Codependency and Addiction

Estimated reading time: 32 minute(s)

Codependency describes a relationship where one partner expresses strong emotional or physical needs, and the other one spends most of their time fulfilling them. Due to this power imbalance, such relationships are weak and potentially toxic, leading to widespread side effects on day-to-day activities. Such relationships can easily lead to a complex spiral where a codependent partner may care for their loved one, enabling them to pursue their destructure behaviors. One of these destructive behaviors that commonly exist in codependent relationships is addiction. The codependent and addict partners can never co-exist peacefully as the duo is bound to develop unnecessary complexities and difficulties in life until they understand the nature of their relationship and try to overcome it in addition to fighting addiction. 

The Dynamics of Addiction and Codependent Relationships

Many people stuck in codependent relationships with addicts strongly believe they can take their partner’s pain away. This idea may unconsciously encourage many such people to enable threatening behaviors in their loved ones’ lives while turning their relationship towards unhealthy dynamics to feed their self-worth and self-esteem. A codependent caregiver may also take much influence from their addict partner’s lifestyle, get overly enmeshed, and eventually turn resentful.

If a codependent enters a relationship with someone who enables their excuse-making or caretaking actions, both parties fail to grow or maintain healthy relationships. Such people may also provide money to enable their partner’s addictions to let them stay with them instead of sending them off to rehab. In extreme cases, they may also supply them with alcohol or drugs to feed their addictions and keep them from recovering healthily. The aim behind such behaviors is to keep the addicted person bound to the current relationship.

Codependency is often a common feature of relationships where at least one person abuses drugs or alcohol. This behavior may manifest in different ways, such as the following:

  • A situation where both partners are abusing drugs
  • A close adult family member or spouse of a person using drugs
  • Children of people abusing drugs

Remember that a codependent partner in a relationship does not always have to be a spouse. Experts believe these behavioral patterns may also exist in children whose parents are addicted to different substances. This is particularly true in cases where parental addiction goes so far that the children need to take on the caretaker role with their parents.

Signs of Codependency

Following are the signs that codependency exists in a relationship:

Low Self-Esteem

A codependent person may feel unlovable outside of the relationship role. Moreover, they may depend too much on their partner’s opinions for positive self-worth.

People-Pleasing Attitude

The partner’s opinions carry a great deal of weight for a codependent individual, and they will do anything to ensure that their partner is happy with them. Consequently, they may find it hard to say no to them and feel intense guilt if they cannot please them.

Caretaking Attitude

A codependent person may feel the need to care for their addicted partner and may do so often at the expense of self-care. In many cases, codependency may make them feel insecure unless their partner needs them.

Unhealthy or No Boundaries

A codependent person may lose a sense of healthy boundaries for themselves, their partner, or even both. They may feel responsible for their partner’s feelings, offer unwanted advice, or wish to manipulate or control them to feel secure.

Obsession with Relationships

Many codependent people feel their relationship with their addict partner only defines them. As a result, they may develop an obsessive focus on their partner while lacking true emotional intimacy.

Codependency and Addiction: Negative Effects on Both Partners

Codependency in addiction can bring negative effects for all parties involved. Mentioned below is a brief overview of these effects.

Negative effects for the codependent partner

When a person gets into a codependent relationship with someone abusing alcohol or drugs, both parties take a toll and get into many risks, depending on personal circumstances. Research indicates that such relationships can affect the family dynamics surrounding a codependent relationship and may also negatively affect a codependent partner’s health. Some risks to such a partner include:

  • Increased risk of picking up addictions, such as alcohol, food, drugs, or gambling
  • Inability to perform responsibilities outside of the codependent relationship
  • Loss of relationships with people outside the codependent relationship

Codependent relationships may force a partner to work so hard and care for the addicted loved one that they often neglect their personal needs. As a result, their physical health suffers, their self-esteem takes a hit, and they may suffer from other issues like depression.

Negative effects for the addicted partner

For the partner struggling with substance use disorder, a codependent relationship can lead to severe consequences on their life and potential treatment outcomes. For starters, a codependent relationship may provide these addicts with enabling behaviors. Many times, their codependent partners would be helping them out with utmost sincerity, but these efforts may only fuel the addictive behaviors.

Research has shown that a codependent partner may feel dependent on their partner’s addiction to maintain a relationship. Hence, as an addicted partner returns to this relationship following treatment, they may be at a high risk of a relapse. For this purpose, many drug rehabs consider treating codependent relationships as a part of addiction treatment.

Codependency in Addiction: Safe Ways to Help a Loved One

The relationship between a codependent and an addict can be complex and requires careful navigation to avoid promoting negative behaviors. No matter how much a person wishes to help their loved one, it is crucial to be mindful as a helping hand may quickly become an enabler. Many family members start doing things out of love, which perpetuates addiction in their loved ones instead of helping them move toward recovery.

