Addiction takes on many forms, from alcohol and other drugs to process disorders such as shopping, sex, love, gambling, overspending, disordered eating and digital/online obsession. These addictions often overlap together and with co-occurring mental health disorders that can create a complex mix of issues.
When many people think of someone with an addiction (also known as a substance use disorder), they typically believe it is the loss of that individuals will power – that they could stop if they really wanted to. However, addiction is a proven brain disease that over time changes the brain and reduces one’s ability to make a rational choice not to abuse alcohol or drugs. Tragically, addiction typically affects others – loved ones, co-workers, friends, associates and more.
In essence, addiction touches everyone in its path. Addiction and reactional behaviors to someone with an addiction (often called codependency) become intertwined holding each other in captivity. Codependency is defined as excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, co-worker, friend or family member, who typically requires extra attention and focus due to an illness or an addiction. A codependent relationship, for example, can cause the loved one of the person with the addiction to make excuses for their behavior.
Codependency behaviors are unhealthy and can cause misery on both sides of a relationship.
Following are some typical behaviors that take place in a codependent relationship that are not beneficial to anyone’s overall happiness and wellbeing.
*Difficulty setting limits or boundaries
*Feeling trapped or held hostage in your relationship
*Making excuses, apologizing for your loved one’s behavior
*Calling work, school, rearranging appointments because of the effects of the addiction
*Trouble saying “no”
*Always saying “yes” to whatever is asked of you
*Difficulties showing intimacy
*Making up stories as to why your loved one is the way they are
*Needing to control
*Needing to “look good” to the outside world
*Feeling anxious and fearful about being abandoned or rejected
*Being secretive, lying to the person so as to hide the truth
If you or a loved one is experiencing an excessive relationship with an individual who has a substance abuse and/or a mental health disorder, some common behaviors you may be taking on are:
*Being a martyr – “Look at all I do for them”
*Refusing or denying there is a problem
*Putting the addicted loved one’s needs first
*Making excuses for the loved one
*Finishing one’s sentences for them
*Blaming your loved one for everything that’s not right with your life
*It’s challenging to share or express feelings
*Ignoring or rationalizing an individual’s negative or dangerous behaviors (legal issues, lying, fighting, verbal/physical abuse, stealing, etc.)
*Being unable to distinguish the difference between you and your loved one’s problems
The reality of addiction’s affects on family circles, business associates and friends are destructive, but change IS possible.
In Alanon, they talk of the 3 – C’s.
- You did not CAUSE your loved one’s addiction
- You alone cannot CURE the addiction
- You alone cannot CONTROL your loved one’s addiction
Embracing the 3 – C’s can help us realize that we are not there to fix the person, we are not the cause of it, and we cannot control or cure the situation. In addition, I would add that we need to take better CARE of ourselves and learn to COMMUNICATE our feelings with a therapist or someone we trust. And we can make healthier choices for ourselves and learn to CELEBRATE our growth. Simply recognizing the problem is growth.
For those who have grown up in an alcoholic home, married someone with a substance abuse problem, have a child who is actively abusing drugs and alcohol or have a dear friend in the grips of consistent drug use, we can choose to use the tools above and question what is the motivation behind our behaviors or reactions – we can ask ourselves, “How does my reaction sit with me? Does it feel right, or did I compromise?” Simply taking time to investigate our reactions and reassess how we want to respond next time can begin the change towards healthier dynamics in a relationship.
Creating healthy boundaries for you and your family members and learning to honor and celebrate yourself can be incredibly rewarding and can lead to a happiness and fulfillment that may have been lacking. Instead of constantly focusing on your loved one with the addiction or disrupting behaviors this holiday season, consider focusing on yourself and what’s important to you.
Family dynamics can be challenging for anyone, but remember to be a part of the solution and use the tools above. If a situation comes up that is just too much to handle, and you need help and insight, call a therapist, mental health agency or a trusted friend to talk about the difficulties – as well as some solutions. You are not alone.
A Way Out