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Heroin and Codependent Relationships: A Vicious Cycle

As noted in an advisory from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), social connection is an important part of your well-being. Your social connection is a reflection of your relationship and interactions with different groups of people and your community. From family and friends to your neighborhood and workplace, the connections you make with others can support your physical and mental wellness. However, it is necessary to note that social connection alone does not equal wellness. As the HHS notes, the structure, function, and quality of your relationships are all important factors. Moreover, codependent relationships, specifically, can negatively impact your physical and psychological well-being.

At The Guest House, we know that fostering a community can be a powerful tool for healing in recovery. Forming a community through healthy relationships and connections gives you space to share your experiences without fear. In addition, when you can share and bond over your experiences with others in a safe environment, it opens the door to learning and building healthy coping skills with each other. However, codependent relationships can impede your recovery as it leaves no space for your needs to be considered and met. Further, unhealthy codependent relationships can encourage self-defeating behaviors like substance use disorder (SUD) as a means of coping with an unhealthy relationship.

What Are Codependent Relationships?

According to “Co-Dependency” from Mental Health America (MHA), co-dependency is a learned behavior in which you form an emotionally destructive and or abusive relationship. Within codependent relationships, the relationship is neither healthy nor mutually satisfying as only one person’s needs are being met. Moreover, as noted in “Codependency and Pathological Altruism” by the American Psychological Association (APA), being connected or involved in the care of someone with SUD, physical difficulties, or mental health disorders is not always a codependent relationship.

However, maintaining a relationship where one person’s needs are always put before yours and, in turn, negatively impacts your well-being is a codependent relationship. When one person is always giving and the other is always taking, it creates a relationship imbalance. A relationship imbalance suggests that one person’s needs are more important than the other, when in fact everyone’s needs are equally important for individual and group wellness.

Now, you may wonder if you have any codependent relationships in your life. Learning to recognize the signs of codependency can help you better acknowledge and overcome these challenging types of relationships.

Signs of Codependent Relationships

As the MHA article notes, the term codependent was initially coined to address relationships involving addiction. It either developed from two people with mutual SUD or it reflected a person living with (and/or in an intimate relationship with) someone with SUD. However, the definition of codependent relationships has expanded to include dysfunction in other relationships like family, friends, and co-workers. Therefore, the signs and symptoms of codependent relationships can vary to different degrees.

Some thoughts, feelings, and behaviors you may experience in a codependent relationship include:

  • Feeling an exaggerated sense of responsibility for others’ actions
  • Experiencing tendencies to always do more than you should or need to do
  • Feeling guilty for asserting yourself or hurt if and when people do not recognize your efforts
  • Experiencing an extreme need for others’ approval and recognition
  • Feeling compelled to try and control others’ behaviors
  • Experiencing difficulties recognizing the difference between love and pity
    • More likely to seek out people who you feel need you to rescue them or have poor communication skills
  • Having difficulties making decisions, setting healthy boundaries, and identifying and understanding your feelings
  • Experiencing difficulties trusting yourself or others
  • Fearing loneliness or abandonment
    • More likely to cling to unhealthy relationships to avoid feeling abandoned
  • Increased likelihood of low self-esteem
    • You seek validation outside of yourself
    • It feels difficult or impossible to be yourself
      • You may engage in self-defeating behaviors to cope with your psychological distress

Moreover, looking at characteristics like low self-esteem highlights some of the potential causes of codependent relationships.

Causes of Codependency

According to “Can Co-Dependency Be a Problem Without Addiction?” by Maren Voss, codependency has sometimes been referred to as relationship addiction. Thus, the concept of relationship addiction highlights the relationship factor in codependent relationships. The interactions you have in your relationships can play an important role in your psychological well-being and the level of dysfunction that can arise in your relationships. As Voss notes, stressors in or placed on your relationships can lead to feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, and a need to fix the other person or minimize and deny the issues.

Moreover, as stated in “Mental Health States of Housewives: an Evaluation in Terms of Self-perception and Codependency” by Veysel Kaplan, due to the societal expectations of the caregiver role, women are more likely to experience codependency. Dysfunctional family interactions often place women in positions in which they take on all caregiver duties regardless of work outside the home. The continuous and unshared duties cause women to place others’ needs before their own, creating space for the development of codependency. Moreover, dysfunctional relationships where giving and taking are unequal leaves no space for clear healthy boundaries that considers everyone in the relationship’s needs.

