It can be extremely difficult to watch someone you love abuse substances. You’ll likely want to help your loved one through recovery. However, it is important to know when you are helping and when you have become a codependent. Being a codependent is a form of enabling. You may have done this unintentionally and believe that what you are doing is helping your loved one, but it can create a tricky situation. Protecting your loved one from trouble may actually hinder recovery.


Definitions of Codependency and Enabling Behavior

Codependency and enabling behavior are similar concepts. Both are easy to confuse with helping a loved one with substance abuse. Enabling behavior typically occurs when another person, usually a codependent, helps or encourages substance abuse. This happens either directly or indirectly. For instance, enabling behavior would be hiding substance abuse from others, like neighbors or children.


Codependent Characteristics and Behaviors

It may seem like you’re helping your loved one with substance abuse. However, codependent behavior can be dangerous for the person suffering from substance abuse. It allows them to continue using drugs or alcohol. Some of the most common types of codependent behavior include:

  • An amplified feeling of responsibility for the actions of others
  • A tendency to confuse love and pity, along with a tendency to love people they can pity and rescue
  • A tendency to do more than fair share all the time
  • A tendency to feel hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
  • An unhealthy dependence on relationships. A codependent will do almost anything to hold onto a relationship to avoid feeling abandoned
  • An extreme need for approval and recognition
  • A sense of guilt when they assert themselves
  • A compelling need to control others
  • A lack of trust in themselves or others
  • A fear of being abandoned or alone
  • Difficulty identifying their feelings
  • Difficulty adjusting to change
  • Problems with boundaries
  • Communication problems
  • Feeling angry and used


Unhealthy Relationships

Codependency often appears in relationships where substance abuse is present. This relationship is often harmful to both people involved, but especially for the person abusing substances. Because of the codependent, the person using substances may not change their behavior or seek recovery.

This doesn’t mean that you should always avoid helping someone who is abusing substances. There are two ways to care for them: healthy caregiving and codependent caretaking. Codependent caretaking is harmful and should be avoided.


Who Does Codependency Affect?

The short answer is codependency affects everyone around. Unfortunately, substance abuse can cause a person to do things out of character. Codependency feeds into these new behaviors and creates a dysfunctional environment for those around. Oftentimes, a person with addiction is also a codependent!


How Do You Set Boundaries to Stop Enabling a Loved One?

There is no doubt that you have the best intentions when helping your loved one. All you want to do is keep them safe by protecting them from perceived danger. However, sometimes it’s best to let them make their mistakes. If they are constantly protected and bailed out of bad situations, they may not want to seek recovery.


Codependency Treatment and Recovery

We previously mentioned that a codependent person often tries to fix others. This can be dangerous and lead to instability or further substance abuse. Treatment works best if it’s left to the professionals. Addiction therapists understand coping behaviors, codependency, and substance abuse. In a recovery setting, like Holland Pathways, a person struggling with substance abuse can get the care and the assistance they need.