Codependency and Addiction: Symptoms and Treatment


Healing from addiction is difficult for every addict, but when codependency and addiction occur together, recovery can be even more difficult. Here, you will learn what codependency is, the relationship between codependency and addiction, and treatment for codependency with and without addiction.


First, let's consider the basics:

What is Codependency?

Codependency is a relationship pattern which sees one person putting another's needs before their own. When codependency and addiction occur together, the two behaviours can reinforce one another.

To further explain, we'll say that two people are dating. The first person has an addiction to alcohol. In codependent relationships, this is the “addict.” The second person focuses on the other's needs to the extent that they do not think about their own. This person is known as the “caretaker.” The pattern of behaviour that occurs between the two is known as “codependency.”

Codependent behaviour can extend even further, so that one person is even making significant decisions for the other, telling them what to think, and ultimately limiting their ability to act independently. In this case, codependency and addiction directly contribute to maintain unhealthy behavior.


What causes codependency?


Codependency was first noticed in the 1950s by psychotherapists treating clients with alcoholism. They found that often a spouse or partner helped to maintain the addictive behaviour.

As far as individual causes, therapists now consider a range factors which contribute to codependent behaviour. These include chemical imbalances in the brain, childhood experiences, current life situation, addiction history and past relationships.

What are the Symptoms of codependency?

People who have codependent behaviours often have the following symptoms:

  • Low self-esteem due to deeply held feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, and a need for perfection.
  • A need to make other people happy and a difficulty saying “no.”
  • Difficulty creating healthy boundaries and distinguishing responsibility for actions.
  • A need to control situations, people, and their own feelings.
  • Poor communication skills.
  • Obsessively thinking about other people and their own anxieties and fears.
  • Their own dependency on other people.
  • Fear of and issues with intimacy.
  • Negative and painful emotions such as depression, resentment, and despair.

Codependency and Addiction

Codependency and addiction are often closely related, as codependency was first associated with partners of alcoholics. Today, addiction is still one of the most common associations of codependency. How does this work?

People with a drug or alcohol addiction often have a range of problems stemming from their addiction. These may include:

  • Issues with work and money
  • Problems with other relationships
  • High-risk behaviours
  • Constant need for emotional support.

    The codependent partner does what they can to support the addict through all of these trials and tribulations. There may be token gestures to help the addict get clean, but the addictive behaviour is not resolved, and the difficult life circumstances continue.

    Indeed, the codependent often helps the addict to engage in harmful behaviours, helps to clean up and cover for them. They may also provide money and other support.

    Codependency is not always associated with addiction, but for those who are addicts, there is often a codependent. And, in many cases, the codependent often engages in addictive behaviour themselves. It may happen that people in this situation both engage in codependent behaviour. More frequently, however, one person will have the more severe addiction issues, and the other will support them.

    Treatment for Codependency

    When neither partner has an addiction, treatment usually occurs when a couple is having significant problems maintaining their already challenging relational patterns.

    In the case of addiction, treatment often occurs when the addict has some form of crisis and is forced to make major life changes. Such crises may include medical treatment resulting

    from dependence, legal or criminal proceedings, or instabilities such as relationship and work problems. Frequently, because of the addiction, treatment for codependency occurs at an addiction treatment centre.

    In either case, treatment is complicated because the codependent partner does not see the harm their behaviour causes. In fact, they view their actions as helping their partner and do so as an expression of their love. For this reason, it is important to diagnose and treat codependency and addiction together.

    The challenge in treatment is to objectively look at the behaviours of the codependent and how they affect the health, happiness, and well-being of their partner in multiple areas of life. These include emotional life, work life, relationships, physical health, and overall well-being.

    Treatment is administered as a combination of individual therapy and couples therapy, depending on the needs of the client. Goals of therapy include understanding how codependent behaviour affects the partner and relationship, making healthy relational changes, improving communication, and creating lasting behavioural changes through planning and accountability.

    In the case of codependent treatment which occurs in conjunction with addiction, it is invaluable to have the codependent on board. They have had a role in maintaining the addiction, and maintenance of recovery depends in some part on changing the dynamic in the addicts' relationships. You may find this resource helpful as you consider treatment options.

    Codependent No More

    While codependency and addiction are often treated in an addiction treatment centre, there are also steps you can take on your own to break unhealthy patterns and become codependent no more. Following these four steps is a good starting place for both the addict and the caretaker:

    1. Abstinence. For both the addict and the caretaker, sobriety is necessary for significant changes to the codependent relationship. As long as needs for health are ignored and submerged in alcohol or drugs, there will be little opportunity to make relationship changes. Naturally, this is complicated as often the codependent relationship itself helps maintain the substance abuse disorder.

    2. Awareness. Important and lasting changes begin with awareness that there is a problem. Awareness can come in major insights or through smaller clues, but the point is that it catalyzes into a desire for change. Though it may be challenging to acknowledge a problem, it essential for making positive changes in the relationship.

    3. Acceptance. Changes begin with awareness, and they continue with acceptance. This can be understood in two ways. First, accepting that there is a problem, that there is unhappiness and suffering, and that you have had a role in that suffering. But second, accepting the work and changes that must occur for a healthier, happier life.

    4. Action. Talk can only go so far, for at the core of codependency and addiction are patterns of behaviour. To change the relationship and the addiction, there must be changes in behaviours. Such changes include better communication, decreasing behaviours which contribute to addiction, and increasing those behaviours which support a healthy relationship.

    If you think that you may be involved in a codependent relationship – whether with an addict or as the addict – contact a qualified psychologist or drug and alcohol rehab centre for help. The Cabin Chiang Mai is the most respected drug rehab Thailand has to offer, and our qualified physicians have many years of experience treating codependency alongside addiction.