Alcoholism Codependency | Supporting A Codependent Alcoholic

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020

As alcoholism progresses, individuals begin to blur lines between healthy and codependent behaviors. Learning the signs of alcoholic codependency can help an addicted person get the appropriate substance abuse treatment they need.

Alcoholic Codependency

Codependency and alcoholism are terms often used together when relationships between two people become toxic, dysfunctional, or unhealthy due to alcohol abuse or addiction. These relationships can be between a parent and child, an intimate relationship, or another close relationship.

Individuals who suffer from severe alcohol use disorder (AUD) are sometimes referred to as alcoholics. Individuals with alcoholism consume large quantities of alcohol, putting their health and safety at risk.

Symptoms of alcoholism include being unable to control how much they drink, withdrawal symptoms if they aren’t drinking, and continuing to use alcohol even after it creates problems in their life. Alcohol consumption also greatly affects relationships, especially romantic ones, and generates significant issues such as codependency.

Codependency Vs. Coalcoholic

Decades ago, the term “co-alcoholic” was used to describe the people in relationships with alcoholics. This term shifted in the 1960s and 1970s, and became “codependent.”

For some time, it was assumed that this type of relationship was unique to alcoholics and their families or partners. Over time, it was recognized that codependent people could be the result of a number of different dysfunctional circumstances.

An Overview Of Codependency

Codependency can be described as a learned behavior that makes a person’s self-esteem, mental health, and emotional needs dependent on the other person in the relationship. Codependency affects one’s ability to have a healthy relationship. Individuals in codependent relationships also have issues with boundaries.

Codependency can manifest in many ways. Research suggests that children who have grown up in dysfunctional households are at risk of developing codependency in relationships as they get older.

Family dysfunction has also been linked to codependency, and usually stems from a family member struggling with an addiction (like an alcoholic parent), physical illness, mental illness, or mental and physical abuse.

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When a family doesn’t confront or acknowledge these dysfunctional issues, it can make other family members detach themselves emotionally and sacrifice their own needs.

Someone experiencing these situations may find themselves struggling with unhealthy behaviors and is at risk of becoming a codependent person.

Characteristics Of Codependency

There are multiple different signs of codependency or a codependent person, such as:

  • inability to communicate
  • feeling guilty when they assert themselves
  • having a hard time adapting to change
  • feeling the need to control others or things around them
  • inability to set healthy boundaries
  • low sense of self-worth
  • enabling people around them, especially the person with addiction
  • strong need for approval
  • feeling responsible for others’ actions
  • taking on more responsibility than needed
  • difficulties trusting people or themselves
  • trouble with intimacy
  • inability to make decisions
  • a strong fear of being alone
  • struggles with describing feelings or emotions
  • issues with anger
  • low self-esteem
  • feeling the need to please everyone around them
  • issues with anxiety

These symptoms of codependency significantly affect a person’s life and their ability to have a healthy relationship. A person in a relationship with an alcoholic may find themselves enabling their partner’s destructive behaviors while being less than concerned with their own needs.

Codependency And Alcoholism: Are Alcoholics Codependent?

As the term was shifting from co-alcoholic to codependent, another term was developed: counterdependent.

This term, counterdependent, was used to describe the addicts or alcoholics that were in relationships with someone who was codependent. These individuals were seen as more aggressive and controlling than their codependent counterparts.

However, this term eventually was absorbed by the term codependent. These two types of individuals shared a history of unhealthy relationships and trauma.

By this explanation, it makes sense that an alcoholic can be codependent, and that this is not a term reserved for people in relationships with an alcoholic. Many people with alcohol addiction exhibit signs of low self-esteem or may not feel like “themselves” when they aren’t drinking.

Alcoholics in intimate relationships often rely on their partner for reassurance and the need to feel needed. People with alcohol or drug addiction may even seek out people who need “fixing” to justify their need to help or control.

Alcoholics can also trigger codependent responses in others. For example, when a child has an alcohol abuse issue, they often need financial help. The parent may pay the bills in order to fulfill the need to feel needed, and ends up being an enabler. This creates a cycle of codependency that is started by the alcoholic child.

Treatment For Alcoholics And Codependents

When a loved one is showing the signs of codependency, doesn’t seem to be participating in self-care, and is putting their own needs beneath their significant other’s needs, there may be cause for concern.

Thankfully, there is professional treatment available for alcoholics, codependents, and codependent alcoholics. Support groups like Al-Anon can help a person understand their personal role in the relationship.

For a loved one in need of alcohol abuse and addiction treatment, there are outpatient and inpatient treatment programs. Typically, part of these programs includes therapy that helps identify and create healthy boundaries, and how to develop a better relationship with a codependent partner.

We are currently available to discuss treatment options with you. Reach out to our professional staff today, so we can offer some information and insight into the road to recovery.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020
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