Codependency & Drug or Alcohol Addiction Recovery

Codependency is a behavior pattern characterized by excessive emotional dependence on another person. This pattern is often found in relationships that involve addiction.1

A codependent person may have a relationship with a person with an addiction, but codependent people can also develop addictions as a way of coping with low self-esteem.1,2

Read on to learn more about the link between codependency and addiction, and how to get help if you or someone you love is battling one or both of these issues.

What Is a Codependent Relationship?

girl in a codependent relationship engaging in destructive behaviorsA codependent relationship is a dysfunctional relationship that lacks healthy boundaries. One person (or both) may be emotionally reliant on the other and struggle to maintain a healthy level of independence and autonomy.1

Codependency is not a diagnosable condition. The term codependency was first introduced in the 1940s, and was further popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Initially, people in relationships with alcoholics were believed to be suffering from an illness themselves.3

Over the years the idea of codependency has aroused significant controversy. Critics claim it lacks a consistent definition and negatively stereotypes traits that are traditionally feminine, like empathy.4

Today, the idea of codependency remains controversial and highly debated. Some experts argue that the term is negative and should be avoided by professionals, but organizations like Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) stand by the idea that people can develop an unhealthy pattern of emotionally relying on others.4,5

According to CoDA, codependence involves patterns of low self-esteem, denial, avoidance, and control. People who are codependent may:5

  • Struggle to label their emotions and express how they feel
  • Reject help from others
  • Find themselves attracted to people who are physically or emotionally unavailable
  • Value the opinions of others more than their own
  • Fail to set healthy boundaries
  • Stay loyal to their partners, even when it is harmful to them
  • Put the needs and desires of others before their own
  • Take on another person’s feelings as their own
  • Use their sexuality to gain approval
  • Feel a strong need to be accepted or loved by others
  • Push advice or suggestions on others
  • Avoid confrontation and conflict
  • Try to get close to others, only to then push them away
  • Avoid vulnerability

Codependent Relationships & Drug or Alcohol Addiction

There is a connection between codependence and addiction.1 Codependent patterns are common in relationships where one or both people have an addiction. Because a codependent person emotionally depends on others, they may behave in ways that unintentionally encourage the addiction.

For example, they may protect a person with an addiction from experiencing the negative consequences of their substance use.6 This behavior may be a way of avoiding true intimacy, which can be uncomfortable or scary for codependent people.5

Codependency has also been referred to as “relationship addiction.” Like other types of addictions, people may stay in a relationship and find it hard to end the cycle, even when it’s toxic and negatively impacts their lives.2

How Codependency Impacts Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Codependent people may find themselves in relationships with those who suffer from addiction. Also, those with codependent patterns may turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with low self-esteem.2 Depending on the relationship, one or both members may engage in codependent behaviors.

One of the most well-known ways that codependency appears in relationships is when one partner is addicted to substances and the other takes on a codependent role. The codependent person may sacrifice their own needs to care for the person with an addiction.2

They may engage in a behavior called enabling, which happens when a person permits or unintentionally encourages a harmful behavior, like substance use, by preventing the person from experiencing the consequences of their actions. The enabler may recognize the dangers of substance use but fail to see how their own actions contribute to the problem.4,7

Enabling can take many different forms. A parent may enable their child by giving them money to buy drugs or alcohol, allowing them to live rent-free, or bailing them out of jail. A spouse may call in sick or make excuses for their partner because of their substance use.3

All these behaviors serve to prevent a person from facing the ramifications of their addiction, which can ultimately make it harder for someone to motivate to change.

Getting Help for Codependence and Substance Use Disorder

Help is available for people struggling with codependency and substance use disorders. Professional addiction treatment and support groups can give people the tools to break harmful patterns and learn healthier ways to connect with others and cope with negative emotions.

Support for Codependency

a group of attendees at a mutual support meetingBecause codependency is a not a formal mental health condition, there are no evidence-based treatments available. However, there are ways for people who believe they may be stuck in codependent behavior patterns to get support.

Recognizing your codependent behavior is the first step. If you have been told that you could be codependent, you may want to take a closer look at your behavior in relationships. Learning how to have healthier relationships is an important part of recovering from codependency.

You can work on this through group or individual therapy or by making an effort to notice and change unhealthy patterns. For example, people with codependency tend to comply with others, rather than assert their own needs or concerns.5 Instead, practice using “I” statements to communicate how you feel or what you would like from the other person.9

 Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) is a 12-Step support group that focuses on helping people recover from codependency.10 They offer in-person and virtual meetings throughout the United States and internationally. You can even attend CoDA while attending another mutual support group, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Al-Anon, or Nar-Anon.

Changing codependent behaviors takes time. Try to be consistent and recognize potential setbacks. Rather than beating yourself up, remember that it is a process to change unhealthy behavior patterns. With consistency and time, you may start to see positive changes in yourself and your relationships.

Support for Drug or Alcohol Addiction

There are many different ways to get help for drug and alcohol addiction. Professional treatment is recommended in most cases for people dealing with substance use disorders.

Treatment can take many forms, including medical detox, inpatient, and outpatient rehab. Comprehensive treatment can help people stop using drugs and alcohol and improve how they function in other areas of their lives.8

Addiction treatment is most effective when it is tailored to the person. People dealing with other issues connected to their addiction, such as co-occurring mental health disorders or codependency, can benefit from addressing these in treatment.8

Individual, group, and family therapy can help a person understand how their behaviors in relationships may contribute to their addiction and teach healthier communication and coping skills. Family members and close friends may also be able to attend family therapy with a loved one, and learn how to support their recovery without enabling.

Sunrise House Treatment Center is an inpatient rehab facility in New Jersey that provides different types of addiction treatment, including medical detox and residential treatment. An average day in inpatient rehab at Sunrise House involves group and individual therapy sessions, 12-Step and other mutual support groups, and time for sober recreational activities.

Our programs incorporate evidenced-based therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and specialized tracks for specific groups, such as first responders or members of the LGBTQ+ community.

At Sunrise House, we believe treatment should be affordable. We offer many different ways to pay for rehab and are in-network with many major health insurance companies. For more information about using insurance to pay for rehab or to start the admissions process, call us at . Our admissions navigators are happy to help and answer any questions you may have.

Codependency is an unhealthy behavior pattern that can interfere with addiction recovery. Treatment, therapy, and support groups can help you recognize these behaviors in yourself and others and make positive, lasting changes.

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