When substance abuse develops into addiction, it becomes a source of conflict and puts a strain on relationships. Many families with people who’ve developed a substance use disorder develop unhealthy behaviors as a way to cope. One of these behaviors is codependency. 

If you are dealing with addiction in your family and feel it is your responsibility to solve your loved one’s problems – the odds are you are codependent. In fact, you’re not alone. 

Research reveals that approximately 40 million Americans, mostly women, have been characterized as codependent. But what exactly does it mean to be codependent or to be in a codependent relationship? What are the signs and symptoms of codependency? 

Here’s everything you need to know about codependency and how to break codependent cycles with loved ones suffering from addiction.

What is Codependency? 

The term “codependency” was originally used in the context of substance use to describe a situation where a substance abuser depends on another person for food, money, or shelter. Today, codependency covers a much broader spectrum. It is now used to describe any unhealthy relationship whereby one person becomes overly dependent on another. 

In the context of substance use, some addicted persons can’t make decisions for themselves. They rely on others with a more dominant personality to make decisions for them.

While codependency often occurs in romantic relationships, it can also develop between family members. For instance, it can develop between a parent and an addicted child or between siblings.

What Causes Codependency?

Drug and alcohol addicts suffer significant impairments in health and social function, so many of them become dependent on others. Many codependent traits arise early in childhood, just like many other behavioral tendencies. Codependent behaviors are highly likely to develop in those raised by either under protective or overprotective parents and other family members.

While parental protection is a natural response, it can have negative psychological repercussions if it is intensely overbearing. That’s why children with overprotective parents may not gain the confidence they need to live independently.

In scenarios where children are raised by under protective parents, codependent behaviors may arise later in life. This is due to a lack of enough support when growing up. Such children may feel alone and unsafe, thus lacking the confidence needed for them to build independence later in life. 

When parents fail to fulfill their parental duties, their children may have to perform adult responsibilities at a tender age. After becoming adults themselves, they may adopt codependent behaviors if they marry partners who are struggling with addiction.

Codependency Signs & Symptoms

While codependency is an unhealthy dynamic, it is not a clinical diagnosis or a formally classified personality disorder. However, several key signs and symptoms can help you know that you are codependent. Here are the four common codependency signs and symptoms:


When one person acts as a caretaker for the other, it creates an unhealthy mutual dependency – codependency. Most codependents have a strong urge to care for others, often at the expense of self-care. Sacrificing personal time and energy handling the problems of your addicted loved one is a sign that you’re codependent. 

People-Pleasing Behavior

Another symptom that is common in many codependents is people-pleasing behavior. It is a characteristic whereby a person feels excessively concerned with pleasing others.  People-pleasing behavior includes an inability to say “no” to your addicted loved one. Continued patterns of people-pleasing behavior is a sign of codependency.  

Tolerant Behavior

Codependent people also tend to stay in harmful situations far too long. They do so  just to maintain a relationship, even if it’s clearly not working. Even if they do leave eventually, they often find themselves in another unhealthy relationship. People who are codependent derive their happiness and sense of fulfillment in taking care of others. 

Have you ever said that you won’t tolerate something (such as drug abuse) but gradually increased that tolerance to the extent of putting up with the behavior? You should take that as a codependency sign. 

Poor Self-Esteem

Codependents’ self-esteem is based on how others judge them. Many codependents are unable to feel okay about themselves if others don’t like them. They feel a strong need to please people. Gaining self-esteem by solving your addicted loved one’s problems is a sign of codependency. 

How to Stop Being Codependent

If you have noticed any of these codependency symptoms in yourself, it does not necessarily mean that your relationship is doomed. However, it would help if you started taking action to stop the degradation of your relationship. Here are helpful tips on how to stop being codependent:

Overcome Denial

In relationships with addicts, denial is typically developed to negate feelings of shape, pain, or conflict within the family. When living in denial, people pretend that the dysfunction has no impact or does not exist. 

This unhealthy method of coping is emotionally safer than acknowledging that there’s a dysfunction in the family. Overcoming denial is the first step in breaking free from codependency. By overcoming denial, you can start to learn how to combat issues on an independent level. 

Identify Codependent Behaviors

You cannot break the cycle of codependency if you are unaware of what makes you codependent. Therefore, you should figure out whatever you are doing that makes you codependent. Look for patterns in your relationship that are characteristic of codependent behavior and try your best to avoid them. 

Set Up Boundaries

Once you identify codependent behaviors, set boundaries for yourself and your addicted loved one. Learn to say no, stop doing everything for them, and prioritize your needs above everyone else’s. If possible, detach yourself from the person to protect your mental health.

Consider Rehab

Your relationship with your addicted loved one may change if they find sobriety. Through rehabilitation, both parties in a codependent relationship can find their own recovery. If your loved one is able to remain sober, they may become capable of taking care of themselves. Additionally, they would be better equipped to make their own decisions.

As a codependent spouse, you may enable your loved ones by taking care of them.
Codependent spouses typically care for loved ones when they are intoxicated, or clean up their messes and make excuses for them. Addiction treatment for your addicted loved one can better encourage their recovery from addiction and end the cycle of codependency. 

Get Treatment for Your Loved One

If you believe that addiction treatment is the best way to help your loved one, Healthy Life Recovery in San Diego, CA is here to help. We are a drug and alcohol center based in San Diego, California – helping addicted individuals on their journey to recovery.  

Does your loved one need addiction treatment but find it hard to commit to a 30-day residential treatment program? Worry not – our San Diego rehab center offers outpatient treatment. Contact us today to find out more about our addiction treatment program.

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