Addiction & Codependency: Understanding the Family Dynamics

This article was first published on Soul Care Community and written by Louise Stanger,  LCSW. 

Our nation is in the midst of a crisis. At present, nearly every American family has been affected by addiction in some manner, particularly with the rise of the opioid epidemic. Sadly, according to a recent US News Report, this public health emergency isn’t going to end as quickly as we would like. 

 The statistics are unsettling:  

  • 46 American lives are lost each day involving prescription opioids
  • 1 in 8 Americans experience an alcohol addiction 
  • A recent Gallup poll finds that 1 in 4 young adults use marijuana (the numbers increasing as legalization rolls out across the states)

In the wake of our national drug crisis, action is needed to help loved ones and their families find health and wellness. I am a fierce advocate for systemic change on the individual, family, and community levels. I believe it will take change on all three levels to affect the suffering this epidemic is causing.  


As an interventionist working with families and their loved ones, it is important for me to unpack and address the complex nature of these issues. Let’s start with a better understanding of the word “addiction.” According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (March 2011), addiction is a chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. That means addiction is similar to diabetes and heart disease; it is chronic, progressive, and fatal if left untreated.

Addiction is typically characterized by:

  • An inability to abstain
  • Impairment in behavioral control
  • Craving or hunger for substances or rewarding experiences
  • Diminished recognition of problems with one’s behavior and interpersonal relationships
  • A dysfunctional emotional response to experiences and circumstances

Addiction can take a variety of forms, from alcohol and other drugs to process disorders. Addiction behaviors include shopping, sex, love, gambling, spending, disordered eating, and even digital addiction. Addictions often overlap with co-occurring mental health disorders. Another piece of the pie that fuels addiction is chronic pain. A simple prescription becomes an addiction and confuses family members, as they believe their loved one’s problems have a firm medical rationale. 

Addiction & Codependency

People often mistakenly believe addiction is an individualistic disease that only affects the one caught in its grip. In reality, addiction has a volcanic effect—slowly and steadily building pressure until eruption. The eruption is all too often a powerful force that destroys families and friends, colleagues and associates, business partners, coworkers, and everything else in its path.

Family members feel stuck in a spin cycle of destruction and despair, especially when one form of addiction bleeds into another. They want to help with a quick fix or another bailout for the person struggling with an addiction. Addiction and codependency become entangled, each holding the other hostage.  

Inviting Change

For those facing this crisis, know that change is possible. Despite the destructive and painful reality of addiction, there are steps that can be taken to find hope and healing, as individuals and within our communities.  

  • It helps to become educated about substance abuse, mental health disorders, and chronic pain. It’s important to understand when professional help is needed and how to get it. 
  • Second, is that you need not be part of the problem—be part the solution! In doing so, let the 7 Cs be a guidepost for your new way of being:
    • You did not Cause your loved one’s addiction
    • You alone cannot Cure the addiction
    • You alone cannot Control your loved one’s addiction
    • You can take better Care of yourself
    • You can learn to Communicate your feelings
    • You can make healthier Choices
    • And you can Celebrate yourself and your growth
  • The third aspect of change is creating healthy boundaries for you and your family members and the loved one with the addiction. Healthy boundaries are critical for personal health and happiness. Once a loved one experiencing addiction seeks treatment, all family members, friends, colleagues, and business associates must take a hard look at their own behaviors and re-draw these boundary lines to find change.
  • Fourth, the codependent must begin to take care of themselves physically and emotionally and to turn to one’s personal values to find strength. This may come in the form of spirituality or a connection with a higher power. Support groups such as Al-Anon, meditation, mindfulness, exercise, and social bonding all aid in the healing process.

Movement truly starts with a willingness to change. That, combined with fierce love, commitment to family and loved ones, and the tools necessary to change, is the path back to healing. The great Martin Luther King once said, “We shall overcome,” and I believe we can overcome this crisis that has gripped our nation. It all begins with a conversation.

2 responses to “Addiction & Codependency: Understanding the Family Dynamics”

  1. Having been involved in ministry to those who struggle with addictions – chemical dependency, overeating, sexual addictions, overspending, etc. – for the last 44 years (including 13 years as a recovery teacher in an inpatient treatment center for chemical dependency) – as well as my own personal experience – I have always found in that person’s Story/history the presence of abuse or trauma in some form: be it rejection and neglect, verbal and emotional abuse, or physical and/or sexual abuse. Relationships have everything to do with cause of addiction, for the person is looking for something to offset the pain they carry, not knowing how to deal with it in a healthy way. Of course, Jesus Christ provides the only way for complete recovery and overcoming an addiction; for He ministers to the deepest unmet needs and the “soul wound” and pain, as the Healer of the Brokenhearted and Pain-Bearer. No human being, no matter how much psychological training (though it certainly can be helpful), even a Christian counselor, can remove a person’s pain and it’s effects. For only Christ can minister by His Spirit to one’s pain and its effects (developed defense mechanisms, etc.) and heal the spirit, mind (painful memories), and damaged emotions (even as Asbury former professor David Seamands taught). Real change, in Christ, is always from the inside out: only He can minister by His healing grace to the underlying, root issues and fully resolve them, then help that person re-build their mindset and character/behaviors in a growing personal relationship with God in Christ. In this process, it seems the Lord can greatly use a counselor who is established in Christ and understands how He heals through ministering to one’s spirit, mind and emotions – especially when His Holy Spirit indwells the person who struggles with addiction.

  2. Thank you very much for posting my article. One of your wonderful alumni sent it to me. I am very honored.My life work is helping families who are held hostage by addiction, mental health and chronic pain .As such, I do a lot of writing I hope that helps others . If you want to read more or contact me go to, or email me at -^19-507-1699

    Keep doing what you are doing and keep fighting this battle. Again I am most grateful. Dr. Louise

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