Drug and alcohol abuse does not just involve the addict. It also involves the friends and family members who make up that person’s network and who oftentimes play some role in their addiction. When a person consistently covers for an addicted person, supports their habit in some way, or makes excuses for them, it is known as enabling.

Codependency occurs in a relationship when one person (normally the substance abuser) is the manipulator, and the other person is an enabler, supporting the addiction of the manipulator because doing so meets a deep psychological need within themselves. Codependency normally occurs in relationships with very deep emotional attachments, often between a parent and child or between spouses or siblings.

In a codependent relationships, the manipulator uses people in their life to get what they need for their addiction. This could be money, a place to live, the actual drugs or alcohol, or coverage and excuses when their addiction would otherwise generate consequences.

The enabler is psychologically dependent, or “codependent” on the addicted person, who is manipulating the situation. Codependent people have a deep psychological need to be needed or to get attention. The manipulator’s addiction provides a way for this need to be met. In this way, the codependent enabler becomes, in a sense, psychologically addicted to the substance abuser’s addiction. A codependent person always puts the needs of the addicted person first, even when that means an unhealthy situation for themselves.

When a person is codependent, their emotional or psychological needs are met by the person’s addiction continuing. They might fear the rejection that standing up for themselves would bring or the relational turbulence that might occur if they tried to confront the other person’s addiction. Or they may thrive on what they perceive as the deep need of the other person for what they have to offer. This kind of codependence leads to a nasty cycle of abuse and enabling.

If you recognize this cycle in your own life, there is hope. Serenity House offers a treatment program that holistically addresses the needs of the patient and the patient’s family and friends. We know that addiction does not occur in isolation, and the pain does not just impact the addicted person, which is why we offer family services to address cycles of enabling and codependency and to equip families with the knowledge, tools, and resources to heal from the wounds of addiction while supporting their loved one in sustainable, healthy ways.

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