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The Destructive Myth of “Codependency”

The idea of codependency—that Loved Ones of substance users psychologically benefit from and thus enable use—has penetrated popular thinking about SUD across the country. New York Times addiction reporter Maia Szalavitz argues that it’s time we stopped believing in “codependency.” Instead, she argues, we should be focused on supporting Loved Ones, even as they support the SUD sufferers in their lives.

“People do not need to hit bottom to change,” observes psychologist Carrie Wilkens. “People change at all of the steps before they get to bottom, and bottom for many means death.”

And yet “letting the user hit rock bottom” has become a part of the mantra of “codependence” beliefs. In this way of seeing SUD, a Loved One’s involvement in the struggle of their child, spouse, or friend is viewed as fundamentally unhealthy.

The idea has gained traction for decades in the United States—and that’s something of a tragedy. Maia Szalavitz reviews the evidence debunking the destructive myth of “codependency,” and argues for renewed attention and support for the compassionate, difficult tasks Loved Ones shoulder every day.


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In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)