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Substance Abuse/Addiction, Families and Codependancy.

Updated on September 8, 2018

Substance abuse/addiction, Families and Codependency

In the research that I have done about substance abuse/addiction in families I have found that there are many different problems involved. Not only is the addicted person negatively affected by their addictive behaviors but the family members that do not have the addiction problem themselves suffer greatly too. One of the problems that the family members face within a family where there is addiction is codependence. The Webster’s dictionary defines codependency as “a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (as an addiction to alcohol or heroin); broadly: dependence on the needs of or control by another” ( In the book Health: The Basics it says that: “Family and friends of addicted persons often struggle with codependence, a self-defeating relationship pattern in which a person is controlled by an addicts addicted behavior” ( Donatelle 2013, pg 203).

In a family where there is substance abuse and addiction, the family members are not in a healthy or normal family environment. The family members play certain roles in trying to keep the family together, and to make the family look and seem as normal as possible. Often, family members will have some, if not all of the symptoms of codependency. Pia Mellody’s book Facing Codependency she describes five core symptoms of codependency as:

1.Difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem.

2.Difficulty setting functional boundaries.

3. Difficulty owning our own reality.

4. Difficulty acknowledging and meeting our own needs and wants.

5. Difficulty experiencing and expressing our reality moderately.

“Healthy self-esteem is the internal experience of one’s own preciousness and value as a person” (Mellody 1989, pg 7). When people are in families involved with addiction there are a lot of factors that can cause a person to experience a less than or better than feeling about themselves. For example, a child may feel that it is their fault that their parent is addicted and think that they are a bad person. Or on the other side of the coin, a person may feel that they are better than others because they don’t have the same problems other people have.

Many people in families of addiction have difficulty setting appropriate boundaries too. Boundaries keep people from coming into our space and abusing us, keep us from going into others space and abusing them and give us a way to embody who we are (Mellody 1989, pg11). People in families with addiction usually do not have appropriate boundaries because they have not been taught them or their boundaries are not taken serious due to the substance abuser in the family. Other people in the family may not even have a sense of boundaries at all because they feel helpless.

Some people in families with addiction also have difficulty owning their own reality because they don’t know who they are or are living in a state a delusion. A person may actually know their reality but will not say anything to others lest they become unaccepted by others. They may say that their family is just like a normal functioning family and believe what they tell others about their family because that is what they are accustom to.

People in families with addiction may have difficulty acknowledging and meeting their own needs and wants. This has to do with the fact that people in these families are trying to make everything appear normal on the outside and they will sacrifice their own needs and wants to do this. For example, people need friends but a person in a family with addiction may not make friends because they feel the need to cater to the addict in the family or hide their issue from others by keeping people away.

People in families with addiction may have difficulty experiencing and expressing their own reality moderately as well. What this means is that the person has a difficult time being moderate in behavior. Pia Mellody says that codependents “are either totally involved or totally detached, totally happy or absolutely miserable, ect” (Mellody 1989, pg. 35).

In conclusion, in this paper we have discovered some issues that family members face that have an addicted person in their family. We have learned the definition of codependency. We have discovered that codependency is one of the great issue that family members face who have an addicted family member in their family and we have learned the five symptoms of codependency as described in Pia Mellody's book "Facing Codependency".


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