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Addicted to the Addict

When we think about addiction, we may be inclined to view it strictly through the lens of someone who abuses drugs or alcohol. However, if you have ever loved someone with an addiction, then you know that it is not that simple. In fact, those that love someone with an addiction may actually find themselves with an almost “second hand” addiction. I am referring to codependency. Codependency has a diverse spectrum and can be a complex and challenging concept. The form of codependency that will be focused on here is the residual addictive behaviors and emotions that come from loving someone with an addiction – when one becomes addicted to the addict. 

To begin, it can be helpful to view addiction as a series of obsessions and compulsions. While we watch our loved one obsess over their substance of choice and have compulsive risky and unhealthy behaviors required to sustain the addiction, we can very easily be sucked into their “obsessive-compulsive” world. Regardless of the title of the relationship, it is natural to want to spare someone we love from hardships. This becomes especially challenging with someone in active addiction, who we might see all but actively seek out hardships through risky behavior and unhealthy decisions. Due to the nature of addiction, these acts of “kindness” once rooted in love can soon switch to compulsive behavior based on fear, confusion, and general powerlessness. Have you found yourself obsessing over where your loved one is or rethink every interaction with them to see if there are any holes in their story? Or maybe questions such as “are they safe”, “are they using”, “who are they with”, “why are they doing this” flood your mind. These obsessive thoughts can lead to compulsive behavior in an attempt to self soothe the obsession and spare ourselves the guilt, shame, or embarrassment that accompanies them. Some examples might be minimizing behavior, providing money as a bailout to a financial pinch, or becoming a detective and constantly investigating your loved one’s belongings, statements, or behaviors.

Because of the chaotic nature of addiction, our emotions are often experienced in extremes, with stress being arguably the most common. When our body feels stress, the brain begins sending out various signals “sounding the alarm” accompanied by a rush of adrenaline. This feeling might be familiar in the way someone’s heart races when their loved one comes home under the influence, or stomach knots or racing thoughts when searching through their belongings, or the way the body might naturally tense at the thought of the loved one. Chronically being in this state of heightened emotion can lead to constantly expecting that “adrenaline hit,” which in turn feeds that “obsessive-compulsive” hunger. We have a thought, it leads to stress, we get that “hit”, we act out on the thought, we validate our thought, we get another “hit”. Those spikes in adrenaline and state of stress become a new normal for the body, and there becomes a normalization of crisis and expectation of chaos. When the addict’s behavior sets the temperature of our daily experience and we enter into a world of chaos, we can very easily lose sight of ourselves and just how irrational our thinking and behaviors have become. 

When we speak of recovery, we view this as a holistic process in which those directly affected by a loved one’s addiction must enter into their own recovery journey. It is a process of letting go of perceived control and regaining power over what is controllable. By confronting the expectation of crisis and setting firm boundaries over thoughts and behaviors, we can slowly move out of a world consumed by chaos and regain the safety of mind, decision, and sense of self. 

Codependency Looks Like

Codependency Looks Like

Co-dependency was a word that was coined by people working in the field of addictions to describe the behavior of members of an addict’s family that enabled the addict to continue with addict choices.  However, in the world of counseling, we have taken over the term to describe the behaviors of individuals who carry things for others that are not their responsibility. This could look like several things.  Sometimes people can have an unhealthy need for people to make them feel better. For example, if someone struggles with anxiety, they might be dependent on another individual to make them feel peaceful. This relationship struggle can cause people to control others so they don’t feel upset or it could cause people to become “people pleasers” to keep themselves or others from feeling off emotionally.  People tell me all the time that they feel like they have to carry the problems or tasks of others so that they don’t feel anxious. The crux of all co-dependency is that I carry something for someone so that I don’t have to feel _________(fill in the blank) or so that the other person doesn’t have to feel __________(fill in the blank). However, what we all need to understand is that feeling uncomfortable feelings is part of our emotional growth to wholeness; for self and others.  Whether it is our children, friends, co-workers or other family members, if we don’t feel the uncomfortable feelings of our choices, we are likely to not change. In this podcast, Cait Beiler and Sharon Wegman discuss what codependency can look like in our everyday life.

Anxiety Symptoms and Self Care

Anxiety Symptoms and Self Care

Anxiety rates are on the rise in the western world. In fact, in 2018 study on anxiety, it was determined that “1 in 5 five individuals deal with some form of anxiety and would be considered the highest prevalent form of mental illness in the United States”. Most people feel a lot of shame about not being able to control their anxiety or the fact that they have anxiety, however as research on this topic evolves we are coming to understand that changes in our culture have strong influences on the development of anxiety in our culture. For example, researchers have determined that 90% of the serotonin receptors are located in the gut. Therefore, the adage that “ you are what you eat” is quite right when it comes to an understanding some of the roots of anxiety in a modern culture which eats many genetically modified and processed foods. Additionally, many therapists would agree that the use of electronics increases social isolation and increases more self-comparison and negative perceptions of self and the world. In this podcast, Cait Beiler, MS and Sharon Wegman, MA, LPC, discuss causes of anxiety and strategies to deal with anxiety.

Newman, Tim (2018, May 5) Anxiety in the West: Is it on the rise? Retrieved from URL
Naidoo, Uma (2019, March 27) Gut feelings: How food affects your mood. Retrieved from URL