A psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (as an addiction to alcohol or heroin)  -- Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Codependency is used to describe the person who becomes the caretaker of an addicted or troubled individual. The addiction can be to alcohol, drugs or gambling. Or the individual can be troubled by a physical or emotional illness. Codependents can be this individual's spouse, lover, child, parent, brother, sister, co-worker or friend. Codependents:

  • Enable or allow the person to continue his or her self-destructive or troubled behavior
  • Rescue the person who has gotten into trouble from things such as an arrest, accident, being absent or late for work
  • Make excuses for the person's behavior
  • Deny that the person has a problem

Roles codependents play include:

  • Rescuer: Saves the person from unpleasant situations, such as putting an alcoholic to bed after he or she passes out
  • Caretaker: Takes care of all household and financial chores that hold the family together
  • Joiner: Rationalizes that the person's behavior is normal by simply allowing it to occur or by taking part in those same behaviors as the addicted or troubled individual
  • Hero: Becomes the super-person to preserve the family image
  • Complainer: Blames the person and makes him or her the scapegoat for all problems
  • Adjuster: Withdraws from the family and acts like he or she doesn't care

Most codependents are unaware they have a codependence problem. They focus more energy on another's actions and needs than on their own. They think they are actually helping the troubled person, but they are not.

You may not be truly codependent, but your behavior may be enabling an addicted or troubled individual, and you need to be aware of that.

Self-Help Tips

Most codependents are not in touch with their codependency and may need help to see it. These self-help tips are general suggestions. For many people, these are not easy to do without the help of a counselor:

  • Read books on codependency (go to the library and bookstores); you may find that you identify with what you read and gain understanding
  • Focus on the three Cs: You did not cause the other person's problem, you can't control the other person, you can't cure the problem
  • Don't lie, make excuses or cover up for the abuser's drinking, drug or other problem; admit to yourself that this way of living is abnormal, and the abuser or troubled person has a serious problem that requires professional help
  • Refuse to come to the person's aid -- every time you bail the abuser out of trouble, you reinforce their helplessness and your hopelessness
  • If you or your children are being physically, verbally or sexually abused, do not allow it to continue -- there are shelters for victims of domestic violence
  • Know that there are many support groups that help codependents -- self-help groups for family and friends of substance abusers such as (Al-Anon, Alateen and Children of Alcoholics Foundation); other self-help and support groups are offered through community health education programs
  • Continue with your normal family routines; for example, include the drinker when he or she is sober
  • Focus on your own feelings, desires and needs; negative thoughts may be brewing just below the surface, and it's important to vent them in healthy ways; begin to do what is good for your own well-being
  • Allow children to express their feelings openly -- show them how by expressing your own feelings
  • Set limits on what you will and won't do: be firm and stick to these limits; it's natural to want to take care of those you love but in this case, it doesn't help
  • Engage in new experiences and interests; find diversion from your loved one's problem
  • Take responsibility for yourself and others in the family to live a better life regardless of if your loved one recovers

What You Can Do for a Friend or Relative

Persons who are codependent may:

  • Not realize they have a problem
  • Deny they have a problem
  • Refuse to get help

If you think someone you know is codependent, you can help them:

  • Let them know that you are concerned for their well-being and health
  • Encourage them to seek professional help or join a support group
  • Give them phone numbers for places they can get help
  • Tell them to contact the Employee Assistance Program at their place of work or where their friend or relative work
  • Reassure them that what they say will be kept in confidence

Books to Read

Breaking Free: A Recovery Workbook for Facing Codependence. Pia Mellody, Andrea Wells Miller. Harper & Row. New York, New York. 1989.

Codependence: Misunderstood, Mistreated. Anne Wilson Schaef. Harper & Row. New York, New York. 1986.

Codependent No More. Melody Beattie. Hazelden. Center City, Minnesota. 1987.

Codependent's Guide to the Twelve Steps. Melody Beattie. Prentice Hall. New York, New York. 1990.

Facing Codependence. Pia Mellody. Harper & Row. New York, New York. 1989.

If you or someone you know needs help with codependency, call for help.