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Addictions, Codependency and Family Functioning

Although my client base is self selecting and not representative of the general population, I am still amazed and distressed at the frequency with which addictions are part of my clients' lives.

When I first started out in private practice, I relied primarily upon formal diagnostic criteria (DSM-IV) as a means to identify the presence of an addiction. The DSM-IV provides a sound measure of substance abuse and dependence that is based on the frequency, amount and history as well as the substance's impact on a person's life. On its own, it provides a very acceptable way of assessing one aspect of an addiction problem.

Over the years, I have found that these criteria miss an important element in the addiction process; the impact a substance and/or an activity (and the resulting behavior) has on the family system. Today, while I still use the DSM-IV criteria, I have also incorporated more suble flags that take into account the intra-psychic, emotional, social and familial dimensions of addictions as well as the people with whom the addict associates.

I have catergorized these flags according to their relationship to the addict family member.


Until recently, codependency was a concept that I have had great difficulty in understanding. However, after a number of years of working in the area of addictions, I have developed my own conceptualization of this term which is based on the dynamics I have observed in the relationships between a codependent and an addict. I see condependents as individuals who are reliant on an addict's dependency on a substance or activity (e.g., gambling, work, sex). In other words, it is the addict's dysfunctional behavior and the family's adaptation to it that directs and maintains the relationship between the addict and the codependent.

An intriguing aspect of codependency is the vital role the codependent plays in sustaining the relationship regardless how destructive, aversive or dysfunctional it is. The term, "enabling" is often used to describe this phenomenon and it refers to the codependent's role in preventing an addict from assuming responsibility for his or her behavior, life and future. In doing so, the codependent forestalls and blocks the necessary conditions that would likely lead the addict to seek help on his or her own. Some of these conditions might include facing legal and/or criminal consquences for his or her conduct, being fired from a job and being asked to leave a relationship. The codependent's efforts to help the addict by protecting, shielding and excusing his or her conduct are ineffective in remediating the problem or altering the addict's behaviour.

These are some of the characteristic flags of a codependent:

  • they overcompensate
  • they protect at all costs
  • they second guess their own actions and often override common sense
  • they have difficulties making decisions
  • they struggle for control
  • they live in a constant state of denial
  • they make unreasonable compromises that seriously impact on their lives, their happiness and even their safety
  • they remain committed to the addict inspite of his or her inability to do the same
  • they maintain an unrealistic view that if "they" do the right things, their "addict" partner will change his/her behaviour
  • they are vulnerable to the addict's manipulation, a major impediment to healing and change
  • they place little value on their own needs and instead assume responsibility for those of the addict

These are some of the characteristic flags of an addict:

  • they lack empathy toward others
  • they have a narrow range of emotions (usually limited to anger/rage and elation)
  • they tend to communicate on a superfiscial level finding it difficult to discuss their feelings
  • they live in a constant state of denial
  • they are unwilling to accept responsibility for their behavior and recovery
  • they project their own inadequacies on others and blame others for their problems
  • they are unable to keep promises or commitments
  • they are highly manipulative
  • albeit dysfunctional, their addiction is their method of coping with life's stressors

The power of an addiction cannot be overstated!

It consumes the addict's mind, body and soul as well as that of those who care for them. An addict's path of destruction is multidimensional as it affects family, friends and coworkers and is transmitted across generations. Even though an addict may regret his or her behavior or the distress it causes family members, the addict remains powerless to the effects of their addiction.

An addiction cannot be managed alone!

It requires the support and cooperation of a network of supporters. Conquering an addiction requires more than abstaining from the addictive behavior or activity because it involves examining and changing all the associated feelings and behaviors attached to the addiction. Moreover, the challenge of altering an addict's behavior and ultimately assisting him or her to overcome their addiction is made doubly hard because in order to do so, the behavior of the codependent also needs to change.

If you can identify with any of these "flags"... then you might want to consider examining


and how and if...
an ADDICTION might be.....

All inquiries are welcome! For more information, please EMAIL US or call 281.534.3923!


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I've developed a number of ebooks and ecourses that may be of interest to you. They contain very useful information on a variety of topics related to divorce, custody and extramarital affairs.

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Have a nice day...

Dr. Reena