There are many things that go hand-in-hand with addiction. Depression, anxiety, shame, and wondering why you keep drinking even when it’s ruined your relationships, among others. Among the many issues that often run alongside addiction is codependency. This is a condition that often overlaps with the description of being a “people pleaser”.
Psychology Today defines codependency as:
A dysfunctional relationship dynamic where one person assumes the role of “the giver” by sacrificing their own needs and well-being for the sake of the other, “the taker”.
You can probably figure out why these types of relationships are unhealthy. Ideal relationships benefit both people, with both experiencing love and support. Codependent relationships only “benefit” one person, the taker. You might be wondering why I put “benefit” in quotes. The giver in these types of relationships often ends up enabling the destructive behavior of “the taker”. Meanwhile, the giver in these relationships feels like they need to help the taker, often basing their entire self-worth on it.1
One destructive behavior often enabled by codependency is addiction. In this article, we’re going to discuss codependency and how it’s often linked to addiction.
What is Codependency?
As briefly explained above, codependency is a relationship where one person feels a constant need to help the other person, often relying on them for their self-worth. These types of relationships often feature on person who gives and one person who takes. The giver in these relationships feels like the need to help the taker, often basing their entire self-worth on it. Oftentimes they are afraid to confront their partner about any issues, for fear that their partner might leave, thus destroying their self-worth. It’s common for people in these relationships to think they can fix their partner and take their pain away.
Common signs and symptoms of a codependent relationship include:
Fear of abandonment
This fear is an overarching aspect of lots of codependent relationships. Oftentimes, the codependent fears that if they don’t service the other person in their relationship, the person will leave them. This can manifest in them kowtowing to the other person’s needs, enabling any destructive behavior, because they feel like if they don’t, they will be abandoned.
Difficulty with setting boundaries or saying “no”
Related to the fear of abandonment, a codependent might be afraid to disagree with or set boundaries with someone for fear that they might leave.
Enabling destructive behavior
Being afraid to disagree or confront a partner for fear of abandonment or disapproval can lead someone to either ignore, accept, or involuntarily aid in destructive behavior, including addiction (which we’ll go into more detail on later).
Obsessing over what the other person is thinking, doing, and feeling
Wondering what your partner is feeling and thinking is normal. Obsessing over it and having it take over your life is not normal. In codependent relationships, one partner will often obsess over what their partner is thinking, what their partner is doing, and what their partner is feeling (and if their partner is feeling bad, they will often take it upon themselves to change how their partner is feeling and blame themselves if their partner continues feeling bad).
Needing to “save” others
Codependent people often feel like they alone need to save their loved ones. This can lead to them feeling guilty if the condition of their partner doesn’t improve and can lead to them feeling like a martyr.
Feeling guilty when taking care of yourself
Codependents often base their self-worth on helping the other person in their relationship, which can lead to feeling guilty when they are taking time for themselves.
Desperately needing approval from their partner
Related to the obsessive thoughts about making their partner happy, someone in a codependent relationship can constantly crave approval from their partner. In a way, it can be seen as an addiction to love (not to be confused with that cheesy song from the ‘80s with the laziest music video ever made).
Feeling resentful or taken advantage of
As you can imagine, everything mentioned above can breed deep, pent-up resentment.
Manipulation and acting helpless
From the perspective of “the taker”, oftentimes they will manipulate their partner into helping them (whether intentionally or unintentionally).
Codependency and Addiction
Codependency is often linked to addiction. In fact, when you Google “examples of codependency” the first result is related to alcoholism. It’s easy to understand the basic reason for this. As mentioned above, codependency involves one person in a relationship feeling like they need to help the other person, often basing their self-worth on it. This can lead to them enabling destructive behavior or making it worse.
Someone in a codependent relationship with an addict/alcoholic might worry about confronting them about their use and be overly forgiving about their behavior. For someone who isn’t ignoring the behavior, a codependent may feel like they need to save the addict/alcoholic, blaming themselves when it doesn’t work and often unintentionally enabling them.
What Does Codependency Look Like?
We can discuss symptoms, we can discuss the link with addiction, but what about examples? Well, here we have a couple hypothetical examples of codependent relationships.
The alcoholic and his codependent partner
Let’s start with an example of an alcoholic with a codependent partner. The alcoholic does things an alcoholic usually does. As many alcoholics are, he is a master at hiding alcohol bottles throughout his home in places his girlfriend won’t find them. When his girlfriend is away, he drinks, and plans how he’s going to hide his drinking.
Eventually, there are embarrassing incidents the alcoholic gets into while out drunk. Despite these embarrassing incidents, his girlfriend still forgives him. Soon, there is an incident so embarrassing that the alcoholic doesn’t go out with friends anymore. He is still able to put on a sad face, talk about how guilty he feels, apologize (again) and his girlfriend still forgives him, even looking the other way when he drinks again two weeks later. The girlfriend still firmly believes she can help him become sober or drink like a gentleman through affection and support, unknowingly and unintentionally enabling him by hesitating to directly call him out on his behavior.
The insecure person and their controlling partner
For this example, let’s imagine a person who hits it off with a new partner. Here’s the catch, the person in this story has a history of suffering through abuse. Growing up, they were mercilessly bullied by their peers, and while they are now an adult, they still carry those internalized insults they experienced while growing up. Nevertheless, they meet someone who genuinely wants to be with them.
The person in this story is very insecure and has a natural penchant for people-pleasing (with the desperate hope of making people like them). This starts a cycle where they’re afraid to say no to their partner and have difficulty setting healthy boundaries. Their partner learns that they can have control, and deep down this makes the codependent in this relationship resentful. Despite this, they continue the codependent behavior due to lack of self-confidence and fear of another friend abandoning them or betraying them.
We’ve talked a lot about codependency, how unhealthy it is, and how often it is intertwined with addiction.
As with any mental health problems, meeting with professionals can be a massive help. This can be done with both individual and couples counseling.
A few resources for therapy include:
- Portland Therapy Center – Codependency
- Better Help Online Therapy
- Psychology Today – Codependency Therapists in Portland, OR
There seems to be a 12-step program for everything, and codependency is no exception. Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) is a twelve-step program for people with codependency issues, with the goal of establishing functional and healthy relationships.
Codependency is often linked to addiction, and Al-Anon is a fantastic resource for families of alcoholics. This can give you a feeling of comradery with people who are suffering from the same thing you are, and you can find great examples of people overcoming their codependency problems with their alcoholic partners.
Exact same reason Al-Anon is on this list, but substitute drugs for alcohol.
12 Step Recovery Programs
You didn’t think we’d do a recovery blog without mentioning 12 step recovery programs did you? As mentioned above, addiction often goes hand-in-hand with codependency. The 12 steps of AA and NA can help you work through resentments, set healthy boundaries, make amends to people you’ve harmed, and continue to work on your personal relationships.
- Portland, OR AA Meetings
- Oregon AA Meetings
- Portland, OR NA Meetings
- International AA Online Meetings
OTR can help you begin to overcome both addiction and addiction-related codependency issues. Get a strong foothold in recovery today at Oregon Trail Recovery.