Codependency, or Addiction involving relationships, is just as much a part of Addiction as drug use, alcohol use, gambling, or other manifestations. Yet, it often gets a bad wrap, is consistently misunderstood and not placed in the Addiction category. Today, I am here to tell you that Addiction involving relationships is just as much a part of Addiction as anything else and comes with all of the same tell-tale signs, including intoxication, withdrawal, and relapse.
What is codependency? Addiction involving relationships involves a pattern of enmeshment and strong attachment in relationships (romantic or otherwise) that is often characterized by symptoms of caretaking, rescuing, control, dependence, covert manipulation, passive-aggressiveness, and resentment. People who are vulnerable to Addiction involving relationships often find themselves gravitating towards people who are vulnerable and need to be taken care of or “saved.” The acts involved in “saving” the person are what generate the hit, or the intoxication, for the person with Addiction. The absence of these opportunities to save can lead to withdrawal.
Once people have identified this unhealthy and dysfunctional pattern in their relationships, they will seek change by working on boundaries, assertive communication, self-care, and detaching with love. This allows the person the necessary time and space to be able to get to know themselves and start to connect with a range of people rather than over-focusing on one relationship.
The process of change and recovery goes up and down, however, as it does with Addiction of all manifestations. While, for the most part, quality of life improves and boundaries are consistent, there will be periods of relapse. What does this look like in the realm of Addiction involving relationships? It can take a whole host of forms. For some it may look like:
- Pulling away from self-care and/or recovery activities
- Looking up former friends or partners online
- Starting to say ‘yes’ to more commitments
- Rumination or obsessive thoughts about a person or situation
- Increased anxiety and/or depression
- Increased shame, self-doubt
These are often early warning signs that Addiction is increasing in activity and these symptoms, if left unchecked and untreated, can lead to more significant relationship relapse, which can look like:
- Engaging in a romantic relationship prematurely
- Reconnecting with an ex, friend or family member that you had previously detached from
- Starting to control other people’s behaviours and lives
- Seeking out enmeshed relationships
- Falling into old patterns of codependency
While some people may scoff while reading these lists and say, “Well everybody does that!” the reality is that Addiction involving relationships comes with an intensity, severity, and debilitation that people without Addiction do not experience. Addiction involving relationships can be just as fatal as Addiction with substances because it can lead to strong depressive feelings that can promote suicidal ideation or action, or seeking escape through substances. This is a serious condition and it is something that those who already are aware that they have Addiction deserve to seek treatment and recovery around. For those who are unsure if they have Addiction or not, if you can identify with any or all of the patterns described above, then I would recommend that you seek assessment in your local area by a qualified health provider.
There is a tremendous amount of hope for those who struggle with Addiction involving relationships. Recovery involves diligence and commitment to doing different, which results in being different.
By Paige Abbott
Paige Abbott is a Registered Psychologist and has a private practice, Sana Psychological, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She has worked with people with Addiction of all manifestations for over eight years and supports people with codependency and other relationship challenges everyday.