Enabling and Codependency

The disease of addiction does not only harm the individual misusing substances. Many family members don’t realize how much it can change their own behavior in unhealthy ways.


What is Codependency?


Codependency refers to a psychological construct involving an unhealthy relationship that people can share with those close to them. It typically occurs when individuals who are not themselves addicted to drugs and alcohol are controlled by the addicted person’s behavior. Codependency is a kind of addiction around a relationship.

Codependency can emerge from quite normal behavior. Being compassionate and wanting to trust someone that you love are quite normal intentions. But when people start going to extremes and engage in enabling behaviors, they are really promoting sickness, both in themselves and the addicted person.  


Codependency and Enabling


Codependency and enabling are two sides of the same coin. Enabling is a set of behaviors, while codependency is the motive that drives those behaviors. Codependency is a psychological state of mind that drives the need to engage in enabling behavior.


Examples of Enabling


Examples of enabling behaviors are spouses taking on the responsibilities of the addicted partners or making up excuses for them. Or parents ignoring the strange behavior of their children while handing out big allowances.


Recognizing Codependency and Enabling


How can loved ones recognize they are codependent and enabling? If you are compromising many—if not most—other aspects of your life for the sake of trying to protect the addict from their disease and its negative consequences. Supporting an addicted person becomes a problem when people begin to violate their own moral code. Many loved ones lie and go against their own better judgment to protect an addicted family member, often from legal consequences.

Codependency frequently involves dysfunctional behavior similar to the substance abuse of the loved one. Partners and parents often mistakenly feel they have to choose between tolerating the substance abuse and the death of their loved one. Codependents will continue with enabling behaviors even though they don’t want to and even after deciding not to do so. They are trying to help, but even when they realize their efforts aren’t helping, they compulsively continue them anyway despite the negative consequences. Those negative consequences almost always involve the addicted person.