Addiction Among Those in Codependent Relationships

Evaluating an Individual’s Treatment Needs
Addiction Among Those in Codependent Relationships

Codependency is a type of dysfunctional relationship wherein one person enables the other to perpetuate compulsive and potentially self-destructive behaviors. Codependency may be rooted in childhood trauma or specific personality traits that encourage individuals to put someone else’s needs above their own and require external sources to feel worthy, Psych Central reports.

What Does Codependency Look Like?

Codependency may have been a term originally coined to refer to the spouses of alcoholics, particularly wives of alcoholic men, but now has a broader definition that may include those in intimate relationships with people battling mental illness, drug abuse, or other dysfunctional relationships, Psych Central publishes. People suffering from codependency generally have low self-esteem and may feel that survival without their partner is not an option, so they may do anything to keep the relationship afloat regardless of the personal detrimental effects. This may include providing money to support a drug habit, denial or refusal to confront the fact that drug abuse is a concern in an effort to not rock the boat, taking care of a person recovering from the aftereffects or withdrawal symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse, and suffering from possible physical or emotional abuse.

Codependent spouses may make excuses for the person abusing drugs and help to cover up drug abuse. Those in a codependent relationship may turn to drugs themselves as a method of coping as well.

Codependency is not a formal diagnosable mental illness, although it may be the result of living in a dysfunctional house as a child and being the victim of childhood trauma. The American Psychological Society(APA) reports that over two-thirds of children will experience at least one traumatic event by the time they turn 16. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood neglect or abuse raises the odds that someone will abuse illicit drugs in adulthood by 1.5 times over the general public.

Someone in a codependent relationship may have a strong desire to feel needed and therefore may be drawn to individuals who need “fixing,” which may include those who battle addiction or substance abuse. Taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves may make the individual feel worthwhile. In addition, individuals abusing drugs may feel that they cannot function without their partners’ help; therefore, both parties are likely dependent on each other.

Motivation to change may not be present even though the consequences of not getting help may be far reaching, with negative physical and emotional health results. Both parties in a codependent relationship may benefit from addiction, substance abuse, and mental health treatment.


Treatment for codependent relationship addictionTreatment for codependent relationships may include counseling and therapy sessions, both in group and individual formats. Both parties can learn healthy communication tools and skills to improve self-confidence and rebuild feelings of self-worth to foster a healthy relationship. According to SAMHSA’s Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP), the “helper” member of a codependent relationship may suffer from anger, shame, isolation, chronic stress, anxiety, trouble with intimacy or inappropriate sexual behaviors, and isolation. Individuals may neglect their own health needs and spend so much of their time focused on their partner that they may not recognize their own needs or sense of self.

Family or couples therapy may be an important aspect of treatment, as is individual mental health counseling and therapy. Intensive Systemic Family Therapy methods work to improve the entire family unit by focusing on personal interactions and communication skills. This therapy is usually a short-term treatment method that may be followed with aftercare and recovery services.

Both the person abusing drugs and the partner enabling this behavior may need to learn new coping mechanisms and life skills through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Drug abuse makes changes to a person’s brain chemistry, often creating a desired high and may be accompanied by mood swings, erratic behavior, and impaired functioning.

Drug abuse and addiction may also potentially need to be addressed through detox first to safely remove toxins from the body in order to manage any potential withdrawal side effects. Withdrawal symptoms may include flulike symptoms as well as irritability, depression, drug cravings, insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, or trouble feeling pleasure.

Depression and anxiety commonly co-occur with substance abuse and in codependent relationships. Medications may be useful during treatment and recovery in tandem with therapeutic and behavioral methods.

Support groups can be very helpful to family members and individuals in recovery from codependence and/or drug abuse, as shared experiences and a shoulder to lean on may help to prevent relapse. In addition, such support can help individuals to remain vigilant and able to accept themselves as worthy on their own. Codependent relationships may often be accompanied by drug abuse, and both are recoverable conditions with comprehensive treatment methods.


  • The Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS) provides a Member Directory for individuals seeking the help of a professional and qualified interventionist. Families or loved ones outside of the codependent relationship may become concerned, and professional interventionists may be helpful in planning and setting up a meeting that can motivate people to seek treatment.
  • Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) is a 12-Step program for those who wish to develop and foster healthy relationships through fellowship and group meetings with peers and other experiencing codependency. Partners or family members may attend local meetings and share experiences in a supportive, confidential, and safe environment.
  • The Behavioral Health Locator helps individuals to find local mental health and/or substance abuse treatment options that are listed with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Local county, city, or state mental health, substance abuse, or behavioral health services departments may offer resources on local treatment options as well.
  • NCAAD (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.) can help provide information on drug abuse and addiction as well as treatment options. Becoming educated on addiction, treatment, and recovery can help families and individuals learn what to expect and better understand the progression of addiction and methods used to treat it.

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