The first goal is to identify all these “enabling” behaviors and avoid them as much as possible. Some examples of an enabling act include the following:

  • You may give money to your loved one, not realizing that they will spend it on alcohol or drugs
  • When your partner comes home intoxicated, you help them change, give them some medicine for headaches, and put them to sleep. This way, you will save them from the embarrassment of waking up on the floor the next morning and contemplating their behavior.
  • When your loved one loses their place to live, you offer them shelter so they do not remain on the street. However, by doing so, you are protecting them from facing the consequences of their substance abuse which may have otherwise urged them to recover.
  • You may lie to your children about why your partner hasn’t woken up by telling them that they are sick while, in reality, they may be too hungover from last night to face them.
  • You try to cover up your partner’s substance abuse when friends, family members, or neighbors ask about their behavior or their whereabouts, making you feel embarrassed for yourself and them.

The behaviors mentioned above may be out of kindness or love from your side, but in reality, they only enable your partner to continue their addiction. These behaviors also save them from their addiction’s consequences, making it hard for them to change their bad behavior. Enabling also keeps these addicts in denial that they are doing anything wrong or hurting anyone. As they continue living in this fantasy, such people may find it extremely hard to overcome their problems.

It is, however, possible to help such people while not becoming codependent. The key is to amend how you are providing help, and to accomplish this, keep the following facts in mind:

  • Addiction is a serious issue that may make people do and say things that may feel out of character. Remember that your partner is not a changed person but under the influence of a disease that has completely hijacked their brain. Hence, do not take anything they say too personally, as it is not about you.
  • Remind yourself that you did not cause this addiction; hence, you cannot cure it. There can be many causes of addiction, most associated with behavior and brain chemistry. The way your partner behaves is ultimately their responsibility.
  • You cannot help cure addiction, as the condition almost always requires professional treatment. However, you can show your support and love to keep the recovery process going smoother. Do not keep it a secret, and consider discussing it with the right people to facilitate a longer-lasting resolution.
  • It is imperative to separate yourself from your partner’s addiction to maintain healthy boundaries. The minute these boundaries blur, you may become too involved in their problems and solutions, and codependency may creep in. Hence, keep re-evaluating the urge to help while remaining objective at the same time.

Tips to Break the Codependency and Addiction Relationship

Mentioned below are some other ways you can adopt to break out of a codependent relationship:

Seek help for yourself.

No matter how hard it seems, put yourself first and realize how your partner’s addiction affects you. Consider enrolling in a local support group and finding their meeting times and locations. These meetings can help you educate yourself about addiction and how to get in touch with people undergoing similar problems. Once you get into the circle, you can eventually connect with groups specific to people in codependent relationships.

Do not be a rescuer.

While this step is likely to benefit you immensely, it can be equally useful for your addicted partner. Avoid harboring a loved one who actively abuses drugs and does not rescue them if their behavior lands them in any trouble, such as loss of employment or homelessness. Let them know that you refuse to be a part of their addictive lifestyle and will not lend them a hand as long as they continue abusing substances.

Hold the financial support.

People suffering from addictions will say or do anything to get money from their partners and fulfill their cravings. Lending them money can prolong their addiction; hence, it is crucial to stop all financial support. Every time they ask for money, give them the information they need to start the recovery process or consider giving them a ride to a rehab where they can begin their detox and treatment.


Who does co-dependency hit?

Codependency can affect not only the person addicted to alcohol or drugs but also people associated with them, such as their parents, spouse, co-workers, friends, or siblings. Previously, experts used the term “co-dependent” to describe people living with or in a relationship with addiction. However, with time, the term broadened to describe any person belonging to a dysfunctional family.

Can I get help for codependency and addiction?

Experts believe that co-dependency is normally rooted in a person’s childhood. Hence, most treatment options involve exploration into an addict’s childhood and early relationships. This treatment program may include various components, such as experiential groups, education, group therapy, and one-to-one sessions through which co-dependent partners can rediscover themselves and identify the cause of their self-destructive patterns, including addiction. Treatment may also focus on helping patients recognize and get in touch with the feelings they buried during their childhood. The main aim is to facilitate them to experience a full range of emotions and feelings again.

Can I draw boundaries with my co-dependent addict partner?

It is possible to draw healthy boundaries with a partner struggling with addiction. Some tips for this purpose include the following:

  • Defining personal emotions instead of expressing what should be felt
  • Understanding that having preferences and needs different from a loved one is acceptable
  • Respecting your boundaries in addition to the boundaries of your addicted partner
  • Developing the ability to recognize and pursue your own needs instead of your partner’s
  • Setting limits on your and your partner’s behavior

Get in Touch for Help