The Link between Co-dependency and Addiction

What is Co-Dependency?

According to experts, co-dependency is a pattern of behavior characterized by a need for approval from another person to confirm your self-worth and identity. Co-dependency is a learned behavior, and it can affect anyone. When someone is codependent, they are unable to have a healthy relationship because these relationships are often one-sided and emotionally abusive or destructive. One major sign of co-dependency is when you exist only to please the other person, such as giving up everything for their benefit.

Co-dependency can affect people in all kinds of relationships, including spouses, parents, children, siblings, co-workers and friends. Some researchers have even suggested that individuals who experienced emotional abuse or were neglected as adolescents are more likely to enter co-dependent relationships.

Co-Dependency and Addiction: How Common is it?

Co-dependency was first identified about a decade ago, after years of studying interpersonal relationships of families dealing with alcoholism. Co-dependence is a pattern of behavior learned by observing and imitating other members of the family who display the same type of behavior.

Although there is some debate about how these co-dependent behavior patterns originate, the reality is that they are often detrimental to those involved. Co-dependent relationships in which one of the individuals involved is afflicted by drug or alcohol abuse is very common. One study found a connection between co-dependency and parental alcoholism, as well as in those who had a history of childhood abuse, or both.

There are certain behaviors that can indicate the existence of this type of relationship.

Typically, co-dependency is associated with these particular behaviors:

  • Feelings of guilt and perfectionism
  • An incessant need to please others
  • The lack of clear boundaries
  • Exaggerated emotional reactions
  • Trying to “fix” others
  • The need for control
  • The fear of being rejected
  • Being unable to form loving and mutually satisfying relationships.

Most of what is known about co-dependency comes from studies that involve alcohol. It’s been found that, often, people who are involved in co-dependent alcoholic relationships as children or who witness a relationship like this growing up, in turn marry partners who also abuse alcohol or other drugs.

Who Does Co-dependency Affect the Most?

Codependent relationships affect all types of people, but they are often seen in dysfunctional families. A dysfunctional family is one in which its members suffer from anger, pain, fear, or the shame of being denied or ignored. Problems that can be found among dysfunctional family members, include:

  • Drug or alcohol addiction, as well as any other addictions to food, work sex, gambling, etc.
  • Emotional or sexual abuse
  • The existence of chronic mental illness or physical illness

Unfortunately, among dysfunctional family members, there is little to no acknowledgement of the problems that exist. This creates an atmosphere in which emotions are repressed and personal needs are disregarded. In turn, this makes people develop certain behaviors that allow them to deny, avoid and ignore any difficult feelings that may arise. They become detached, they don’t communicate or address how they feel, and eventually, lose all sense of caring and trust. This stunted emotional development in members of a  dysfunctional family leaves the door wide open for co-dependency.

Instead of caring about their own personal needs and problems, they turn all their attention and energy on the member of the family who is ill or dealing with addiction. The co-dependent person in the relationship – be it parent, spouse, sibling, etc – will typically sacrifice his or her needs to look after the person who is sick. When co-dependent individuals prioritize the health, welfare and safety of another person before their own, they are at risk of losing their sense of self.

Co-dependency and Addiction info-graphic

How do Co-Dependency and Addiction Work in a Relationship?

Co-dependency and addiction are often closely related, as codependency was first associated with partners of alcoholics. Today, addiction is still one of the most common diseases associated with co-dependency. People who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction often have a range of problems that stem from their addiction. These may include:

  • Financial issues
  • Trouble at work
  • Relationship problems
  • Taking dangerous risks
  • Constantly needing emotional support

The co-dependent person in the relationship does everything they can to support the addict through all of their struggles. It’s important to note that while they may suggest recovery to the addict, the addictive behavior never gets resolved, and the cycle of addiction continues. The co-dependent also helps the addict engage in harmful behaviors or can help to cover up their indiscretions. Others may provide housing or money to the addict.

Although co-dependency isn’t always associated with addiction, for those who are addicts, there is often a codependent person in the relationship. In many cases, the co-dependent takes part in in addictive behavior as well. In some cases, both people in the relationship display co-dependent behavior, but more commonly, one person will have more severe addiction issues, and the other will act as their support.

Changing Unhealthy Behavior Patterns of Co-Dependency and Addiction

In order to begin changing unhealthy behavior patterns, it is important to understand them. Co-dependents and their family members must educate themselves about the cycle of addiction and how it affects their relationships. At Get Treatment, we can help you and those you love learn how to cope with family addiction and address the underlying causes of substance abuse and dysfunction within the family.

A lot of change and growth are needed in order for the co-dependent individuals and their families to recognize and stop the destructive behaviors that are affecting their daily lives. The co-dependent person must be able to identify their own needs and desires and embrace those deep emotions they have been suppressing. The addict, in turn, must also address the deep feelings and causes of their substance abuse in order to begin to heal.

Co-dependents must learn how to say “no” to the addicts, through methods of tough love and learning to put themselves first. The addict will begin to realize they must take control of their life and become self-reliant. Both people in the co-dependent relationship will begin to heal and recover by finding freedom and peace in their journey toward becoming whole again.

The importance of recognizing co-dependency is that it allows people to begin the healing process and better cope with its effects. Reaching out for help for yourself or someone you love is essential to start healing. For more information about how to get started on your recovery journey, call Get Treatment at 855-638-9268.

Erica Loret de Mola

Erica Loret de Mola is a communications major who has been writing about addiction treatment for approximately three years. As content manager and editor in chief of Get Treatment, she strives to provide the most accurate and current information available to our clients.


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