Codependent Relationships and Addiction

As we approach Valentine’s Day, a day that is meant to celebrate every aspect of love, friendship, and romance, many of us in addiction recovery often struggle with new romantic relationships secondary to codependent behaviors. 

Successful and healthy relationships take a lot of patience, skill, empathy, and determination. Many factors are needed for positive growth, whether it is a romantic relationship, a sibling relationship, a friendship, or a parent/child relationship. Codependency is a negative factor that is encountered in many relationships that can destroy not only the relationship but also each individual involved. Codependency was first defined nearly 50 years ago to describe unhealthy relationships characterized by excessive control or compliance, often with one partner lacking self-sufficiency and autonomy resulting in sacrificing one’s personal needs to try to meet others’ needs. Codependency is strongly associated with passivity and feelings of shame, low self-worth, or insecurity. Codependent behaviors usually stem from deep-rooted pasts. Many individuals may not even realize they are codependent or deny that they are in a codependent relationship. 

Addiction and codependent behaviors

This concept was originally conceived in the context of addiction. It helped explain “enabling” patterns used to ease relationship tension caused by drug and alcohol abuse. We now understand that enabling behaviors (such as rescuing a partner, bailing them out, making and accepting excuses for their behavior, and continuously trying to fix problems) are common in non-addiction-related codependent relationships. 


Common codependency signs

  • You feel that your partner is responsible for solving your problems
  • Your partner has verbally expressed to you that they feel unappreciated and unloved
  • You are continually trying to please your partner
  • You desperately want your partner to “save you”
  • Your happiness stems from your relationship with your partner
  • You continuously are looking for advice and direction from your partner on how to live your life
  • You see yourself as a perpetual victim


The origins of codependency

Unlike addiction, codependency is not a disease or a disorder but rather a learned behavior that often begins in childhood. As a result, codependent behaviors are deeply ingrained in our upbringing and personalities and will often re-surface throughout our adolescent years and adulthood. Codependency is mostly born into dysfunctional families with addiction, emotionally unavailable partners, and narcissistic behavior. The codependent parents set the tone for the child, and the child learns from the parents to try harder in every relationship. From a young age, these children learn to “walk on eggshells,” how to keep their needs hidden and put the needs of others before everything else, and how the outward appearance of the relationship is of utmost importance. Children who grow up in this environment do not learn to value or foster their self-worth and do not view themselves as independent or necessary and will consistently look for others to repair their “brokenness”. In adulthood, this creates unhealthy boundaries and can often push the individual to use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with these underlying feelings, especially if their romantic partner is not filling their void. 


Recognizing your codependent patterns

Often it takes a life-changing decision or milestone for an individual to have that “ah-ha” moment whether they recognize the inequity that comes with codependency. However, just because an individual is aware that they are involved in a codependent relationship does not necessarily mean they will discontinue the behavior. Individuals in a codependent relationship are fearful of rejection and therefore saying “no”, is usually not in their vocabulary. Often it takes enrolling in an addiction treatment center for the individual to develop the coping skills necessary to exit a codependent relationship. However, if an individual struggles with an addiction, they may switch out their addiction for a codependent relationship. As a result, recovery can be a double-edged sword. It can teach us about coping skills and boundaries, but it can also lead us to trade in one addiction for another. 


Overcoming codependent relationships

To overcome a codependent relationship, especially if you are in recovery from addiction, it is essential to establish the following:

  • Strict boundaries
  • Self-esteem
  • The ability to say “no”
  • Self-love
  • Honesty
  • A strong support system
  • Strong communication skills


Signs of recovery from codependency


  • You nurture your wants and desires and develop a connection to your inner world. You see yourself as reliant, smart, and capable.
  • You say goodbye to abusive behavior. Awareness, change, and growth are necessary for you and your partner to overcome unhealthy relationship habits. Caretaking and enabling behavior is acknowledged and stopped.
  • You respond instead of react to your partner and others. Setting clear, firm boundaries means that you don’t automatically react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. You tolerate other people’s opinions and do not become defensive when you disagree. You recognize that your reaction is your responsibility. You adopt a healthy skepticism regarding what others say about you (good or bad), and your self-esteem doesn’t rise and fall as a result. You say no, and you accept hearing no.

Counter dependency: the opposite of codependency

Codependency often goes hand in hand with both addiction and relationships because the individual in recovery has spent a great deal of time codependent on the substance of abuse. They needed this substance to get through their day, they needed it to cope with difficult feelings, and they needed it to feel good. When individuals enter recovery to gain sobriety, this void is often left unfilled, and as a result, many individuals may fill this void with codependent relationships. Instead of the substance of abuse, individuals will substitute romantic relationships to help them get through the day, make them feel worthy, help them overcome difficult feelings, and bring them happiness. In a way, it is substituting one addiction for another. So, how do you know you are maybe entering the waters of a codependent relationship during your recovery journey?