In other words, the perpetuation of your role as the giver in your relationships can negatively impact your mental health. Listed below are some of the ways unequal giving and taking can impede your mental health and lead to codependent relationships:

  • Decreased self-esteem
    • You start to attach your identity and value to whether or not you can appropriately meet the needs of the other person
  • Seeking perfectionism
  • Experiencing obsessive thoughts about the same issues
  • An inability to say no to others
    • Your sense of self is wrapped up in taking care of others
      • You minimize your needs and prioritize others’ needs
  • Feeling burnt out
    • Always giving with nothing in return is mentally draining as none of your needs or wants are met
  • Experiencing feelings of loneliness

Substance Abuse and Codependency

Moreover, as noted in the Addiction and Health Journal, the use of substances like heroin can lead to unstable and unpredictable self-defeating and or self-destructive behaviors. Additionally, as noted in a booklet from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), opioids like heroin create euphoria, which replicates feelings of relaxation and satisfaction. However, the addictive quality of drugs like heroin creates a tolerance level that increases your need to consume more of the substance. Nevertheless, the more you consume substances, the more it negatively impacts your brain and behavior. As the NIDA notes, studies have shown that addiction physically changes areas of the brain that impact judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behavior control.

Listed below are some of the ways substances like heroin can lead to self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors:

  • Difficulties with memory
  • Issues paying attention
  • Difficulties thinking clearly
  • Increases in poor social behaviors

An inability to control your behavior and impaired judgment can impede your work, school, and relationships. Therefore, as stated in the Addiction and Health Journal, loved ones cannot trust the actions and behaviors of the person using heroin. When addiction breaks the sense of trust in the family, it creates chaos, emotional confusion, chronic anxiety, and fear as they disrupt the family dynamic. Furthermore, the increased emotional distress brought on by SUD makes it difficult to build or maintain healthy coping strategies. Thus, codependent relationships can be a reflection of maladaptive coping mechanisms to deal with the stressors caused by dysfunction in your relationships.

Codependent Relationships and Unhealthy Coping Strategies

According to “How Codependency Affects Dyadic Coping, Relationship Perception and Life Satisfaction” by Zsuzsa Happ et al. dyadic stress occurs when both people in a relationship are impacted by a stressful event. Thus, dyadic stress can result from using dyadic coping strategies to deal with stress. While individual coping still occurs, shared stress creates a simultaneous coping path in which people in the relationship attempt to cope together. Moreover, dyadic coping can take positive and negative forms that impact individuals and relationships.

Listed below are some of the positive and negative forms of dyadic coping:

  • Positive dyadic coping:
    • Supportive
      • You help the other person to cope
    • Delegated
      • Problem-focused coping
        • You may complete a distressing task on the other person’s behalf
    • Common or joint
      • You work together to find a solution
  • Negative dyadic coping:
    • Hostile
      • Behaviors that belittle the other person’s feelings, needs, and issues
        • Ridicule the other person
        • Minimize the other person’s problems
        • Act distant from the other person
    • Ambivalent
      • Provides support to the other person unwillingly and without motivation
    • Superficial
      • Provides illusionary cooperation in which the perceived support is not real

Moreover, the type of coping strategies you utilize in your relationships can be impacted by codependency. As Happ et al. notes, people in codependent relationships are more likely to use negative dyadic coping. When you have a higher level of codependency, you are more likely to perceive your own and others’ negative dyadic coping strategies as more evident. In addition, codependence directly influences your perception that your relationships are problematic.

Thus, amplified perceptions of problematic relationships increase relational anxiety and your ability to function in stressful situations. Furthermore, growing up with dysfunctional family dynamics encourages you to learn and adapt to those dysfunctional behaviors with maladaptive coping mechanisms. The maladaptive coping mechanisms developed in childhood are used in an effort to maintain balance in unhealthy dynamics. Therefore, in adulthood, you may continue to engage in unhealthy coping strategies in your relationships.

For example, some ways an individual with codependency may behave unhealthily include:

  • Using ambivalent coping to maintain codependent relationships
  • Exercising control over the relationship indirectly
  • Focusing on competing with the other person
  • Using negative dyadic coping as a response to your own feelings of vulnerability in the relationship

Codependent relationships can have a profound impact on how you relate to others, function in your relationships, and cope with stress. Now that you know how codependent relationships can form and impact you, you may wonder what is next. For example, how do you get out of codependent relationships and start building healthy relationships?

