Addiction is a progressive illness that never starts with injecting heroin into your arm. It starts before that. Some believe the first time an addict uses, they can get addicted. It can be confusing because non-addicts use and get high too. They may drink and drive, or wake up sick or hung-over. They also feel ashamed of their behaviour while under the influence. However, non-addicts learn from their experience with alcohol and/or drugs and proceed cautiously going forward.
Addicts on the other hand, get high and then build a lifestyle around it. They don’t practise caution. Instead, they go pedal to the metal all out! Addicts become addicted to the way they feel while under the influence. This attraction is so strong, they will give up their family and friends for it. Each time they make a poor choice it’s minimised, resulting in dishonest thinking. The addicts new normal is a maladjusted compass of excuses, justifications, rationalizations, blame and self-pity. Self-pity is a self-absorbed mindset allowing them to feel self-righteous in continued usage, even at the expense of their job, friends and family. Addicts must lower their moral standards to stay in relationship with alcohol and/or drugs.
When I was using I witnessed another addict having convulsions on the floor. His bladder let go in the process and he urinated on himself. When his convulsions stopped and his eyes opened, he stood back up and demanded another hit. Pretty sick. Right?
Yet this scenario plays out hundreds of times a day all over North America. With this image in mind it’s easy to think the addict is the sick one. After all, they’re the ones sticking needles in their arms and cocaine up their nose. But all addicts don’t use drugs or drink copious amounts of alcohol.
Codependents can be addicts too. Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC describes it as: The inherently dysfunctional “codependency dance” requires two opposite but distinctly balanced partners: the pleaser/fixer (codependent) and the taker/controller (narcissist/addict)
Codependents have the disease-to-please, also known as relationship addiction. People struggling with this disorder often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. They have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They develop a sense of reward from being needed. In other words, they experience pleasure from the act (the same as an addict experiences pleasure from using) and become addicted to helping sick, needy people.
Codependents lower their moral standards to stay in relationship with addicted individuals. They mood-alter through rescuing, control, work, food, sex, shopping, dramatic and chaotic love relationships, drinking or using with their addicted partners, or using prescription medications like sleeping pills or benzodiazepines.
A codependent has little or no boundaries. Instead they immerse themselves into their relationships creating a pathological and compulsive dynamic, with the people they’re trying to help, rescue or save. They will bankrupt themselves trying to rescue their loved one, then become bitter when they’re taken advantage of. They feel like victims in their role of giving, even though they refuse to set limits. They justify their behaviours to enable their loved ones addiction.
You might ask yourself who is sicker, the addict or the codependent?
The truthful answer is they are each, equally sick.
Both codependents and addicts struggle with relational problems. Although the relationship between these two is dysfunctional, it’s not what you think.
The codependent is other focused and the addict is substance focused. However what both these individuals truly lack, is a healthy sense of self, and self-awareness.
Both parties will need help to identify triggers and unhealthy behaviour patterns.
The next time you’re thinking about helping your addicted loved one, stop. Are you really the one who should be helping them? If you’re the one the addict calls every time they’re in trouble, you’re probably not helping them. What you’re really doing is enabling their illness. Which means you’ve developed the same dishonest thinking patterns they have.
Addicts aren’t the only ones who need protecting from themselves, codependents need it too.
But there is good news.
By now you know what doesn’t work. Make this your opportunity to learn what does. Find out all you can about your illness. Focus on you and changing the things you can. Recovering from addiction and codependency is possible. With the right help and tools, you can live a life beyond your wildest dreams!
If you or someone you know needs help, please call this confidential support for line assistance. 1 888 614-2379.