What is a Codependent Enabler

If we were to tell you that sometimes a man in need of recovery’s greatest obstacle to a sober life is his Mom or his wife, you might call us crazy. These loved ones want him to get well the most of all, right?

Unfortunately, the phenomenon of addiction not only tricks the user himself into thinking he should take drugs, it also results in the man’s loved ones acting as codependent enablers.

A codependent enabler is obeying natural instincts of loving and care-taking as you would expect a mother or a wife to do.  But the addicted man who is receiving this care is shielded from the the pain and difficulty that his active addiction is causing.  The result is that his addiction is being unwittingly supported by those who have the most to lose from it.

The most common examples of codependent enabling is providing money and/or shelter to someone who is using the situation to continue his drug use.

Why Codependency Must Be Addressed in Successful Addiction Recovery

Decades of addiction treatment have provided a ton of evidence about what contributes to a relapse after treatment.  When someone returns to the same setting with the same family dynamics at play, statistically he is much more likely to relapse.

If you were to look at the family system of the all of the victims of a fatal overdose, there will often be a codependent enabler that has contributed to the horrible outcome. Many times the deceased individual has even been to a residential treatment program and gotten sober for a time.  It’s possible that his return to previous family dynamics contributed to him slipping into previous patterns and ultimately sabotaged his life.

The Good News: Help is Available

What has greatly helped the field of addiction treatment advance so much in recent decades is how universal the behaviors are of families that struggle with addiction. Codependency follows familiar and predictable patterns and are nothing to be ashamed of.  Trained counselors and interventionists are well versed in how to identify the dynamics at play in the addiction of your family member. Trained professionals can provide clarity and direction for you and other family members so that all can help their loved one (rather than help the addiction).

The worst strategy we can imagine is not addressing the codependency and continue letting it threaten the life of your loved one and the well-being of the entire family. It’s not nearly as scary as it sounds to share these issues with a professional and accept their guidance.  It’s the kind of action that can save a life, as opposed to inaction which could result in a fatal overdose or some other tragedy.

Call us if you have any questions about codependency or treatment. Any trained addiction counselor should be able to help you in this area.  Interventionists in particular are adept at recognizing and addressing family patterns that hinder recovery.

Al-Anon and Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA)

Al-Anon is different than Alcoholics Anonymous (or AA).  Al-Anon is a support group that has meetings for the loved ones of people in need of or in recovery. There’s often natural resistance from codependent enablers when Al-Anon is suggested, just as the addicted person may resist Alcoholics Anonymous.  This is very natural as the person who can benefit from Al-Anon may be experiencing denial, fear of change, or shame with regard to their current situation.

That’s really a shame because the reality is that Al-Anon is a place of healing and safety.  Hearing the honest sharing of others and realizing how similar your experience has been can be a liberating relief from the shame and self-blame the participant may be weighed down by. Al-Anon has been around almost as long as AA,  since AA founder Bill Wilson’s wife recognized the need to support the loved ones loved ones of the man in recovery and then started hosting Al-Anon meetings. Al-Anon Meetings can be found here. There is also a newer organization called Codependents Anonymous which offers the same type of healing to those who struggle with codependency as as Al-Anon, and “CoDA” meetings can be found here.

Our Favorite Resource
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie is a book that anyone who suspects they may be enabling a loved one’s alcohol or drug addiction should definitely check out. The full title is: Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring For Yourself, and if that second part doesn’t feel like it “fits,” then the book will be revelatory.