Characteristics of co-addicted women


In common thinking one can notice a certain stereotype about a family with an alcohol problem. First of all, it is associated with social pathology, i.e. extreme poverty, aggression of drunken husband and father, intimidation of the wife, neglected and hungry bunch of children, etc. On the other hand, it is common to think that only an alcoholic is a person in need of help.

Data from the APETOW program, which not only provided information on the psychological functioning of co-addicted women, but also allowed the description of the life situation of this group of patients do not fully confirm this picture of the alcoholic family. In this article, we focused on demographic characteristics, factors supporting the alcoholic’s wife, the living situation of the family of the co-addicted person and his relationship with the alcoholic. A separate text will be devoted to the experience of violence.

The following analyzes apply to a group of 314 co-addicted women. At the time of the study, they started therapy in one of the institutions participating in the APETOW project – addiction recovery online

Demographic features

Age. The examined women were between 20 and 65 years old. The most frequently represented age ranges were 41 50 years (44%) and 31 40 years (32%). The average age was 41.5 years.

Education. Women entering co-addiction therapy were relatively well educated, three-quarters of them had at least secondary education. This category is also the most widespread.

Marital status. Most of the respondents were married. It is noteworthy that almost every fifth patient (18%) divorced her husband or is separated from her husband.

Kids. The vast majority of women (91%) were mothers. Most often they had two (42%) or one (29%) children.

Employment. Over half of the respondents (53%) were employed full-time, and every tenth (10%) ran their own business. However, every fifth co-addicted (22%) did not have permanent employment, and thus no stable sources of income, which may indicate financial dependence on her husband.

Thus, it can be said that the average person associated with an alcoholic participating in the study is a middle-aged woman, wife and mother of two children. He has secondary education and works full time.

Size of the place of residence. Most respondents (71%) lived in a large city, i.e. with over 100,000 inhabitants, and only 9% in the countryside. This does not mean that codependency primarily concerns women from large cities, only that the therapeutic offer is more difficult to reach rural areas.

It is worth noting that they are mostly well-educated women. In this respect they differ from the total population of Polish women. It seems that a higher level of education is a factor affecting readiness to use therapeutic assistance, just as living in a large city is associated with greater availability.

In addition, it seems that a high percentage of people who are divorced or separated are caused by alcoholism, which slightly corrects the image of a co-addict as a woman who cannot imagine life without her husband and feels unable to part with him forever. However, the co-addicted respondents did not differ from the average Polish woman in terms of the number of children.

Important information is that this description applies to a group of patients starting therapy that is not representative of co-addicted women.

Living situation

Most of the respondents assessed their own financial situation as at least “so-called”. Every fifth co-addicted (22%) saw her as bad or very bad. These results speak of the relatively favorable financial situation of the co-addicted persons surveyed, given the fact of living with an alcoholic. However, they can also testify to low assessment standards with a greater degree of probability.

In most families (73%), the husband contributed to supporting the family. At the same time, almost every fourth respondent (24%) admitted that the family was also financially supported by other people. In general, the wife had the money (58%) and the husband (10%) much less often. Often, the spouses did it together (30%).

The same was the percentage (39%) of women convinced that they are or are unable to support themselves with their children. Every fifth respondent was not sure about this.

Housing situation. Over half of the respondents (55%) described their housing situation as good and very good, and only 12% perceived it as bad or very bad. This is an interesting result, given that 27% of these women do not have their own housing. It seems that, as in the case of the assessment of the material situation, the assessment was also carried out according to slightly understated standards.

The vast majority of patients live with a partner (84%) and / or with children (68%).

It seems that the poor living situation of the family concerns a relatively small proportion of co-addicted persons. On the one hand, this may be a proof of the specificity of women going to therapy that is difficult to clearly define. Perhaps the most well-off patients decide to seek help.

However, this specificity of wives may also result from the social status and behavior of her husband. As in the last decade, the image of a drug addict has changed more and more often he is a seemingly well-functioning man who no one would suspect of using drugs, so more often middle-class representatives reach for alcohol. An alcoholic can, therefore, be a partner as well-educated as his wife, who performs responsible functions in the workplace, and thus maintaining a high material status of the family.

Alcohol in the family of origin

To the question “Did someone in your family home abuse alcohol when you were a child?” YES, slightly more than half (52%) of the surveyed women answered. For 46% this person was a father, but for 7% it was a mother. In 5% of cases, both parents drank.

Support system

Contacts with others. Most respondents declared that they maintain regular contacts with both their extended family (78%) and friends (68%).

As for family relationships, they were most often described as supporting (45%) or both aggravating and supporting (39%). Social relations, on the other hand, were rated even more positively, only 4% of those surveyed felt they were incriminating and 53% saw them as supportive.

These results do not support the hypothesis about the social isolation of co-addicted women. They say not only about maintaining contacts with other people, but also indicate that these are generally satisfactory contacts.

Seeking help. Most co-addicts (82%) sought help elsewhere before applying for therapy. Most often the respondents addressed friends and acquaintances (31%) and family (parents, parents-in-law, adult children) (29%). Subsequently, they reported to a psychologist or psychiatrist, attended Al-Anon meetings or intervened in various types of institutions (police, court, probation officer). They rarely went to clergy, social services and used a helpline.

These data not only confirm that the surveyed women do not shun the company of others, but also suggest that friends and family members are the first people in whom they seek help.

Religious beliefs. Religious beliefs were another factor perceived by the co-addicted respondents as facilitating coping with difficulties. The vast majority of women described themselves as believers, with the question “Are you a believer?” as many as 57% of respondents answered: “definitely yes”. At the same time, 67% of patients said that religious beliefs help them cope with difficulties, and 30% did not have an opinion on this.

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It seems that although the respondents believe that their religious beliefs help them cope with life difficulties, paradoxically, they can also be beliefs that hold them in a pathological relationship. Probably, although this requires further research, they relate to the humbleness of what happens in a marriage, because a woman should have a husband and the children of a father. This may be due to the glorification of suffering and sacrifice that occurs in Catholicism and promises of reward. Belief in the fact that pain and austerities in mortality will allow a happy eternal life can actually make it easier for them to endure, and as a consequence may increase their co-dependence. At the same time, a religious norm prohibiting the dissolution of marriages concluded in accordance with a religious rite seems extremely important.