Cycle of Enablement: The Codependent & The Addiction

When a person is controlled by a substance, extremely negative symptoms and behaviors mani­fest that affect the family. Addicts often lie, steal, cheat and use the people in their life to get what they need to continue to use a substance. While it appears to be a substance abuse problem, the roots behind the addiction stem from deeper-rooted issues. This means that the addict’s prob­lem isn’t the substance, rather the drinking or drugs have become a coping mechanism.

Once in a full-blown addiction, an addict can no longer control or choose to stop using sub­stance, he or she is literally in bondage. To the outside observer, this behavior looks like pure insanity. Family members often do not understand the nature of addiction, nor their ability to overcome it through rationalization, guilt or other tactics. They will spend significant efforts in trying to find ways to get the addict to quit. The role they will assume in the relationship is code­pendent and as they focus more and more on the need to fix and change the addict, it will lead to difficult strains in the relationship at all levels. 

The relationship between the addict and codependent is toxic, and even deadly. While the ad­dict needs to continue to feed the addiction and use all means possible to get the “next high”, the codependent needs tries to manipulate, intervene, fix and manage that person’s life. Oftentimes, the codependent will appear to be “doing good things” and trying to “help” the ad­dict from self destructing. However, by not allowing the addict to face the consequences of their behavior, the codependent actually ENCOURAGES the addict to stay in the addiction. Thus, we have the term “Enabler”. Sadly, this dynamic can run deeply and last a lifetime with much heart­break and abuse.

Let’s see how this typically plays out: (we are using gender roles for an example, but this sce­nario can fit anyone, including brother, fathers, mothers, sisters, friends, etc.) 


 The “love” of her life is a chemically addicted person. This “love” is what controls and influ­ences her thoughts,feelings and behaviors. 
The “love” of his life is substance – this addic­tion is what controls his thoughts, feelings and behaviors. 
 She unknowingly believes without him she will die or be unable to function. 
He unknowingly believes without his sub­stance he will die or be unable to function.
She is dependent on receiving his love; she finds significance and value through him.
He is dependent on a substance in order to avoid dealing with self and numb pain.
She is excessively loyal to him, despite his disrespect and irresponsibility – she feels it is her job to help him.
He is excessively avoidant and unfaithful because his addiction has first place in his life, and nothing else matters. 
She is unable to ask him for her needs as that would upset or anger him. It is her job to pro­tect his feelings. 
He demands that she meets his needs. While he appears to be strong, his emotional weak­ness dominates the home, causing everyone to “walk on pins and needles” 
She plays the role of the caregiver – she needs the chemically addicted person in her life to be sick in order to continue in this role. She neglects, however, to care for herself.  
 He feels entitled and accustomed to be being taken care of – he needs her to take care of him in order to continue his substance use. 
She is a rescuer who finds significance in “saving” him. 
 He needs to be kept from negative conse­quences so he can remain in his addictive behavior.
She is overly responsible for him to find her own validation and need to be needed.  
Because of his irresponsible, addictive behav­ior, he needs someone to blame or to fill in the gaps. 
She suffers from a lack of identity and changes to please him. She loses herself in his identity.  He wants to dominate her sense of identity (i.e.“this is who I say you are.”) in order to maintain a sense of control and be able to re­main in his addiction. He may also ignore her completely. 
She has low self-esteem and self-worth – she believes the love of the chemically addicted will fix her. 
He has low self-esteem and self-worth and uses a substance and control of others to fix him.
She has poor personal boundaries – she is easily led to compromise her core values and beliefs to earn his favor or love. 
He has no respect for her boundaries – he will push them to get what he needs at any cost in order to remain in his addiction.
She uses rule following or morals to gain her sense of “goodness” to deal with her shame and sense of being unworthy.  
He rebels against rules, systems and authori­ties to prove his own sense of control. (i.e., “no one tells me what to do.”)
She uses “good works” or flattery to earn his favor, acceptance and love. She believes if she can love him enough, he will change.  He uses any means necessary to meet his own need for substance use. He will use fear, domi­nation, guilt and shame to get what he needs.  



In recovery, the addict must go back and face those issues that drove him or her to use drugs or alcohol in the first place. The addict must learn to face life with sobriety, and unlock those places of emotional, spiritual or mental damage in order to begin to learn to live life free from addiction. This process is difficult and requires much time and work. It is essential for the addict to find others recovering from a similar addiction as a support system. (If you have a loved one who needs treatment, please visit our main website at

The codependent faces some challenges when an addict enters into a recovery program. The family system roles have often been reversed, and the burden of responsibility has usually been unfair and unbalanced. While a codependent usually wants the addict to get clean, they don’t realize that their identity and sense of worth has been tied up in the role they have functioned in to deal with that person’s addiction. This transition can be far more painful then anticipated. For example, a wife may have had to be the leader of the home in all ways and has acted as a single parent. Giving up that position of leadership isn’t as easy and pleasant as one might expect. Fur­thermore, families who have had to face the abusive and negligent behaviors of the addict desire time to rebuild the relationship and to become the “family they have always dreamed of having”. However, the addict in recovery may not have much availability to the family for quite some time, with the necessity of focusing on the process of personal change and healing, oftentimes through the 12 Steps. For the codependent who has had to be “sacrificial” in so many ways, this can seem frustrating and unfair.

In recovery, both the codependent and the addict have the challenge of learning to CEASE CON­TROL. For the addict, the focus is primarily on the substance in the beginning (although he or she will realize that the substance was a symptom, not the actual problem.) For the codependent, the major hurdle and challenge is to LET GO OF THE ADDICT.  Both will need an individual­ized support system in order for this to work. Without it, it is a GUARANTEE that the relation­ship will fail to become healthy.

If the codependent is in denial to the fact that he or she has contributed to the problem, the addict will be forced to rely even more heavily on outside resources and support. This will aggravate the situation initially. If the codependent understands his or her need to get help, there is hope for the relationship to heal eventually, but both need to understand it will be a long road and take time and effort.

Sometimes, the codependent gets healthy first while the addict remains in his or her addict. When this happens, the codependent no longer functions as the “enabler”. Ironically, this is sometimes the very key to the addict coming to the end of his or her resources and finally getting help. Other times, it may mean the relationship will end.

A Prayer About My Struggles With Codependence in my relationship with a Chemical/Behavioral Addict

Lord God,
As I read this, I realize that indeed some of these behaviors apply to me.  I don’t exactly un­derstand this all right now. I know that I try very hard to hold my family/relationship together or tried to do that in the past. I am asking you to set me free from these mentalities and coping mechanisms. I also pray for the family members in my life. I am making a choice today that I will focus on what I need to change. Instead of fixing others, I hand them over to you. You are so much more powerful then I am! Thank you for being my God!
In Jesus Name, A-men