Last Updated: May 30, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Codependency refers to several things:

  • Placing others’ needs or wants above your own.
  • Basing your feelings of self-esteem on how well you can control yourself and others and on others’ approval.
  • Experiencing anxiety when it comes to intimacy and separation.
  • Having a hard time expressing your feelings.
  • Being afraid of others hurting or rejecting you.
  • Ignoring your own values and replacing them with the values of others.

However, within the realm of alcoholism, codependency refers to the partner, spouse, or child of an alcoholic who adopts responsibility for the alcoholic themselves. They will often attempt to hide all signs of alcoholism from others and suppress any potentially upsetting situations or feelings within the household to cater fully to the alcoholic’s drinking.

What, then, is “codependency relapse“? How does it affect both the alcoholic and their family? What are the general trends within a codependent home? And how does treatment work when the entire family is involved? We have some answers:

What Does a Codependent Home Look Like?

Generally, a codependent household will consist of an alcoholic adult man and a codependent woman and/or children. According to H. Dan Smith, a Counselor Education and Rehabilitation professor at the University of California, Fresno, research shows that women adopt codependent tendencies more than men, while men have a higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse.

Sometimes, the codependent partner or child will become an “enabler,” someone who allows substance use to occur in order to avoid the negative consequences that come from arguing with the alcoholic.

Children are more likely to be in denial about their parent’s alcoholism, while parents of adult alcoholics will tend to “baby” their children, which allows the alcoholic child to lean on them in a way that is inappropriate for their age. Extended family may want to distance themselves from the alcoholic, or they may feel embarrassment, guilt, frustration, or worry.

The alcoholic can often find themselves feeling alienated from their family, perhaps choosing to spend time with other substance abusers with whom they feel comfortable.

The behaviors and ramifications of a codependent home can carry on for years and throughout generations. Codependent children of alcoholic parents, for example, can grow up to be controlling and overprotective parents themselves, depriving their kids of freedom out of fear.

This all can change, though, once treatment begins.

The Road to Recovery for a Codependent Family

Once the alcoholic of the family determines they want to find a way to recovery, codependent family members should also work on their own issues to ensure success for the entire household. Studies have shown that alcoholics are more likely to stay sober if their family members go into treatment for codependency—this allows everyone to develop healthier habits together so that a new life can begin. It also helps the family to develop ways to intervene in case the alcoholic family member relapses, breaking the cycle of deference to a substance use disorder.

What is “Codependency Relapse”?

This phrase refers to times when codependent family members revert back to their old ways, picking up behaviors like prioritizing the alcoholic’s needs and values before their own, neglecting to discuss their own feelings, and even something as small as feeling preoccupied with and responsible for the alcoholic’s recovery.

While codependency might not be a disease in the same way as alcoholism, both sides of the equation will experience gains and setbacksFifty-seven percent of alcoholics who enter treatment experience relapses in their first three years, and it is to be expected that codependent “sobriety” is similarly difficult to attain. The main focus for families of alcoholics is treating codependent behaviors and impulses to provide the best environment for the alcoholic to recover and for the entire family to thrive.

What are the Best Methods of Treatment for All Involved?

There are many ways that the entire family can participate in treatment so that recovery can be sought for both alcoholism and codependency:

  • Group therapy that focuses on either alcoholism, codependency, or both can provide an environment where both sides can learn, grow, and ultimately heal.
  • Family therapy enables a psychologist or therapist to give specific, focused advice and guidance to a codependent household, leading everyone toward recovery.
  • Behavioral couple therapy has been proven to reduce the frequency and intensity of alcohol use, while also lengthening periods of sobriety. It also allows the codependent partner space to safely express their feelings and improves the quality of the relationship and family functioning while decreasing instances of domestic violence.

Even if the alcoholic family member is not ready to enter treatment themselves, it is important for codependent family members to explore therapy for the sake of their well-being and their loved one. Reducing codependent behavior in an alcoholic household, regardless of how many times “codependency relapse” occurs, is nothing if not positive. It enables the family to move in a healthier direction and creates a better environment for their alcoholic partner, parent, or child to get well—which, after all, is the family’s ultimate goal.


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