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Addiction is a mental health condition that affects the brain and body in a variety of ways. Although addiction is best understood as being unable to quit compulsive substance or alcohol use, addictive behaviors can happen from anything or in anyone. It is important to acknowledge that addiction occurs through the repetition of harmful behavior patterns. Addiction affects everyone differently. 

More often than not, addictive behaviors tend to surface in relationships. When people use the word “dependence”, they are often referring to a physical dependence on someone or something. Dependence can be much more than a physical element and is another way to understand addictive behaviors. Co-dependence is a type of relational dependence that involves many addictive behaviors. Although people can be physically dependent on someone or something without necessarily being addicted, there are inevitable overlapping factors. In bringing awareness to these factors, you will be able to recognize and alter harmful patterns of behavior in yourself and others so that they do not develop into long-lasting addictions. 

What is Co-Dependency?

Co-dependency involves a set of behaviors that occur in dysfunctional relationships. It is when a person is in a relationship where they rely on their partner for their self-esteem and emotional needs. Codependent people struggle with their own confidence, searching for affirmation from others. There are several easily spotted signs of co-dependency in relationships that include:

  • Lack of boundaries or weak boundaries.
  • People-pleasing
  • Excessive control over others
  • Difficulties with communicating needs, feelings, and thoughts
  • Obsessive or destructive behaviors

Co-dependency and Addiction

Co-dependence is often referred to as relationship addiction because it causes a person to neglect their own needs in an attempt to help someone else feel better about themself. Co-dependence tends to show the same signs as addiction. This is because it is a pattern of self-perpetuating behaviors where a continuous focus is given to a partner instead of contributing to personal needs and happiness. Similarities in co-dependency and addiction include:

  • Shifts in personality, including mood and behavior
  • Negative emotions become more weighted and obvious
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Increased paranoia or anxiety
  • Dependency
  • Making excuses for behavior

Substance use, addiction, and co-dependency are often seen together in a relationship. Sometimes these traits occur in the same person, although it is more likely that each partner has their own condition. For example, one partner is an alcoholic and has a codependent partner. The codependent partner relies on their alcoholic partner for validation while finding purpose in caring for their addicted partner. The biggest concern in a relationship like this is that each partner is enabling each other’s behaviors, whether they realize it or not. 

The Route of Self-Destruction for Each Partner:

Codependent Partner

In a relationship like this, both partners are going to experience negative effects. A codependent partner is much more likely to develop an addiction of their own in order to cope with their own emotional instability. Over time, they will continue to neglect their own needs and responsibilities to try to tend to their addicted partner’s responsibilities, which is incredibly harmful to their well-being. This is likely to lead to poor health, depression, and other distressing mental health symptoms. 

If the addicted partner realizes they need treatment, the codependent partner may feel like they are no longer useful in the relationship. This might cause a codependent partner to unconsciously halt any attempt for the addicted partner to get the help they need. 

Addicted Partner

The addicted partner becomes stuck in a cycle of substance use and dependency on their partner. Although they are contributing to their codependent partner’s emotional needs, they are inevitably prioritizing their harmful behavior patterns over their own well-being. The codependent partner takes on the responsibilities of the addicted partner, leaving the addicted partner thinking that they will not have to do anything on their own. This reduces work ethic, motivation, and contributes to a lack of responsibility by the addicted partner. This becomes even more challenging if and when the addicted partner realizes that they need recovery treatment. 

Treatment Options Available for Codependency and Addiction

Families and partners must get the help that they need to bring these destructive cycles to a halt. There are many treatment options available to help both of these behaviors, although treatment must be individualized for each partner’s condition. 

If you are experiencing a co-occurring diagnosis of codependency and addiction, it is important to consider dual-diagnosis treatment. Next to that, here are some treatment services that may produce significant results:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Couple’s therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Adventure therapy
  • Mindfulness and meditation training
  • Group therapy
  • Case management services

Codependency and addiction can occur in any relationship as well as in any person. It is important to help others get the help that they need to foster success and positive well-being in their lives.