Addiction’s Companion

Codependency

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By Mrs. Janet Siry, LCSW, LCC Psychotherapist

Addiction Has Long Reaching Effects
A codependent relationship is one in which a person, often unknowingly, exhibits learned behaviors that support or enable the other person’s addiction, under-achievement, immaturity, or irresponsibility as a result of their own needs for personal approval, control or survival in an emotionally stressful family. During the 1980’s, researchers recognized that addiction and dysfunction in the family can alter how individual members perceive the world around them. Before then, it was understood that alcoholics and addicts were self-destructive and needed help. However, the depth of damage done to other family members or the family system itself was generally not recognized as something to be considered in treatment. Few professionals were trained to recognize the long term effect of addiction on other family members. There was limited understanding of the nature of the generational progression of the disease or how genetics might be a predictor of alcohol abuse within families.

Treatment Also Needs to be Long Reaching
In 1981, Dr. Claudia Black wrote “It Will Never Happen To Me!”  This seminal work brought into consciousness and identified characteristics and behaviors that were common to adult children of alcoholics. This research began to clarify the long term consequences addiction had on the family itself. It supported treating all family members living with an addict. The research underscored that family members also needed individual treatment and group support to learn how to live an emotionally satisfying life.

Codependent Behaviors
In 1986, Melody Beattie wrote about codependency in her book “Codependent No More”.  People display codependent behaviors because they believe they are to blame for the behaviors of the addicts they love. They control the world around them by caring for others without regard for their own emotional needs. They often have difficulty establishing appropriate personal boundaries. If conflict develops in the relationship, the caregiver often has limited understanding of how his own behaviors impact the relationship.

New Forms of Codependency are Different but just as Unhealthy
In 2009, Beattie wrote “The New Codependency”. She compares codependent behaviors as they affect today’s generation of people to those of their parents who became aware of their own codependency. She hypothesizes that people engaging in codependent behaviors today have a sense of “over-entitlement, over-protection and inflated self-esteem” rather than the attitude of deprivation and extreme self-sacrifice experienced by their parents. Unfortunately, codependency still affects families in an unhealthy way.

It’s a Family Disease
It must be recognized that alcoholism is a family disease. All members of the family must understand the nature of addiction and receive treatment in order for this intergenerational cycle to cease. Codependency is not a disease but a behavioral pattern that prevents people from interacting with one another in an emotionally healthy way. With the advent of exciting new brain research, the possibility for better treatment and understanding of these issues is within sight. 

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Janet Siry, LCSW, has extensive experience working with addicts and their families.  She also counsels children, teens, couples and adults for many other issues. Janet was a pre-school teacher before receiving her LCSW. She has also worked as a school counselor.  You may read her bio here. For a counseling appointment, call LCC at 1-800-317-1173. All sessions are virtual

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