Implementing Prodependence

Family members often struggle to deal with the fact that a loved one is addicted. They also struggle with statements from therapists, friends, and family members telling them their efforts to care for the addict—perhaps taking on extra responsibilities and forgoing personal pleasures and development—indicate they are:

  • Obsessed with the addict and his or her behavior
  • Enmeshed with the addict
  • Enabling the addiction
  • Trying to control the addict’s thinking and behavior
  • Making the problem worse

Basically, loved ones of addicts are told that they are “codependent” and their efforts to help are counterproductive and facilitating (maybe even escalating) the problem. And that might in fact be the case. But even when it is, the general codependency belief that caregiving loved ones must “stop rescuing” and “detach with love” does not account for or even recognize the fact that they can’t stop caring for the addict any more than they can stop breathing. What they can do is learn to caretake prodependently—in ways that are more helpful to the addict, and by extension to themselves.

Interestingly, prodependence recommends and implements the same basic therapeutic actions as codependence—a fresh or renewed focus on self-care coupled with implementation of healthier boundaries. However, the models approach this work from vastly different perspectives. Codependence, as a deficit-based trauma model, views loved ones of addicts as traumatized, damaged, and needing help. Prodependence, as a strength-based attachment-driven model, views loved ones of addicts as heroes for continuing to love and continuing to remain attached despite the debilitating presence of addiction.

Consider the following graph delineating traits that are often seen in loved ones of addicts. In the left-hand column are the negative-sounding words associated with codependence. In the right-hand column, these traits are reframed as prodependent positives.

Codependent Versus Prodependent Traits

EnmeshedDeeply involved
Externally focusedConcerned about the welfare of others
Lacking healthy boundariesEager to care for a loved one
Can’t say noChooses to say yes
Obsessed with the addictionDetermined to protect the addict and family
Living in denialUnwilling to give up on a loved one
AngryFearful of further loss with no control
ControllingTrying to be heard
HypervigilantAnticipating problems

As stated above, the primary difference between prodependence and codependence lies in how we frame and think about “the problem.” Prodependence recognizes that loved ones of active addicts are perpetually in crisis mode. Naturally, they try to control the crisis. In the process, they sometimes panic and make bad decisions. They may overdo. They may help too much. They may help ineffectively. They may enable and appear to be pathologically enmeshed. But that does not mean they are psychologically disordered. What it does mean is they are people in crisis, behaving in the ways that people in crisis tend to behave. Rather than blaming and shaming these loving people, prodependence meets them where they are, which is coming from a place of love and a desire for attachment.