How Codependency and Addiction Affect Relationships

How Codependency and Addiction Affect Relationships

We all value our connections with other people, especially in our “romantic” relationships. The truth is, we are wired for connection and it allows us to build intimacy and bonding with our partner. The success of our relationships depends on the quality of our emotional connection with each other.

What are Codependency and Interdependence?

However, one of the main elements of relationships is understanding the difference between interdependence and codependency. 

In an interdependent relationship: 

  • Both partners recognize and value the importance of the emotional bond they share. 
  • They maintain a solid sense of themselves within the relationship process.
  • An interdependent person sees the value of openness and is able to turn to their partner in meaningful ways to create closeness between them. 
  • They also value a sense of self. This allows them and their partner to be themselves without compromising who they are or their personal values.

A codependent person:

  • Tends to rely on others for their sense of who they are and well-being.
  • A codependent person cannot tell the difference between where they end and the other person begins.
  • There is an entangled feeling of responsibility to another person to meet their needs. And/or for their partner to meet all of their needs so they can feel okay about who they are. 

Traits of a codependent relationship include:

  • Little to no boundaries
  • People-pleasing behavior
  • Ineffective, unhealthy communication
  • Manipulation
  • Problems with emotional intimacy
  • Controlling behaviors
  • Blaming each other
  • Low self-esteem in one or both partners
  • No personal interests or goals outside the relationship

Codependent relationships are not healthy and do not allow each partner room to be themselves, to grow, and be independent. Codependent relationships involve one partner or both. They rely heavily on the relationship for their sense of self, feelings of being worthy, and emotional well-being. On the other hand, there are often feelings of guilt and shame for one or both partners if the relationship is not going well.

Relationship Addiction

Codependence was originally used to describe partners in chemical dependence or people in a relationship with an addicted person. Similarly, these patterns are seen in people who are in relationships with chronically ill or mentally ill people. These days, however, the term has expanded to any codependent person from any dysfunctional family.

Codependency is a learned behavior that can be passed from one generation to the next. It’s an emotional and behavioral condition that affects a person’s ability to have a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship. Since people with codependency often form and keep relationships that are one-sided, emotionally damaging, and sometimes abusive, it is known as “relationship addiction.”

How Does Codependency Enable Someone with an Addiction?

Codependent partners don’t admit that a problem exists. They don’t talk about them or confront them. This results in family members who learn to repress their emotions and neglect their own needs. They become “survivors.” 

Because of this, they develop behavior that helps them deny, ignore, or avoid tough emotions. As a result, they don’t confront each other. They don’t feel. They don’t trust. They don’t talk. In the end, the emotional development of the codependent person or persons is often suppressed.

All of the attention and energy focus on the individual who is addicted. The codependent person usually sacrifices their needs to take care of a person who is sick, whether with a substance use disorder (SUD) or mental illness. They have good intentions but taking care of a person with an SUD becomes compulsive and self-defeating. 


Codependent people often play the part of a martyr and become “benefactors” for the person with the addiction. A spouse may cover for an alcoholic partner, or a mother may make excuses for a child who is skipping school. Maybe the father is able to “pull some strings” to keep his child from facing the consequences of his behavior.

These repeated rescues allow the person struggling with an addiction to continue on a destructive course. Eventually, they become even more dependent on their “benefactors” and on the substance they are using. 

Negative Effects for the Codependent Partner

Likewise, as the reliance increases, the codependent benefactor develops a feeling of reward and satisfaction from being needed. But when the caretaking becomes compulsive, the codependent partner feels helpless and without any choice in the relationship. They’re not able to break out of the cycle of behavior that caused it. Codependents see themselves as victims and are attracted to that same weakness in their love and friendship relationships. 

Characteristics of codependent people are:

  • An excessive feeling of responsibility for the actions of others.
  • A tendency to confuse love and pity, meaning that they tend to love people they can pity and rescue. Codependency and Addiction
  • A tendency to do more than their share, always.
  • A tendency to feel hurt when people don’t notice their efforts.
  • An unhealthy dependence on relationships. They will do anything to hold onto a relationship.
  • An extreme need for approval.
  • A feeling of guilt when standing up for themselves.
  • A need to control others.
  • Lack of trust in themselves and others.
  • Fear of being abandoned or alone.
  • Difficulty determining their feelings.
  • Difficulty adjusting to change
  • Problems with boundaries
  • Continuous anger
  • Dishonesty
  • Poor communications.
  • Hard time making decisions

Codependency as an Addiction

As noted above, codependency is often referred to as relationship addiction or love addiction. The focus on other people to relieve our pain and feelings of emptiness while ignoring our own feelings only grows. The thinking of a codependent person becomes obsessive which can cause their behavior to become obsessive, even in the face of negative consequences. This is why codependency has been referred to as an addiction.

