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Co-dependency

For a long time, alcohol addiction was perceived as a problem that only concerns the alcoholic. The alcoholic was seen as a bad person without ambition that can be cured only if separated by his family and with the help of other alcoholics.

Today, alcohol addiction is considered a family problem (with a major impact on the entire family, not only on the alcoholic) where each member of the family plays a singificant role in the disease onset and evolution. Every person in need has an enabler.

A person in need and an enabler find each other because they fulfill each other's needs. The enagler needs to protect and offer protection while the sick person needs to be protected.

Family members of an alcoholic are called co-dependents. Co-dependents are all the people around an alcoholic, not only the family members, such as the alcoholic's friends, co-workers, and neighbors. A co-dependent is any person around the alcoholic that becomes his ally and a double participant to the disease.

Co-dependency was used for the first time in alcohol addiction treatment jurnals at the begining of the 70's. Initially, it reffered to the wives of alcoholics, and only recently, the meaning of this term extended. Nowadays, co-dependency describes a dysfunctional style to relate with others.

Initially, co-dependency symptoms were considered a reaction to a stressful life next to an alcoholic, and the excessive, fear, shame and pain feelings of the family members were considered a response to the alcoholic's behaviour.

The co-dependent behavior continues to be present among family members even when the alcoholic becomes sober.

Alcohol addiction specialists realised that the co-dependent behavior is a disease that affects the entire family. The hidden causes of this dysfunctional behavior play an essential role on the alcohol consumption evolution of the alcoholic member.

Co-dependency became an important element in family counseling and is used to help the family members to understand the reactions and the behavior they develop living with an alcoholic.

A co-dependent person is described as a special, polite and altruist person. Underneath this mask, a co-dependent person excessivly worries for the people around them, always trying to help and take care of others. The co-dependent desire and attemp to take care of a person in need is based on a good intension, but it becomes compulsive and harmful. The co-dependent gets tracked into an addictiv circle of insatisfactions from where he/she cannot escape. Often, co-dependents play the role of a martyr and become the rescuers of those in need.

The repeated attempts of an co-dependent to save enable the person in need to develop a destructive behavior (the person becomes dependent on his enabler rescue actions). A co-dependent enjoys his rescuer role and the more he helps, the more he is satisfied.

The co-dependent behavior is caused by the enabler attempt to control other people's feelings, thoughts and actions, satisfying his/her own needs.

Co-dependents often confuse what they and others are, thinking that they represent the center of other people's life. They also believe that are responsible for other's happiness or unhappiness. They start organizing their life trying to receive other's recognition in order to feel valuable. Often, co-dependents are involved in distructive relationships only for their own benefit.

Examples of co-dependent behavior:

  • Takes over the alcoholic's responsibilities.
  • Justifies the alcoholic's behave to his family, relatives, friends, co-workers or superiors.
  • Takes over difficult activites that should be done by the alcoholic
  • Takes control over the alcoholic's life and behavior stopping him from participating at different social events where the alcoholic can drink, traces chores that keep the alcoholic away from the alcohol source, digs after hidden bottles of alcohol and throws away the booze, demostrates with serious proves when the alcoholic lies.
  • Lack of sincerity to the alcoholic, other persons or themselfs about the reality they live in and the feelings they have as a result to a life next to an alcoholic.
  • The attempt to be perfect in everything they do, think, and believe, looking for other's appreciation and admiration.

The co-dependent behaviour has its own progressive evolution influenced by the alcohol addiction's evolution.

The first phase of the co-dependent behavior is a protective attitude triggered by the occasionally alcohol consumption of the alcoholic. During this phase a co-dependent tries to excuse the alcoholic behavior to friends, family, laying out various plausible reasons.

As the alcoholic starts to drink more, his/her need to find a responsible person for this situations increases. Usually, the person who is the target for all the reproaches, acusations and blame is the co-dependent, which starts to feel like he/she is responsible for the alcoholic's alcohol consumption. The co-dependent starts to doubt his quality as a human being, wife/husband, or parent. This situation puts lot of tenstion on the co-dependent who tries to prove himself and others that he/she is perfect.The co-dependent tries to make everybody happy taking over a high amount of responsibilities, solving difficult situations, thinking that only this way the alcoholic will stop drinking.

Despite the co-dependent efforts to stop the alcohol consumption, the alcoholic drinks more. This leads to a new type of co-dependent behaviour: the need to control. This is a normal reaction triggered by the need to keep under control a chaotic situation, and to reduce the tension and restore stability. The co-dependent ends controlling every aspect of the alcoholic's life, trying to organise his/her life in order to keep the alcoholic away from the alcohol source.

In time the co-dependent self-esteem decreases and he/she adopts a new behaviour: starts blaiming. He/she starts projecting all the anger, rage, fear over the alcoholic. In this phase, the co-dependent finds the alcoholic responsible for the chaotic life they live.

While the alcoholic's alcohol consumption becomes worse, the co-dependent loses his/her self-esteem, and chooses a life in isolation. In this phase the co-dependent feels like he/she is the victim, feels sorry for himself/herself, and wishes to stop helping others. He/she ends breaking the relationships with family members, friends, and chooses an isolated life full of grief.

The progressive evolution of the co-dependent behaviour (from the protector to the controller and to the blamer phase) ends in the last phase, the enabler. The desperate attempts of the co-dependent to manipulate and contol the alcoholic, allows the alcoholic to not face the consequences of his/her behaviour.

Co-dependents need help to recover from their disfuncional lifestyle in order to re-establish a normal couple and family life, especially when the alcoholic is treating his addiction.

The co-dependent's recovery is possible only when the co-dependent is facing and accepts the pain caused by the past and present, and adopts a new, healthier lifestyle. However, the recovery takes times because the co-dependent behaviour developes in time. Sometimes, recovery spans over the entire life. Profesional help allows the co-dependents to identify those factors that triggered the co-dependent behaviour, and to learn effective strategies that rebuild a healthy life and prevent relapses.


  »  Alcohol consumption
  »  The Alcohol
  »  Alcoholemy
  »  Alcohol abuse
  »  Drunkenness
  »  Dependence
  »  The Alcoholism
  »  The alcoholism a disease
  »  Alcoholism's casualty
  »  Evolution of dependency
  »  Loss of control
  »  Consumption's effects
  »  Co-dependency
  »  Alcoholism treatment
  »  Avoid the consumption


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