Unhealthy Roles in Codependency

People with active addictions are often difficult to deal with. Although everyone, even people with addictions, are individuals, they are often argumentative, and sometimes even violent.

When things go bad, family members generally bear the brunt of it. As a result, family members often find themselves pacifying their loved ones, trying to bargain with them in order to avoid a confrontation or to protect them from harming themselves further.

Parents of children who drink or use drugs sometimes allow them to use mind-altering substances at home, and may even supply them with alcohol or other substances, with the belief that they are keeping their children safe.

An obvious danger in this is that, not only is it illegal, but it's illegal for a reason. It doesn't keep anyone safe, least of all from addiction.

Another problem with people in active addiction is that their loved ones eventually lose their sense of personal boundaries, whether it's between themselves and their children or in their relationships with a spouse or partner.

Family members and other loved ones of people with addictions often find themselves devoting all of their emotional energy trying to contend with the addicted individual's drinking patterns or drug use. Attempts to protect someone from the consequences of their addiction serve only to feed the addiction, while starving the emotional stamina of those who are obsessed with trying.

Commonly, loved ones of people with addictions will fluctuate back and forth between five coping skills, hoping to deal with the impact of addiction.

  • Warden or Investigator: While assuming this role, loved ones will closely monitor the activities of the addicted family member or partner. In an attempt to protect them from the consequences of their addiction, the "investigator" or "warden" will bombard the individual with questions, search through drawers or other possible hiding places for evidence, and make phone calls looking for evidence of substance use.
  • Rescuer: While in this role, loved ones are engaged in preventing their child or partner from the consequences of their addiction, lending them money, paying their debts, making excuses for them at work, and bailing them out of jail. "Rescuers" may also take it upon themselves to arrange for treatment opportunities.
  • Loner: Loved ones often assume this role when they are tired of being wardens or rescuers. While completely aware of the substance-seeking behaviors of the addicted person in their lives, they are determined to ignore the addiction, focusing instead on their own lives, attending to their friends, careers, and personal interests.
  • Bonder in Misery: In this role, loved ones seek to connect with the addicted people in their lives through shared misery. As negative thought processes are common in addiction, loved ones will sometimes seek to bond by engaging in discussions about how horrible the world is.
  • Bonder in Using: While it is certainly not inevitable, some loved ones will increase their own usage of alcohol or drugs in order to have some connection with the individual with the addiction.

Loved ones may fluctuate through these coping skills or remain in any one of them for a long period of time, resulting eventually in emotional burn-out.

While they may be unaware of it, they are functioning on crisis or chaos mode. Without time to process their feelings, they try to repress them. Nevertheless, unless they are in the "loner" role, nearly all of their thoughts are related to addiction.

There is a healthier and more effective way to deal with it. For help, call Pir2Peer Recovery Community Center at 207-447-9500 or stop by the Center on 2323 Medway Road in Medway from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday.

Note: For this article, I am indebted to Rebuilding Relationships in Recovery: A Guide to Healing Relationships Impacted by Addiction, by Catherine Patterson Sterling, M.A.