Addressing Unhealthy Relationships in Recovery

As the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) notes, an important step on your recovery journey is working to reduce codependent tendencies. If you have lost your sense of self and become wrapped up in the need to please other people, taking a step back can help. You can take small steps toward separating your identity from the relationship by planning activities for yourself and spending time with others. Moreover, you can advocate for yourself by setting boundaries in the relationship that considers your needs and wants.

When you take some time away from your codependent relationships, you can give yourself space to discover your identity. The idea of taking time for yourself or saying no to the other person can feel scary. You may think they need you or that things will fall apart without you. Yet, taking steps to reduce codependent tendencies can support you and your loved ones’ long-term well-being.

As noted in a newsletter from the National Institute of Health (NIH), healthy relationships are important for your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The types of relationships you form with others can have a positive or negative impact on you. On one hand, healthy relationships can reduce stress and even help you live longer.

However, on the other hand, unhealthy relationships can lead to mental health disorders, SUD, and increase your risk for early death. Moreover, relationships exist on a spectrum. Everyone can have disagreements, and there is always room for growth and deeper understanding in all relationships. However, healthy conflict does not require people to harm, control, or belittle each other.

Although relationships exist on a spectrum, there are some key factors you can look for that highlight healthy relationships. In healthy relationships, you:

  • Feel good about yourself and who you are when you are around them
  • Actively and openly listen to each other
  • Feel safe talking about how you feel when you are with them
  • Trust each other
  • Feel valued

Moreover, as the NIH newsletter states, the development of healthy relationships often starts in early childhood. How your family functions is central to how you learn, listen, resolve conflicts, and set healthy boundaries. Meanwhile, as we have learned, unhealthy family dysfunction supports maladaptive coping and codependent relationships. Thus, you may wonder how can you break the cycle of codependent relationships when all you have known is dysfunction.

Building Healthy Relationships in Recovery at the Guest House

It may feel difficult or impossible, but establishing healthy social connections can be a powerful tool for healing and recovery. According to HHS, “behaviors are both learned from and reinforced by the groups we participate in and the communities we are a part of.” Therefore, the traumas of your past do not have to impede your present and hold your future captive.

Listed below as HHS notes are some ways you can start building healthier connections in your life:

  • Participate in social and community groups to help foster your sense of belonging, meaning, and purpose:
    • Engage in hobbies
    • Stay active
    • Volunteer
  • Invest time in nurturing healthy relationships:
    • Build trust
    • Develop clear and open communication
    • Prioritize support
    • Embrace mutual satisfaction
  • Reach out for help when you are in need of support by contacting:
    • Trusted loved ones
    • Health care providers
    • Your therapist
    • Crisis line

Moreover, with support, you can dismantle self-defeating behaviors and end the vicious cycle of codependent relationships in your life. At The Guest House, our values are founded on the motto, “love them back to health,” because healing means caring for the whole person. Codependent relationships can make it challenging to feel good about yourself and lead you to cope with substances. However, a supportive community can give you a safe and comfortable space to heal. When you have a supportive and judgment-free place to share your story and experience with people who care, you can learn to love yourself.

Our commitment to holistic care and a wide variety of therapeutic modalities gives you the space and tools to heal and end the cycle of codependent relationships and self-destruction. You deserve the opportunity to be loved and live a fulfilling life without sacrificing your sense of self for others. Whether it is a romantic partner, family member, friend, or co-worker, your relationships should never leave you feeling less than. Therefore, reaching out for support can help you find a healthier you for long-term recovery.

Codependent relationships happen when you always put others’ needs first. They can make you feel like your value is merely in making others happy. Meanwhile, codependent relationships can lead you to self-medicate with substances to cope with your distress. However, you can end the vicious cycle of self-defeating behaviors by addressing these codependent tendencies. Recognizing the root of codependent behaviors can help you build healthier coping strategies. With healthier coping strategies, you can form relationships where everyone feels valued. At The Guest House, we believe fostering a community based on love, support, and acceptance can give you the space to truly heal. Call us at (855) 483-7800 to learn more about our holistic approach to care.