffers from addiction, co dependency and please enlighten SOMEONE on this complex subject.
    “I am as sick as my secret”

    Reply
 

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