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Over the last thirty years American culture has had an alarming increase in the labeling and classifying normal human struggles as disorders and syndromes. Regarding alcohol and drug use, the false theories of denial and the disease concept have continued to grow and mutate with the increase in the number of alcohol treatment programs. One of the many mutations of the disease of addiction theory is "co-dependency." According to this idea, people associated with substance users on an intimate level, from spouses and family members to co-workers and friends, are also "sick" because of their association with the "sick alcoholic or addict." This is a classic case of one unproven theory fostering additional unproven theories in an attempt to lend more credibility to the original unproven theory.
Here is the chronology. First there was the disease theory, (the roots of which began as far back as the early 18th century. Then came the denial theory; this theory originated in the 1930's. Next, came the co-dependency theory, which was a theory that developed in the then-growing medicalized drug and alcohol treatment program industry of the 1970's.
As was the case with the development of the denial theory and the disease theory, the co-dependency theory was born from well intentioned alcohol treatment program professionals who were searching for the answer to some very troubling questions: why do people stay involved with a substance user when it is causing them harm or distress to be with them? And, why do people repeatedly go back to these relationships time after time when history seems to indicate that the same problems will be repeated?
These questions are nearly identical to other similar questions: "Why do substance users behave in a fashion that is proven to be self-destructive, and why do they repeat the same patterns that cause their own misery?" It is not happenstance that these questions are the same. Once a particular theory is accepted (whether true or not) it will naturally spread and expand. For example, the 12-step model is statistically proven to be harmful to most of those who adhere to its premise of powerlessness, disease and ongoing relapse. In spite of its overtly religious dogma and agenda, it was accepted by the medical establishment in our society for a number of social, societal and monetary reasons. Today there are over 500 different 12-step iterations, from Alcoholics Anonymous to Chap Sticks Anonymous to the common alcohol treatment programs found across the globe.