Article | March 2018

Understanding Codependency

Many of us care deeply about someone with a chemical dependency. That person might be a friend, parent, spouse, or child. Our love for the dependent person can turn into codependency. This happens when we react to the person’s behavior and try to control it. Codependent habits often go unnoticed, but they can cause great damage. They may actually help the dependent person stay addicted. And they can stop the codependent person from living a fulfilling life.

Do you think you might have codependent habits? If so, learning about codependency is your first step toward a happier life. And this knowledge can help your dependent loved one, too. Changing your habits may help him or her get healthy and stay that way.

What are the signs?

Codependency comes in many forms, but the focus on others stays the same. The codependent pays lots of attention to the actions and feelings of others. As he does this, he neglects his own needs. The codependent is always reacting, rather than acting for himself.

Common signs of codependency include:

  • Worry and anxiety
  • Bending over backward to take care of others
  • Not knowing or not trusting one’s own feelings
  • Feeling guilty for not doing enough
  • Feeling isolated or depressed
  • Staying in bad relationships (or sabotaging good ones)
  • Trouble with emotional intimacy or sex
  • Workaholism
  • Lack of energy
  • Low self-esteem

What are the effects?

A codependent person often tries to rescue the dependent person. She may lie to cover up for the person's actions. She might lend them money or take over their responsibilities. This makes it easier for the abuser to keep on using.

The codependent may also try to control the abuser's habits. She might nag, plead, or hide the abuser's alcohol or drugs. The codependent may act out of love, and struggles to make the abuser change. But the only person she can change or control is herself.

The abuser must choose to work toward recovery. Meanwhile, the codependent person can make choices for her own life and health.

How can I recover?

Recovering from codependency sounds simple. But it takes time and effort. The key is to learn to take care of yourself, and let others take care of themselves.

To do this, you'll need to tune into your own feelings and behaviors. And you'll need to detach yourself from other people's problems. You'll have to learn to love yourself and take responsibility for your own needs. Detaching doesn't mean you don't care about your loved one. It means that you're putting your energy to better use.

Loving a chemically dependent person can be terribly painful. It can affect your life for years. Recovering from codependency is a process. It means accepting and then letting go of pain, and finding ways to be happy.

Recovery may be easier with outside help. Consider working with a therapist with experience in substance use disorder and codependency. Or contact your local chapter of Al-Anon.

Cigna Can Help

If you have coverage through Cigna, we are available by phone at 1 (877) 622-4327 any time to help you understand what services are available to support you during this time.

understanding codependency

This material is provided by Cigna for informational/educational purposes only. It is not medical/clinical advice. Only a health care provider can make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment plan. For more information about your behavioral health benefits, you can call the member services or behavioral health telephone number listed on your health care ID card.