How Codependency Affects Addiction Recovery

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Overcoming Codependency

Codependency is a behavioral pattern that is sometimes called “relationship addiction.”1

Codependent people often end up in destructive relationships that are very one-sided.

What Is Codependency?

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People who are codependent often take on a caretaker role in relationships. They typically abandon their own needs in favor of the other person’s. The codependent family member or friend often finds fulfillment in being needed by someone else.

Codependency was noted in alcoholic families. But it can occur in families that are dealing with any type of addiction, as well as mental or physical illnesses. A codependent relationship can develop between a partner, parent, child, friend, or even co-workers.1

A Behavioral Pattern

Codependency is a behavioral pattern that can be passed down through generations of a family. It makes it hard for someone to have a healthy relationship,1 and it is learned by watching family members exhibit codependent behaviors.

People who grow up in addicted families often learn to hide their feelings. When those around them do not talk about the addiction, or deny or minimize it, it teaches others in the family to ignore the problem. Those who grow up in these types of situations learn to enable others who suffer from an addiction.

Codependent Traits and Behaviors

Some common codependent traits and behaviors include: 1

Woman crying as man walks away
  • Intense feelings of responsibility for other’s behaviors.
  • The need to control other people.
  • Anger.
  • Fear of abandonment.
  • Poor boundaries with others.
  • Guilty feelings for asserting oneself.
  • Resistance to change.
  • Issues with trusting oneself and others.
  • Difficulty making decisions.
  • Strong need for approval from others.
  • Attempts to rescue and fix other people.
  • Dishonesty.
  • Inadequate communication skills.
  • Problems with identifying feelings or emotions.

The codependent person may “cover up” for others by calling in sick for them at their job due to drug or alcohol use. Codependent people often go to great lengths to keep someone with them in a relationship, and sacrifice and play martyr in the process.1 These individuals do not so much act as they react to situations around them.2

How Codependency Can Enable the Addict

Enabling can perpetuate the addiction.

Codependency can be a roadblock to sobriety because it often results in enabling an addict, or making it easier for the person to continue using drugs or alcohol. When a person who is addicted never faces the consequences of abusing substances, they may never develop the motivation to change.

Many codependent people enable their friends or family members because they believe that they’re helping. However, enabling can perpetuate the addiction and lead to more severe long-term consequences.

Some examples of enabling behaviors include:

  • Lending the person money.
  • Lying to cover up addictive behaviors.
  • Blaming others for the person’s problems.
  • Repeatedly bailing the person out of jail.
  • Allowing the person to deal drugs out of the house.
  • Calling in sick for the person when he or she is hungover.

Treatment for Codependency

Numerous forms of therapy are available to help treat codependency. They include:

Couple in therapy for codependency

  • Family therapy: 4 Can help break dysfunctional and unhealthy interaction patterns between people in an addict/codependent relationship and teach the family members new ways of coping and interacting.
  • Group therapy: 4 Provides codependent individuals with a safe and appropriate space to express their feelings and learn communication and problem-solving skills.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): 4 Cognitive therapy can help to change negative, codependent patterns of thought and beliefs in order to change behavior. This treatment aims to teach the codependent person how to recognize his or her own problems and separate them from those of the addicted individual.
  • Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA): This 12-step program can help people struggling with codependency learn healthy habits and behaviors from others dealing with similar issues. Chapters of Co-Dependents Anonymous meet in many communities across the country and are free to join.

Goals of Treatment

According to research, treatment for a codependent person can lead to: 4

  • Increased self-confidence.
  • Improved coping skills.
  • Enhanced decision-making.
  • Improved communication skills.
  • Reduced trauma (anxiety, stress, heavy reliance, and depression).
  • Increased self-esteem.
  • Decreased codependent behaviors.

Signs of Addiction and Where to Get Help

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Addiction is a maladaptive pattern of behavior in which a person’s drug or alcohol abuse results in negative consequences. He or she feels compelled to keep using, and may want to stop, but is unable to do so. If you are in a codependent relationship with an addict, it is important that the person receives help while you address your issues.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), someone suffers from a substance addiction if he or she has at least 2 of the following signs and symptoms: 3

  • Spending a large amount of time thinking about using the substance, obtaining the substance, and recovering from its effects
  • Unsuccessful attempts to quit using or cut back on use
  • Using more of the substance than originally intended
  • Strong cravings for the substance
  • Continuing to use even when it causes harm to health or personal problems
  • Using the substance in situations where doing so can be hazardous, such as while driving a car
  • Developing tolerance (continually needing to increase doses to get the same effects)
  • Experiencing withdrawal when not using

Treatment Options

Types of treatment programs available for addiction include:

  • Inpatient treatment: Programs require that the person lives at the facility for the duration of treatment. They consist of 24/7 supervision, individual and group therapy, social support, medical and mental health assessment, and many incorporate a formal period of detox to begin treatment. The length of an inpatient treatment program can vary, lasting from a few days to a few months, depending on the person’s needs.
  • Outpatient treatment: These programs can be a viable option for those who can’t neglect home, school, or work responsibilities for an extended period of time. Outpatient treatment usually consists of group therapy, but sometimes may involve individual counseling. Medical doctors and nurses may also be involved in some forms of outpatient treatment, including intensive outpatient (IOP) and partial hospitalization. Outpatient treatment can range from 1 or 2 hours per week to daily treatment for several hours at a time.
  • 12-step programs: Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), provide members with a positive and safe environment to share stories and learn from one another. Members often have sponsors who are further along in the recovery process and can provide them with advice and support.

How to Help a Loved One

Set boundaries and take care of yourself.

It is possible to function in a relationship with an addicted person and eliminate codependent behaviors, though it can be difficult to do.

Some steps to take are:

  • Take care of yourself. Tend to your own needs before helping someone else. Make sure you set time aside for yourself to de-stress and do the things that you enjoy.
  • Do not enable the addicted person. Set boundaries and let them know that you will no longer mask the consequences of addiction. Examples of boundaries you can set include: “I will not bail you out of jail anymore,” “I won’t tolerate your drug or alcohol use in the house. If you use, you won’t be allowed to live here,” or “I won’t lie to cover up your intoxication or hangovers anymore.”
  • Stage an intervention if the person is in denial about drug or alcohol addiction. An intervention brings together friends and family members to try to persuade the person to seek help. Typically, friends and family tell the person how his or her behaviors have affected them. Be encouraging and supportive when staging an intervention. Come from a place of love and concern, rather than blaming and shaming the person.

Although it is possible to successfully stage an intervention for a person with an addiction, it is often wise to use a professional. An addiction specialist, therapist, or social worker who is trained to stage interventions may be better equipped to navigate resistance from the addict than friends and family.

Find the Best Treatment

If your loved one is struggling with an addiction, help is available. Call 1-888-319-2606 Helpline Information to speak with a recovery support specialist, who can help you find the best treatment program.


[1]. University of California at Davis Medical Center. Codependency.

[2]. Beattie, M. (1986). Codependent No More. Hazelden. Minneapolis.

[3]. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

[4]. Abadi, F., Vand, M., Aghaee, H. (2015). Models and interventions of Codependency treatment, Systematic Review. Jurnal UMP Social Sciences and Technology Management.

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