Co-dependency - is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.
Although each family is different there are some common qualities within each family where an adult abuses alcohol or another drug. Some of the common qualities are, life feels chaotic, roles are blurred, rules are not learned, and change feels frightening. There may also be conflict between family members, repetitive and irrational thinking, and perhaps violence and various abuses including sexual, verbal, and physical. The family is controlled by the co-existence of denial and substance use. The fact that there is an alcoholic in the family, becomes a major family secret, and is often denied. Children raised in addictive families learn that it is not safe to trust others with the real issues in their lives.
Claudia Black, a leading author and theorist regarding the impact of adult substance abuse on children, has written about several rules in alcoholic homes including:
1. Don’t feel: Due to the constant pain of living with an adult substance user, a child must “quit feeling” in order to survive. In these families, when emotions are expressed, they are often abusive and are frequently prompted by drunkenness. These outbursts have no positive result and, along with the drinking, are usually denied the following day. Thus, children have had few if any opportunities to see emotions expressed appropriately. The child thinks, “Why feel anything, when the feelings will only get out of control and won’t change anything anyway? I don’t want to hurt more than I already do.” This can cause children to become depressed. This can also cause children to feel anxiety.
2. Don’t talk: Children of adult substance users learn not to talk about the drinking or substance use that goes on in their family. This results from the family’s need to deny that a problem exists and that drinking is tied to that problem. There is often a hope that if no one mentions the drinking, it won’t happen again. There is also no good time to talk. It is impossible to talk when a parent or spouse is drunk, but when that parent or spouse is sober, everyone wants to forget. From this early training, the children often develop a tendency to not talk about anything unpleasant. This causes children to have the inability to have close relationships.
3. Don’t trust: In alcoholic families, promises are often forgotten, celebrations cancelled and the alcoholic’s mood is unpredictable. As a result, children learn not to count on others and often have a hard time believing that others can care enough to follow through on their commitments.
Each family member tends to find his or her own way to live with these rules. Children learn never to expect or to plan anything. They often strive to be invisible. Children are more likely to get into various kinds of trouble, including drug and alcohol abuse, as a way of expressing their anger at the family. The most frequent ways are to focus on trying to control the abuse, or to minimize its harmful