How Does Codependency Create Addiction

How Does Codependency Create Addiction?

Codependency, also known as relationship addiction, is a behavior that can be passed down through the ages. Here, the codependent person is rarely able to maintain healthy or nurturing relationships. That’s because he/she often leans towards abusive, one-sided, or destructive relationships.

Unfortunately, this is often seen in family members or friends of people with substance addiction. In most cases, this personality can lead to the individual’s own addiction problems too.

How Does Codependency Develop?

Codependency is a learned behavior. That means a person can develop this by watching or imitating a family member or friend who exhibits it.

More often than not, codependency is manifested by a person who comes from a dysfunctional family. Technically speaking, this is a brood wherein one or several members feel shame, pain, anger, or fear that is denied or ignored. Such feelings can stem up from any of the following:

  • A family member’s obsession with food, gambling, sex, work, relationships, alcohol, or drugs.
  • A family member with a mental or chronic illness.
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse

Dysfunctional families tend to ignore these problems. As such, they are not able to address or confront them. This leads to emotional repression and a disregard for personal needs. These members become ‘survivors’ who ignore complicated emotions.  They are cold and detached, so they don’t trust other people easily.

Characteristics of Codependent People

Because of their learned behavior, codependent individuals usually have the following tendencies:

  • Dishonesty
  • Anger
  • Doing more than their required share
  • Feeling guilty when asserting oneself
  • Problems identifying own feelings
  • Difficulty dealing with changes or adjustments
  • The immense need for recognition and approval
  • Inability to trust self or other people
  • Fear of being alone
  • An increased sense of responsibility for other people
  • Poor communication skills
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Problems setting up or following personal limits
  • A need to control other people
  • ‘Loving’ and ‘rescuing’ people they pity
  • Unhealthy dependency on toxic relationships

Stages of Codependency

In her Psych Central article, Darlene Lancer explained that codependency occurs in three phases:

Early Stage

Like any new relationship, this stage is earmarked by the person’s tendency to shower excessive love and affection. However, a codependent person may be ‘more obsessed,’ so he is unable to see any wrongs in his partner. This leads to the individual giving up on healthy relationship boundaries.

Middle Stage

To minimize the displeasing aspects of the relationship, the codependent person develops guilt, self-blame, and anxiety. His self-esteem is slowly being diminished. In the end, it is replaced with resentment, disappointment, and anger.

With the person’s mood worsening, he further builds obsession and dependence. To cope up with such feelings, he may turn to addictive tendencies such as using drugs, drinking alcohol, binge eating, among many other things.

Late Stage

In this stage, the mental anxiety is slowly taking over the person’s physical health. Stress-related manifestations occur, such as headaches, muscle tension, allergies, back pain, even heart disease. Substance or alcohol addiction may increase even further. As such, the individual may feel more depressed and angry – and the cycle goes on and on.

Codependency and Addiction

Due to their suppressed emotions, codependent people often suffer from low self-esteem. They’re always on the lookout for something that makes them feel good. As mentioned, they often abuse nicotine, alcohol, or drugs. Some individuals, on the other hand, develop a compulsion with work, sex, or gambling.

Similarly, a codependent personality can foster another person’s addiction. As this individual tends to act as a benefactor to helpless people, he/she ends up covering for a loved one. This is why some wives tend to cover up for their alcoholic or addict husbands.

A codependent revels in the fact that he is needed. Since he doesn’t have the guts to stop his partner, the latter ends up pursuing a more destructive, if not fatal road. After all, there’s no one to stop him/her from doing drugs, alcohol, and other addictive activities.

As for the codependent person, he is unable to break away from the cycle. There is a feeling of hopelessness, but he is not powerful enough to leave the relationship. This leads to a perpetually destructive path for both the codependent and his partner.

How is Codependency Treated?

Since codependency is linked with the person’s childhood experience, treatment is geared towards such issues – and how they affect the individual’s relationships.

That being said, co-dependents may need to undergo individual/group therapy, experiential groups, and patient education. Depending on his/her problem, he can opt to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, Love Addicts Anonymous, or Gamblers Anonymous, to name a few. These treatments aim to help the person rediscover his buried feelings. That way, he can recognize his/her unhealthy emotional patterns.

Self-Care Steps for Codependents

Apart from seeking professional help, codependents can also take self-care steps that can help them deal with the issue. Here are some recommendations from the Florida Department of Children and Families:

1. Detachment

You should distance yourself from toxic relationships. That way, you can work on your personal issues so that you can recover completely.

2. Independence

As codependent, you must learn to trust yourself. You should be able to take care of yourself without seeking the help of others.

3. Removing Victim Image

You should realize that you are not a victim of circumstance. You should know that you have the power to effect change in your life.

4. Accepting Reality

You should be able to acknowledge all the problems in your life. This is a crucial step if you want to be able to solve them.

5. Experiencing Feelings

The problem with codependents is that they tend to bury their feelings. So if you wish to resolve your issues, you need to be in touch with your emotions – whether they’re pleasing or not.

6. Living Your Own Life

As you become more independent, you should be able to focus on yourself – and not other people like you used to.

7. Goal Setting

Without the need to take care of other people, you should be able to set more goals for yourself. Now is the time to do the things you weren’t able to do before!


Codependency is a learned behavior that stems from dysfunctional family life. These survivors tend to suppress their feelings, and they end up being active caretakers of their loved ones. Unfortunately, they have a strong tendency to develop addictions as they try to find something that makes them feel good. Similarly, this personality can also lead to their partners’ addictions spiraling out of control.

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