When someone you care about develops an addiction, there may be a tendency to take responsibility for him or her. If you have codependent issues you may cover up for an addicted person, make excuses for them, or clean up their mess. Unfortunately, when you do this, the person who is addicted is less likely to take responsibility for themselves and get help to change.

What is codependency?

If you have codependent issues, you are more likely to feel confusion, low self-esteem, fear, anger, and shame. Or, you may feel numb, unable to identify or recognize your emotions, which may be expressed in a variety of ways, such as headache, chronic pain syndromes, or compulsive behaviours. If you have issues with codependency, chances are you have problems with several of the following:

  • all-or-nothing or black-or-white thinking
  • a need for control of people/situations
  • difficulty trusting others
  • high tolerance for inappropriate behaviour from others
  • neglecting your own needs while looking after others'
  • overdependence in relationships coupled with a fear of abandonment
  • problems in maintaining intimate relationships
  • problems in resolving conflict
  • taking excessive responsibility for others

Not everyone with these issues has a problem with codependency. However, if you think you might have codependent issues, talk to your doctor or health care professional so you can be properly assessed and receive help to manage codependency.

Codependency recovery

If you have a codependency issue, you may be helped by counselling, education, or a support group specifically for people affected by another person's addiction (Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics-ACOA, Co-Dependents Anonymous-CoDA).

So what can you do for the person with an addiction?

The most important thing you can do if someone you care for is addicted is to detach, stop enabling, get healthy yourself, and allow them to feel the consequences of their behaviour. If, however, you do these things and it still doesn't work, there is a process called intervention.

For an intervention, a skilled counselor will coach a group of concerned friends, family and, if appropriate, workplace associates, in preparing for the intervention. Each person in the group is given the assignment of documenting specific incidents during which the addicted person's unacceptable behaviour affected them, and their emotional response to that situation. The group then rehearse the intervention in order to avoid anger or inflammatory comments.

On the day of the intervention, the person with the addiction is invited to a pre-arranged neutral site and asked to sit and listen as each member of the group goes through their statement. The session opens with the facilitator explaining the reason for the meeting and the fact that everyone is there simply because they care about the person with the addiction and invite him or her to join them in getting better.

At the end of a presentation the facilitator may warn the person who is addicted of the likely consequences if they don't get help. Usually the outcome of the intervention is for the addicted person to undergo thorough assessment and treatment.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team