Codependency / Co-addiction:  
Detaching with Love

Anastasia D. Bean, MS, LPC, NCC

I used to spend so much time reacting and responding to everyone else that my life had no direction. Other people's lives, problems, and wants set the course for my life. Once I realized it was okay for me to think about and identify what I wanted, remarkable things began to take place in my life.

– Melody Beattie

The codependent / co-addiction relationship begins when family members take on other family member roles rather than detaching and focusing on their own needs. Addiction is a progressive and chronic disease that affects the whole family, thus making recovery a family matter. Borrowing from a 12-step program slogan… Three Cs Plus One: You didn’t Cause it. You can’t Control it. You can’t Cure it. And the plus one… But you can Contribute to it. Codependents contribute to the addiction of a loved one as co-addicts. Co-addicts become preoccupied with dysfunctional behavior of a loved one or close friend. Just as the person suffering from the addiction requires recovery, the codependent or co-addict also requires recovery.

Detachment is how the co-addict begins recovery. Detaching with love is a concept that sounds irrational and takes time and practice to master. “If I do not worry about the addict, who will?” Acting like nothing is wrong or ignoring the problem is simply unacceptable! The first step is becoming aware of our role in the addiction and how we contribute. Detaching is the cognitive separation from the addictive behaviors and the person suffering from addiction. In other words, love the person while detaching from the disease. This is the beginning of becoming aware and accepting our own lack of control over another person’s addictive behavior. Often those closest to the addict are just as sick as their addicted loved one. The ego-defense mechanism, D.E.N.I.A.L. (Don't Even kNow I Am Lying), is powerful and protects people from consciously acknowledging their painful realities. The family members see clearly and without question the deep denial of the person suffering from the addiction. However, the denial for a family member is simply failing to acknowledge his or her part in the addictive patterns. Time is spent focusing on how to get the person suffering from addiction to change, while in reality the only person we have power and control to change is our self.

The recovery process for the family is similar to the person recovering from the addiction. Therefore, recovery is necessary for the whole family. The fact is the co-addict is in greater denial than that of the person actually suffering from the addiction. The process is about separating the person from the disease, to comprehend when legitimate concern ends and obsessive worry begins. The co-addicts tend to see the problem outside of themselves. They are just waiting for the person suffering from the addiction to fix their problems; just waiting for them to get straight. The waiting in the present moment and worrying about the future leaves the family members drained and empty. The emotional pain is real for the co-addict and contributes to a false sense of control. Too often the co-addict goes along in emotional pain always waiting for someone else to get better before they can feel better.

The person suffering from the addiction has great deal of support. It is to be expected that the co-addict also requires support, help, and connection from others whom are experiencing similar life experiences. Attending their own 12-step program such as Al-anon introduces the family to the same recovery process that AA promotes. A family member can most effectively support their loved one by talking to a professional counselor who understands addiction and codependency, along with participating in a support group. This is the beginning of sustained recovery and new beginnings for the entire family.

Let it begin with me. – 12-step Slogan