The question whether codependency is a disease, passed on from one generation to the next, has been asked for decades. Rather it is a condition in the category of “you know it when you see it.” As yet no concensus exists within the American Psychiatric Association, however numerous definitions abound.

Codependency is a way of life for most people today, or at least most families. Codependency evolved from the early work of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the 1930s, created to help alcoholics overcome their addiction. It became apparent that the spouses of these alcoholics also needed support and counseling. The founders of AA observed that spouses and family members of alcoholics actually reinforced the alcholic’s drinking problem and therefore also needed recovery. These were referred to as co-alcoholics.

How Did this Phrase Come About?

Studying co-alcoholics during the 1950s revealed that in their attempts over the years to help, manage and control the alcoholic family member, they also became disappointed and depressed, losing self-esteem, and felt as low as the alcoholics themselves did. The same general conditions were observed in families and spouses of drug addicts. Thus the term codependency became recognized in the 1970s by therapists. By the 1980s the term was applied not only to the families of alcoholics and drug addicts, but also to the families of people with chronic mental or physical illness, as well as families of over-eaters, over-spenders, work-a-holics, cigarette smokers, sex addicts, gamblers, smartphone addicts and shop-a-holics. The list is endless. Virtually anyone who suffers along with and contributes to the over-all dysfunction of the dependent family member is a codependent.

The Birth of Family Therapy

It’s easy to see that if codependency were ever classified as a disease it would be the largest of all afflictions, dwarfing major diseases such as heart disease, cancer, substance abuse and depression.

This new awareness of troubled family members of addicts fostered the growth of a new form of therapy. Family therapy groups such as Al-Anon, began holding suppiort meetings for adult family members and relatives of alcoholics, CoDA, Codependents Anonymous for dysfunctional codependents, Gam-Anon for family members of gamblers, and many others were formed to assist and offer support. Whether or not to classify codepdendency as a disease remains to be debated by the medical experts.

Addicted to the Addicts

What seem to be normal, healthy families at first glance, are actually highly dysfunctional upon closer inspection, revolving around another family member’s addiction, trauma, depression or other illness.

Codependency, while not necessarily genetic, often occurs in families of codependent parents and can manifest as repression of feelings and thoughts. Children learn to numb their pain, distrust their parents and quickly become self-sufficient. Starting in school they learn to hide behind false or fake personalities, both offline and online, and form compulsive behaviors in order to cope. Add to this the dysfunction of sharing a household with someone who has a substance abuse problem, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or a serious illness, handicap or even a criminal background, and never being permitted to speak about them, a contrived picture of a normal, healthy family begins to emerge.

References: Codepency for Dummies by Darlene Lancer, MFT

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you into improving your life.

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