What is Co-Addiction and Co-Dependency?

The terms co-addiction and co-dependency are psychological terms and are often used synonymously. The more common terms you might run across are codependency and codependent, rather than co-addiction or co-addict. Codependency is referred to as an unhealthy relationship pattern. Whether one uses these terms or not, it is evident they are being used to describe certain real phenomena. Labeling someone as a “codependent” or “co-addict” is not necessarily accurate in that we are dealing with a wide range of human emotions and reactivity. An individual could display codependent behavior one day and not the next, or they could demonstrate some of its characteristics but not others. At times, it may lead to depression or anxiety to the extent that one will need to undergo depression or anxiety treatment.

What is Co-Addiction

Main Characteristics

  • Feel responsible to ensure no conflict, upsets, angry outbursts occur in your key relationships.
  • Seek to “keep the peace” with little or no thought to your own personal needs, wants, well-being, growth, etc.
  • Are overly attuned to what others need or “must have” to feel okay or not get upset, yet have little or no awareness of own needs, feelings, wants, boundaries, etc.
  • Worry about being viewed as “selfish,” “controlling” or “mean” by asking for what you want, doing your own thinking or acting on your own behalf.
  • Check the moods of key others around the clock, in particular, looking to see if you’re needed to put out “fires” (i.e., anger, upsets, discomfort, etc.).

These traits could also be used to describe behavior and attitudes which are beneficial and even encouraged, such as a mother looking after her children or a person who takes care of his or her spouse. In the case of drug and alcohol dependence however, the story is quite different and can be detrimental to both parties.

How Does Co-Addiction and Codependency Work?

A wife has a husband who is an alcoholic. She sees that it is destroying his life and the family unit, but she does nothing to remedy it. She has long ago given up on fixing the real problem. She is careful to not bring up the subject to her husband; she never “rocks the boat” in other words. His alcoholism gets worse and worse and all she does is prop him up so things look vaguely normal. She is afraid to leave him and she is afraid of making an attempt at changing him. Such scenarios are all too common in cases of addiction.

In the case of children, they are essentially forced into these situations. A child is quite literally dependent upon the mother and the father. When one or both parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol, the child is forced to play along no matter the circumstances. Children in homes like this are at greater risk of substance abuse. They may rebel, run away, or simply accept the situation as a fact of life. In any case it is unhealthy for the child.

Intervention and Families

A drug intervention is normally an organized meeting between friends, family and the addict, often with the help of an addiction specialist or interventionist. Any trained and experienced interventionist knows that dealing with the family is often just as urgent as dealing with the addict, as the family could be exacerbating the situation and antagonizing the addict without even realizing it. In the case of what is termed co-addiction, it is not one set of emotions at work, but rather a volatile mix of emotions and attitudes flying about unpredictably. It is thus extremely helpful to have someone on board who is “exterior” to the situation and can take an objective stance, act as mediator, etc.

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