November 26, 2014
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Addiction

 Health Home >> Addiction >> Understanding addiction 


Codependency

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 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).

The acronym CARESS is often used to help people who are having issues with codependency.

C: Develop your coping skills. Learn to identify your emotions by going to a support group or working with a counsellor. Learn about boundaries and how to establish and maintain them. Learn how to be assertive in relationships and how to safely resolve conflict.

A: Make yourself accountable. Share your commitment to change with someone who cares for you. Join a group; get a sponsor or mentor.

R: Take responsibility for your own recovery. Being a victim may feel like it absolves you from blame, but it gives all the power to the victimizer. It's up to you to change the things you can.

E: Education helps. Reading books, attending classes, and going to group meetings can all help you towards reaching an understanding of addictions and dysfunctional family systems, and recovering from symptoms of codependence.

S: Develop a support network. Join a group (Al-Anon, religious institution, hobby group). Identify support people among friends and family, at an institution of worship, or in your workplace, and get in the habit of sharing with them, in person and by phone.

S: Your spiritual health will likely get more and more important to you as you get older. Figure out what you believe. Decide on your values and live by them. Start your day with meditation.

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 

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