Codependents often struggle with drug and/or alcohol use in abusive relationships. Denial about living in or with a nightmare is a coping strategy that perpetuates self-destructive behavior. It is extremely painful, and extremely lonely. A codependent suppresses dreams and desires to fulfill the wants of another. Compulsive behavior is more common when a person cannot live their life without being subservient to the needs of another. Suppressing needs and lack of emotional fulfillment begins the search for an escape. Substance use can be the by-product of a codependent relationship. Relationship neediness may be so extreme that the person believes they can’t live without an abusive partner. This keeps the door open to being treated poorly and excessive dependency on substances.
Codependency develops in families when problems are not discussed, abusive behavior is ignored, secrets are kept, and substance abuse and denial are common. As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs. This learned behavior affects a person’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. The emotional and behavioral conditioning contributes to “relationship addiction” with people who are emotionally destructive and/or abusive. Codependent substance abusers give to others from fear rather than love.
The codependent creates an illusory world by using denial, delusion, and dissociation to decrease the pain that would be experienced if reality were accepted. The unacknowledged feelings trigger a need for relief. They may use eating, gambling, indiscriminate sexual activities, and/or relationships to escape emotional pain. The codependent resorts to substance abuse and other compulsive behaviors to relieve anxiety and handle building pressures. They find it hard to be themselves. Self-worth is determined by the happiness of a partner and they will attempt to control a relationship by being needed. Any perceived unhappiness in others around them feeds feelings of inadequacy and fear of abandonment. Self-esteem is derived by their ability to control situations and please others.
Abusers want a lot of control and are afraid of being controlled. They are resistant to doing what their partners want them to. They resist with denial, irresponsibility, indifference, withdrawal and rage. The codependent’s compulsive caretaking renders them feeling powerless in an abusive relationship unable to stop the cycle of behavior that causes it. As relationship conflict increases all too often the codependent turns to substances. They identify as victims and are attracted to that same weakness in abusers and friendships. Walking on eggshells, emotionally battered codependents second guess themselves and feel lost in a deep hole. The emotional abuse inflicted by a partner can be subtle by way of implying or saying that you are stupid, ugly, not worth attention or that no one could love an addict. The codependent believes they can’t live life or stay in purgatory without drinking or using drugs and this behavior increases the likelihood that they will blame the mistreatment on themselves.
Generally unsatisfied with their intimate relationships, they feel constantly unappreciated, and are preoccupied with their partner. This way of intimate relating combined with substance use becomes the backdrop for living in quiet desperation. Codependents take drugs or drink alcohol for mood change, excitement, relaxation, distraction, stimulation, or sedation. They stay in abusive relationships and deny or make excuses for their partners due to a high (insane) tolerance for emotional pain and inappropriate behavior developed in childhood. The codependent gradually loses touch with who they really are and their sense of self. They become numbed out unable to feel or express true feelings. This loss of self results in low self-esteem. Denial of feelings and pretending nothing is wrong fuels substance use. They start feeling out of control and repeat self-destructive behavior to feel better which often leads to symptoms of demoralization and depression. The painful existence progresses as the person forgoes interests because they are worried about what the abuser is or isn’t doing. They often drink or drug more, feel scared, alone, hurt and angry. Trying to fix their partner and staying means they will continue to be hurt. The cruelty often becomes more severe and frequent over time. The codependent doesn’t trust in their capacity to deal with life as it comes, so they are in a perpetual state of fear.
Fortunately, treatment for codependency and substance abuse can be highly successful in restoring a healthy sense of self. The codependent can learn to set personal boundaries to protect themselves from victimization. Many find the support of the 12-step program Codependents or Alcoholics Anonymous effective in uncovering the underlying cause of self-destructive behavior. Intensive outpatient treatment programs or individual therapy can help begin the process of caring for oneself rather than trying to fix someone else. Ending an abusive relationship or discontinuing drug use will not stop the learned behavior or protect against harm. The heavy emotional burden inside the codependent must come out to be healed.
Thank you for reading this post. I’ve dedicated my personal and professional life to the importance of non-violence and self-compassion by teaching from my experience. As a result, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to create a healthy relationship with self. And, as I learn and grow, I teach self-compassion and give advice I use myself, in the hopes that it helps you to improve your own life.