Codependent Relationships and Addiction

Apr 9, 2024 | Addiction, Codependency, Family Issues, Helping a Loved One, Relationship Issues, Self Esteem

Codependent relationships and addiction often go hand in hand, creating a complex situation that affects every aspect of the lives of those involved. When one person is suffering from addiction, the codependent person often feels the need to break their own boundaries and live their life in a way that caters to the other party. In the long run, this can result in a dual addiction. In this blog, we get into what codependency is and explain how the cycle of addiction is easily perpetuated through this relationship dynamic.

What Are Codependent Relationships?

Codependency is a term that exists both in the context of addiction recovery and outside of it, and it refers to a dysfunctional and one-sided relationship where one person’s needs and well-being are subjugated to the other’s. These relationships often feature characteristics like:

  • Enabling: Codependent individuals enable and protect the person struggling with addiction. They often cover for their loved one’s actions, making excuses or taking on the consequences themselves.
  • Lack of Boundaries: Codependents will have blurred or non-existent boundaries, making it difficult for them to differentiate their own needs and feelings from those of their partner.
  • Low Self-Esteem: Codependents usually have exceptionally low self-esteem and derive their self-worth from taking care of others, particularly those with addiction issues.
  • Control: They attempt to control or manage their partner’s behavior and emotions to maintain a sense of stability in the relationship.

A common misconception is that co-dependent relationships are always romantic. This is not the case, and this dynamic can be seen with family members and friends as well. For example, many parents become codependent with their kids. When this happens, the children may end up running the show while the parents are struggling to keep their heads above water. 

Who is Most at Risk for Becoming Codependent?

While this is not all-encompassing, there are usually two types of people who are most at risk for developing co-dependency in their relationships. They are those with either people-pleasing tendencies or a fear of abandonment.

  • People-Pleasing Tendencies: A strong desire to make others happy at the expense of one’s own happiness and health is a common trait in codependent individuals. They will go to great lengths to avoid conflict or disapproval.
  • Fear of Abandonment: A deep-seated fear of being abandoned or rejected by loved ones can drive codependent behaviors. This fear can lead to an overwhelming need to please and maintain a connection with others.
The Connection Between Codependency and Addiction

Codependent relationships and addiction are very closely linked, and the cycle is often self-reinforcing.

  • Shared Dysfunction: Both partners in a codependent relationship often share underlying issues like unresolved trauma, low self-esteem, and a fear of abandonment. These issues can be exacerbated by addiction, creating a vicious cycle. Some people refer to this as a trauma bond.
  • Enabling and Justification: The codependent partner enables the addicted partner’s behavior by making excuses, covering up their actions, or providing financial and emotional support to sustain their addiction. This can prevent the addicted partner from facing the consequences of their actions.
  • Self-Medication: In some cases, the codependent partner will also turn to substances or addictive behaviors to cope with the stress and dysfunction in the relationship.
  • Emotional Rollercoaster: Codependents often experience a rollercoaster of emotions, ranging from frustration and anger to guilt and self-blame, due to the unpredictable behavior of their addicted partner.
Breaking the Cycle

Recovery from codependent relationships and addiction is possible, but it’s far from easy. Here are some steps to help individuals and their loved ones break free from this damaging cycle:

  • Getting Help: Both the codependent and the person struggling with addiction will need to get help through therapy or counseling. A professional can help people understand their roles in the codependent dynamic and provide strategies for healthier relationships and addiction recovery.
  • Boundaries: Learning to set and maintain healthy boundaries is essential in breaking the codependency cycle, as this is the primary issue. This involves clearly defining one’s limits and sticking to them.
  • Al-Anon and CoDA: Support groups like Al-Anon (for family and friends of alcoholics) and Co-Dependents Anonymous will provide a sense of community and shared experience. These groups offer a safe space to discuss challenges and receive guidance from others who have been through similar situations.
  • Addiction Treatment: For the person struggling with addiction, finding professional treatment, whether through inpatient rehab, outpatient programs, or support groups, is essential. This helps address the addiction itself and teaches healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Rebuilding Relationships: If both partners are committed to recovery, they can work together to rebuild their relationship on healthier terms. This process can be long and challenging, but with professional guidance, it’s possible.
Final Thoughts

Codependent relationships and addiction can wreak havoc on the lives of those involved. Understanding the dynamics of codependency and how they relate to addiction is a necessary step toward recovery. Breaking free from the cycle of codependency and addiction requires self-awareness and a commitment to personal growth. Though it won’t be easy, putting in the effort to break the cycle can help you get back to a life you enjoy.

New Dimensions Can Help!

New Dimensions Day Treatment Programs specialize in treating adolescents and adults with chemical dependency and mental health issues. In addition to treatment, New Dimensions offers interventions to assist persons who are chemically dependent get into treatment.  An intervention is a structured process where family members, friends, and other concerned individuals confront the alcoholic about the consequences of their addiction and the impact that it has had on their lives. If you have a family member who would benefit from an intervention, call 800-685-9796.  To learn more about the Intensive Outpatient and Partial Day Treatment Programs at New Dimensions, visit our website at


Key Words Codependent relationships; Codependency; Relationships; Addiction


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