Symptoms of Codependency

Codependency also features symptoms that vary through its continuation similar to those associated with drug addiction. The symptoms range from mild to severe and include: 

  • dependence, 
  • denial, 
  • dysfunctional emotional responses, 
  • craving and reward and
  • lack of ability to control or stop the compulsive behavior without treatment.

Similar to a person with chemical dependence, the codependent person increasingly spends time thinking about, being with or trying to control another person. As a result, other social, recreational, or work activities suffer. 

Finally, they might continue the behavior, and the relationship, despite the constant social problems it causes between people. Codependency is continuous and has lasting symptoms that get worse over time without intervention and treatment.

How Do You Draw Boundaries?

The first thing you need to do to change unhealthy behavior is to understand it. It’s important for codependents and members of the family to become educated. They should learn about the course and cycle of addiction and how it spreads into their relationships. You can find educational materials at libraries, substance use treatment centers, and mental health centers.

There will need to be a lot of change and growth for the codependent and his family. Any caretaking behavior that allows or enables the drug or alcohol use to continue needs to be identified and stopped. The codependent person must express and welcome their own feelings and needs. This will include learning to say “no.” You must be loving but tough and learn to be self-reliant.

The more you understand codependency, the better you can deal with its effects. Asking for information and assistance can help you live a healthier, more satisfying life.

Are Women More Likely to be Codependent?

When people think of codependence, they think of “woman.” Despite this stereotype, most studies find that there is little or no difference between genders. Some studies even find that men score higher on codependence measures than women.

When you think about it, anybody of any gender can be an empathetic person whose giving nature is taken advantage of by “takers.” Likewise, anybody can be set up for codependent relationships by abusive, neglectful, absent parents.

However, for women, unhealthy helping and giving can come from behaviors and traits that are culturally encouraged for women. Women are expected to put others first and be nice and considerate. Traditional roles direct women to take care of other people, make their lives easier, and care for those who are dependent. 

Helping or Enabling

Of course, it’s not a bad thing to help others or rescue someone in trouble. These things that people do help make the world a better place. But sometimes it’s a good idea to consider whether the gender script you’re following will cause you to enable someone. 

Is it possible that it would drain your emotional, physical, or financial resources? Would it lead you into an off-balance relationship with someone who will use you to escape responsibility? The bottom line is, you need to consider whether your actions really benefit someone or do they enable them.

Treatment Options

Symptoms of codependency are reversible when an individual enters treatment. Unfortunately, people don’t usually seek help until there’s a problem or they’ve had enough pain to motivate them. Many times, they aren’t even aware of their codependency and may be in denial about someone else’s SUD. 

Because codependency is usually rooted in a person’s childhood, treatment often involves exploration into early childhood issues and their relationship to current destructive behavior patterns. Treatment includes education, experiential groups, and individual and group therapy through which co-dependents rediscover themselves and identify self-defeating behavior patterns. 

Treatment also focuses on helping people coping with codependency to get in touch with feelings that have been buried during childhood and on rebuilding family relationships. The goal is to allow them to experience their full range of feelings again. Recovery comes from education and coming out of denial. Reading about the issue is a good start, but greater change comes through therapy and possibly a 12-step program.

Learn to Care for Yourself at New Directions for Women

As you have read, being codependent and enabling someone to continue their dependency is not good for anyone. You need to end your addiction to that behavior before you can help anyone else. Similar to an airplane, you need to put on your oxygen mask first. And at New Directions for Women, we know how to help you put on your oxygen mask first.

We are a treatment facility dedicated to helping women suffering from addiction. We are accustomed to helping women in many different situations. And we are successful at helping to heal your family. Contact us now. New Directions has many programs and you will be able to find one that fits you and your needs.


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