Co-dependency is a learned behavior characterized by an unhealthy attachment to another person that leads them to stop taking care of themselves while focusing on the other person. It is detrimental to both persons involved. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually-satisfying relationship. The behavior is especially prevalent in the families of addicts and alcoholics and the term is frequently used for a person who is obsessed with the behavior of an alcoholic, but it is not limited to alcoholics. It is the unhealthy attachment or obsession that defines co-dependency.
There are many people throughout the world who struggle with co-dependency. Co-dependency often affects a spouse, parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker of a person with drug and alcohol-related issues. Co-dependency is a serious problem that negatively affects people’s lives in several ways. People with co-dependency battle with an unhealthy emotional disorder that takes a lot of work to overcome. This is a disorder that is extremely common, and there is treatment available to people struggling. It is also frequently dealt with in family groups where alcoholics and addicts are in a treatment facility. Addicts and alcoholics themselves often exhibit signs of co-dependency which must be addressed in the treatment plan as well.
Dr. Harry and his team believe addiction is a family disease and the entire family system must be treated to affect long-term change. These relationships must be healed and each member of the family system must learn, or re-learn, how to take care of themselves and not enable the addict or alcoholic. As a result, significant focus is placed on this family work within Dr. Harry’s practice.
While an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol and an addict is addicted to drugs, the co-dependent person is addicted to the alcoholic or addict. They become obsessed with the behavior of the alcoholic/addict to a point where their own health is threatened, either emotionally or even physically. They will go out of their way to “take care of” the person they are co-dependent with in ways that the other person doesn’t need. They will do this when it is exhausting and detrimental to themselves. The co-depenedent will over-exhaust themselves and risk their jobs to do these unnecessary acts. This is not how someone can effectively support their loved one in treatment, nor is it a healthy way to live.
As mentioned, co-dependency often effects the family and failing to address this behavior will significantly decreases the probability of a successful outcome. Dr. Harry and his staff have witnessed this over the years and as a result they address co-dependency with their clients and with the family.
Alcoholism and addiction are often viewed as a family disease because its effects have grave consequences for not only the individual suffering from abuse, but everyone close to them and the family. The family structure is typically the primary environment in which we learn our coping skills and how to function in the world. Those who suffer from alcoholism or addiction usually have not developed effective coping skills and instead use alcohol/drugs to function in the world and avoid their discomfort. It is a way to escape their reality.
Therefore, to effectively treat alcoholism often the role of the family, and family members themselves, becomes very important. As the disease has progressed the family has molded and adapted to accommodate the behavior of the alcoholic. The alcoholic while in his/her disease, even if the family has attempted to set boundaries or distance themselves from the alcoholic, plays a role within the family structure and the family becomes accustomed to operating with the alcoholic.
Through the process of working with Dr. Harry and his team the alcoholic or addict begins the process of changing their way of life. This may cause a disruption in the family system and the family must learn to function in a new way with the alcoholic no longer active in their disease. This often will cause a major disruption in the functioning of the family dynamic. Members of the family could have coped with the alcoholic member in different ways. They may have used them as the focus of their anger and frustration, they may have used them as a source of purpose, the purpose being the caretaker of the alcoholic, or used the alcoholic’s disease as a distraction from difficulties in their own lives.
When the alcoholic begins the recovery process it can be a shock to the system and when they attempt to reenter the family system the members may continue old patterns out of fear of losing this piece of the family that they have grown accustomed to. This reversion to old behavior has the capacity to draw the alcoholic back into old ways of behaving and coping.
Recovered Alcoholics Re-Entry into the Family System
The family has enabled the alcoholic for so long that, in many cases, when they re-enter the family system the enabling of the alcoholic by the family can (and often will) draw the alcoholic back into their disease. That is why the whole family must participate in treatment, in effect receiving treatment for their own co-dependency and enabling. When the alcoholic goes into treatment for their disease, treating the disease as a family disease is an effective method to creating lasting recovery for the alcoholic and will in turn develop a healthier and happier family.