Posted in Teen Mental Health on March 16, 2015
Last modified on May 13th, 2019
Why Children of Alcoholics and Addicts Become Addicted to Love
Growing up in a home where drugs or alcohol are routinely used or abused can lead to a wide variety of problems. A parent with addictive tendencies is unpredictable and rarely emotionally available for his or her children. The addicted parent may disappear for days or weeks on end, and when he or she is around the children, there may be mood swings, rage or episodes of stumbling, falling or sleeping for long periods of time.
One common problem that children of alcoholics and addicts develop is love addiction. If one or more of your parents had a problem with alcoholism or addiction, you may find yourself having one unhealthy relationship after another, and you may not understand why.
Trauma of Family Dysfunction
In an ideal family, children are able to look up to their parents and count on them to be strong role models. In a dysfunctional family, one or more of the parents has a problem with alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness or other forms or addiction such as gambling, sex or food.
As a child growing up in a dysfunctional family, you probably often felt unsafe, frightened or ashamed. You may have experienced violence or abuse. You may have felt like you couldn’t bring your friends home because on some level you were aware that something was wrong with your family. Yet your parents or siblings never talked about the problems. Everyone was constantly focusing on the family member who was addicted. Family members may have been trying to save the addict or make up stories to protect him or her. At the same time, everyone pretended that everything was completely normal. This kind of dysfunction set you up for future problems.
How You Learned Codependency
Codependency is defined as excessive emotional dependence on a partner, frequently a partner who has a problem with alcoholism or drug addiction. If you are codependent, your relationships are often one-sided and you may find that you almost always give a lot more than you get. Often you are controlled or manipulated by your partner, and you can’t figure out why you keep getting involved with the same type of person and why you never seem to get your needs met in your relationships.
Codependency is learned behavior. This means that the abnormal way that you relate to other people is something you learned from others, not a defect you were born with. The fact that you keep getting involved with emotionally unavailable people is not an accident. You are trying to work through some of the pain that you have been living with as long as you can remember.
As the child of a troubled person, you and other members of your family sacrificed your own needs to take care of the person with problems. From a young age, you learned that your own needs came last. You probably lost contact with who you are and what you want a long time ago. You became addicted to love because you needed someone else to focus on. Focusing on yourself was uncomfortable and unfamiliar.
Breaking the Cycle
The good news is that it is possible to break the cycle of codependency. Awareness that addiction to love may be rooted in your childhood experiences can be the beginning of a journey of recovery. Learn as much as you can about codependency and love addiction. The better you understand relationship addiction, the better your chances of recovering.
Attending support groups such as Al-Anon and Co-Dependents Anonymous will allow you to learn new ways of relating to other people. In time you can learn to focus on yourself and your own needs. By participating in support groups or working with a counselor, you will recognize that you are not alone in the experiences that you survived in your childhood and the years since then.
The important thing is to understand that your childhood experiences probably set you up to become addicted to love. The fact that you learned unhealthy ways of relating to other people doesn’t mean that you can’t heal. With commitment and determination, it is possible to break the cycle of love addiction.
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