Quest 2 Recovery: Center for Addiction and Mental Health

As treatment professionals, it is our job to reach out to those struggling with addiction and mental health disorders. We want you to be a better role model, spouse, and parent to your loved ones. If you are struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder, we want to help you. We at Quest2Recovery, want to treat you, the individual, and not just your disorder. We want to break the mold, set the standard, and be role models for the rest of the addiction treatment industry. We want to invite you to seek help in a compassionate, non-judgmental environment.


The Importance of Self-Care in Addiction Recovery

Addiction recovery, whether you are recovering from an alcohol use disorder, a drug abuse disorder, or an eating disorder, is challenging and as a result, self-care is necessary. You are asked to be vulnerable in one of the most profound times of your life, and often we can be too hard on ourselves while we navigate the throes of addiction recovery. Whether you are in the early stages of addiction or have been in recovery for many years, we often forget that we are human and deserve compassion, grace, and forgiveness along our journey. Self-care encompasses all of these things, and the more we practice self-care, the more we allow ourselves to embrace both the challenges and victories that come with addiction recovery. According to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, practicing self-care while in addiction recovery is crucial to developing healthy coping skills and relapse prevention. The more time you spend caring for yourself and paying close attention to your mind and body, the easier it’ll be to detect the early warning signs of an emotional, mental, and physical relapse.



Defining self-care

Our society and culture have tied self-care to many lavish actions or routines such as going on a shopping spree or making a spa appointment when self-care is different for everyone and does not have to involve spending money engaging in lavish activities. Self-care starts with self-compassion. It is not selfish, but rather it encompasses patience and love for yourself, two of the cornerstones to a successful recovery journey. It is merely impossible to define self-care without acknowledging self-harm. We are often so hard on ourselves, placing judgment and blame on our thoughts and actions and holding ourselves to nearly impossibly high standards. Emotional and mental self-harm can create turmoil within our relationships, affecting our self-esteem and putting up roadblocks to the path of recovery. When we do not prioritize our own needs to live a healthy life and stay on the path to recovery, we engage in self-sabotage. Instead, we should make a conscious effort to engage in self-compassion and practice self-care daily. 


Daily self-care routines:

  • Establish healthy boundaries: You will meet many people throughout your recovery journey who will support you, but you will also meet others who will bring you down and potentially compromise your sobriety. To establish and maintain healthy boundaries, it is important to learn how to respectfully and politely say “no” to others, avoid compromising situations that can jeopardize your recovery, and engage only with people who genuinely support your recovery. 
  • Make physical health your priority: It is easy to hit the snooze button on our alarm, skip breakfast, and rush out the door to start the day. It is just as easy to stay up late and eat junk food. Our physical health is essential to maintain our emotional and mental health. When we jeopardize our physical health by not eating a blanched diet, not moving our bodies, or not maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, we are likely to become irritated, exhausted, and engage in self-harm behaviors such as negative self-talk. It is crucial to keep a healthy sleep schedule by going to sleep and waking up at the same time, and getting at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Drinking three liters of water a day and taking time to prepare balanced nutritious meals are important ways to nourish your body. Regular daily exercise can help you build and maintain physical strength, and it also releases endorphins that can boost your mood and combat stress.   
  • Get outside: We spend the majority of our day indoors, whether it is at home, work, school, or in the car. Taking a few minutes to breathe fresh air and get into the outdoors can help us recharge and have some time to ourselves. Whether you choose to eat a meal outside, go for a walk around the block, take the dog for a run or take a couple of work calls outdoors, the combination and fresh air and sunlight can be beneficial to your daily routine. 
  • Repeat positive thoughts: Create one positive thought about yourself and repeat it each day. Whether you are proud of a work project you completed, reached a milestone in your recovery, or made a new friend, it is important to acknowledge these positive thoughts and little wins along the way. Whatever it may be, take time to appreciate yourself each day. Positive thinking and affirmations can be the best forms of self-care. 
  • Do something every day that brings you pleasure: Whether it is drinking a good cup of coffee, eating your favorite chocolate, spending ten minutes reading a book, going for a run, putting on makeup, or listening to your favorite song; make sure that you are spending time engaging in something that brings you joy. Little moments of joy can happen anywhere, regardless if you are at work, running errands, or cleaning your house, but you may have to create space and time for these moments to happen. 



“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” 

— Maya Angelou