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What does it Mean to be Codependent?

The concept of codependency comes up a lot when discussing addiction. However, many people misunderstand its meaning. Beyond a poor interpretation of the term, there is a lot of misinformation about what you are supposed to do about codependency.

What does it really mean to be codependent and why is it connected to addiction? Do you have to break off codependent relationships?


What is codependency?

Codependency refers to a relationship in which both parties depend on the other for some basic emotional need. This can happen in any relationship, especially when two people live in the same home. In many cases, codependency does not cause immediate problems. However, in the long run, it can make a relationship toxic, as each party fears losing the other and does everything to hold on.

Codependency is not a clinical diagnosis or disorder. It is simply a trait of some relationships.

Why is codependency linked to addiction?

The original reason for the link between codependency and addiction is that the term was first popularized in the context of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-Step Fellowship. AA recognized that addiction is a family illness, in that it has a material impact on the lives of everyone in the home with the addict.

In recent times, however, it has become unclear whether codependency is more prevalent in families of addicts. Nonetheless, codependency is still an important concept for understanding unhealthy relationships, especially in the family context, and how to change them.

In the context of addiction, codependency usually refers to a relationship between an addict and someone who ‘enables’ them. The enabler unconsciously enables the addict to continue using substances, as their own emotional need is sated. Often, it is the need to connect and feel needed through caring that causes the person to enable the addiction.

If you’re addicted to substances or have a loved one who is addicted, what does codependency mean for you?

Do I need to provide tough love?

The major misconception many people have regarding codependency is that codependent relationships need to be severed. The belief is that the caregiver needs to give the addict a wakeup call by cutting them off or detaching from them entirely. This is absolutely not the case.

Codependency cannot simply be fixed by separating the two parties and it is not necessary. Rather, the aim when addressing codependency in a relationship should be to continue the relationship on new terms. Each person needs to recognize that they cannot keep going to the other for this specific need, as it is harming them and the relationship.

In the context of addiction, this may mean a father changing the way he relates to an addicted daughter by providing more care, not less. However, the care he provides is not as a reaction to his own need, but is rather a careful strategy based on evidence of how best to help addicted family members.

Codependency is an important topic, especially in the context of addiction. It is often misunderstood, but it is crucial to recognize this pattern in families of addicts.

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