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Is There a Relationship Between Codependency and Addiction?

Codependency is a complex and often debated concept that’s characterized by enabling behavior and self-sacrifice.1 While there isn’t a formal diagnosis for codependency, elements of codependent behavior appear to be common amongst loved ones supporting a person with an addiction.1

Understanding the relationship between codependency and addiction may help you if you’re supporting a loved one struggling with substance misuse.

What Is Codependency?

Codependency is often referred to as a compulsive pattern of behaviors common in people who have experienced trauma in their lives.2 People who are codependent often take on a caretaker role in relationships and tend to show signs of obsessive preoccupation with others. They typically abandon their own needs in favor of the other person’s. The codependent often finds fulfillment and value in being needed by someone else or helping them.2

While people may experience several different behavior patterns in various types of relationships, a few common traits and behaviors of codependency found in research include:1

  • Focusing on others more than themselves (external focus).
  • Internal conflict and a desire to control.
  • Self-sacrifice, or neglecting one’s own needs.
  • Holding back one’s emotions.

However, there is still no conclusive definition for codependency, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), does not list it as a diagnosable personality disorder.1

The concept of codependency began to appear in the 1940s to describe patterns of behavior demonstrated by wives of men in Alcoholics Anonymous.1

Codependent Traits and Behaviors

While the DSM-5 does not outline a diagnosis or symptoms of codependency, there are some patterns of behavior that people describe, particularly those stated in the literature for Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), a 12-step group for people identifying as codependent.2

Co-Dependents Anonymous categorizes behavior into several groups that include:

  • Denial patterns (denying how they feel or others feel).
  • Low self-esteem patterns (value others’ approval more than their own).
  • Compliance patterns (very loyal and often compromise their own values).
  • Control patterns (caretaking behavior).
  • Avoidance patterns (withholding emotions, affection, gratitude, etc.).

Under each of the above categories within the literature for Co-Dependents Anonymous are several statements that help people identify with the types of patterns they exhibit the most.

Addiction and Codependency

Codependence is not exclusive to people who are supporting those with substance use disorders (SUDs). However, many people who identify as codependent grew up in homes where people were struggling with addiction or have a partner or loved one currently struggling.2

Some people feel that codependency is like addiction itself.1 They feel that they exhibit addictive behaviors like a person struggling with substance misuse.1 Furthermore, codependency and addiction may be linked in other ways, as some feel that codependency is at the root of other substance misuse and many people in CoDA also struggle with other addictions.1,2

There is some research about the role of alcohol addiction and codependency, however, it is minimal. Research seems to align with many of the behaviors and feelings noted in CoDA literature, including denial, anger, and acceptance, in addition to feelings of hatred towards the person with a SUD who they’re supporting, and a desire to rescue them.3

Enabling and Codependency

People who identify as codependent often feel a desire to rescue a person struggling with addiction. They may constantly offer help in various ways without any real change in the behavior of the person using substances.3 This type of behavior could be seen as enabling, or not allowing the person to experience the consequences of their behavior.4

As such, codependency and addiction may be at odds with one another. Codependency may actually be a roadblock for a person misusing substances because the codependent is making it easier for the person to continue using drugs or alcohol, potentially decreasing their desire to change.5

Some examples of enabling behaviors include:6

  • 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.
  • Continuing to help a person even when they’re not asking for help.

Support for Codependency

When helping a loved one with addiction, it’s important to continue seeking help for yourself. There are several ways to get support, which may include:

  • Behavioral therapy.
  • Family therapy.
  • Mutual support groups, like Co-Dependents Anonymous, Al-anon, or other groups.

Numerous forms of therapy are available to help a person with codependency and addiction. They include:7

  • Family therapy, which may help break dysfunctional and unhealthy behavior patterns between people in a codependent relationship and teach the family members new ways of coping and interacting.
  • Group therapy, which can provide individuals with a safe and appropriate space to express their feelings and learn communication and problem-solving skills.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help to change negative thought patterns and beliefs to change behavior. This treatment aims to teach a person how to recognize their own problems and separate them from those of the addicted individual.

Addiction Treatment

Addiction is a maladaptive pattern of behavior in which a person’s drug or alcohol use results in negative consequences. They may feel compelled to keep using, and may want to stop, but are unable to do so.7

If codependency and addiction are causing challenges in your relationships, it is important that the person receives help while you address your issues.

Types of treatment programs available for addiction include:7

  • Inpatient treatment, in which a person lives at the facility for the duration of treatment.
  • Outpatient treatment, in which a person receives treatment on a regular schedule, but lives at home.
  • Detoxification centers, in which people can safely go through the detox and withdrawal process with medical supervision.

Find Treatment for Substance Use Disorder

If your loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available. Call to speak with a member of the American Addiction Centers compassionate admissions team, who can help you find the right treatment program and/or verify your insurance coverage. Codependency and addiction can be a challenge, but help is available for you and your loved ones.

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