Codependency and addiction

Codependency is one of the least discussed mental health conditions but it has a huge impact on sufferers and those closest to them. Living with codependency on its own can be tough enough but when addiction is also present, the outlook can be even bleaker. If you are currently dealing with the effects of addiction and codependency, UKAT knows that it can be a lonely, scary place. However, through our comprehensive treatment and support, you can learn to overcome addiction and develop new strategies and skills which will help you to manage codependency.

What is codependency?

Codependency is a psychological condition characterised by an excessive emotional or psychological dependence on another person. This person is usually someone who needs support due to illness or addiction, with the codependent individual having a deep-rooted need to care for others. While this may seem like an admirable trait, this is often at the expense of their own needs, which can lead to a one-sided, emotionally destructive or abusive relationship.

The concept of codependency initially emerged from patterns observed in families dealing with alcoholism. These families tended to neglect their own needs and aspirations in favour of looking after their addicted loved one, even to the point of enabling. Over time, however, codependency has been recognised in a broader spectrum of relationships and settings.

Despite this widespread acknowledgement, codependency is notably absent from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), which can complicate the understanding and treatment for many who suffer from it.

Common symptoms of codependency

Exploring the symptoms and signs of codependency helps individuals and healthcare providers identify and successfully manage the condition. While codependency symptoms can manifest differently from person to person, they typically include:

  • Excessive caretaking: A compulsive need to care for others, often neglecting your own needs and potentially enabling the other person.
  • Low self-esteem: Persistent feelings of inadequacy, often leading to a constant need for external validation.
  • People-pleasing: An overwhelming desire to please others, frequently at the expense of your own well-being.
  • Difficulty in setting boundaries: A habitual struggle in saying no, often leading to being taken advantage of or exploited.
  • Fear of abandonment: An intense fear of losing the other person and being left alone. This can cause you to stay in unhealthy relationships, deepening the cycle of codependency.
  • Dysfunctional relationships: Often finding yourself in relationships that are unfulfilling, abusive or neglectful.
  • Conflict avoidance: This can mean apologising for things that were not your fault, accepting bad treatment in relationships or not communicating your feelings to loved ones.
  • These codependency symptoms can infiltrate every aspect of your life, from personal relationships to work, creating a pervasive impact on your overall well-being. These signs of codependency can be difficult to admit, but if you notice these tendencies in yourself, it may be worth seeking professional help.

    What causes codependency?

    The roots of codependency can often be traced back to childhood. In families where addiction is present, children often take on roles that inadvertently reinforce codependency. For example, a child might become the ‘caretaker’ of an addicted parent, a role that involves a level of emotional investment and responsibility far beyond their years. Many children in this situation also learn to suppress their own needs and feelings to accommodate the emotional or substance-related turmoil of their parents. While initially a survival mechanism, this early adaptation can evolve into a persistent pattern of codependent behaviour in adult relationships.

    The link between codependency and addiction

    At its core, the relationship between codependency and addiction can be seen as a mutually reinforcing cycle, where each condition exacerbates the other. This can create an incredibly challenging dynamic that can be difficult to break without professional intervention.

    Codependency enabling addiction
    Addiction thrives with an enabler, and codependency is the perfect breeding ground for enabling due to the codependent person prioritising the other person’s needs and well-being over their own. While this can happen unconsciously, some common enabling behaviours include:

    • Covering up: Shielding the addicted individual from the consequences of their behaviour.
    • Providing financial or emotional support: This helps to continuously facilitate their substance use and avoid some of the negative consequences.
    • Neglecting personal boundaries: Failing to set or maintain healthy boundaries often leads to a cycle of rescuing and caretaking.
    Addiction exacerbating codependency
    Conversely, addiction can also intensify codependent behaviours as its unpredictable, destructive nature can lead to increased anxiety and a heightened need for control. This can manifest in various ways, including:

    • Heightened fear of abandonment: The codependent individual may fear that addressing or confronting the addiction will lead to the end of the relationship, leaving them alone.
    • Increased people-pleasing behaviours: In an attempt to keep the peace or stabilise the relationship, the codependent may go to even greater lengths to please or appease the addicted partner.
    • Strengthened belief in being indispensable: The codependent might come to believe that they are the only ones who can help or save the addicted individual, reinforcing their caretaking role.
    A never ending cycle of codependency and addiction
    This interplay between codependency and addiction often results in a destructive cycle. The codependent’s actions enable the addiction while the chaos and instability of the addiction reinforce the codependent’s need to be needed. This cycle can worsen both conditions as each feeds into and justifies the existence of the other.

    Manifestations of codependency and addiction

    At UKAT, we have encountered various forms of codependency and addiction, each presenting unique challenges for sufferers. These include:

    Codependency and sex addiction

    In cases of sex addiction, some codependent individuals find themselves in a pattern of seeking validation through sexual behaviours. This need for affirmation and fear of abandonment can lead to risky and unhealthy sexual practices, further entrenching the cycle of addiction and codependency.

    Codependency and love addiction

    Love addiction often manifests as a chronic need for romantic attachment, regardless of its healthiness. This can lead to staying in a toxic relationship for fear of being alone or, conversely, jumping constantly from one relationship to another without ever feeling happy or fulfilled.

    Codependency and drug addiction

    When drug addiction is present in a codependent relationship, the dynamics can become particularly destructive. The codependent person may cover up or enable the addiction, often out of a misplaced sense of responsibility or love. This not only hinders the addicted individual’s chance of recovery but also perpetuates the codependent’s own unhealthy behaviours.

    Codependency and alcohol addiction

    Alcohol addiction in the context of a codependent relationship often leads to similar patterns as seen with drug addiction. The codependent person may become the caretaker, continually excusing or facilitating the addictive behaviour, thereby deepening the cycle of mutual dependency and addiction.

    Treatment for codependency and addiction

    The presence of codependency in addiction treatment presents unique challenges. The intertwined nature of these conditions means that addressing one without considering the other can hinder recovery. For example, a codependent individual may struggle to maintain sobriety if their need to please or care for an addicted partner leads them back into harmful environments or behaviours.

    At UKAT, we recognise this complexity, so our UK-wide rehab centres offer proven addiction treatment, which can also provide valuable skills for managing codependency. Our bespoke UKAT London Clinic can go even further and offers a range of mental health treatment programmes for addiction, codependency and dual diagnosis care, which addresses both conditions simultaneously.

    Some of the most important therapies in our rehab treatment programmes include:

    One-to-one therapy
    These are individual therapy sessions that provide a safe space to explore your issues related to codependency and addiction. Your therapist will help you understand the root causes of your behaviours and develop strategies for change.
    Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
    CBT is effective in addressing the thought patterns that underlie both addictive and codependent behaviours. It will help you identify and challenge irrational beliefs around relationships and develop healthier thinking patterns going forward.
    Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)
    DBT emphasises balancing acceptance and change. It is particularly helpful for those struggling with emotional regulation – a common challenge in both codependency and addiction.
    Group therapy
    Group sessions offer support and perspective from others facing similar addiction and mental health challenges. These sessions can be instrumental in breaking the isolation often experienced in codependency and addiction and building an invaluable support network.
    Meditation and mindfulness
    These practices can help you develop greater awareness of your thoughts and feelings. This will empower you to more effectively manage the stress and emotional triggers which feed addiction and codependency.
    Family therapy
    Given the role of family dynamics in codependency, involving family members in therapy can be a crucial step to healing. It helps in understanding and changing unhealthy patterns within the family system and how they have contributed to codependent behaviours.
    Ongoing support is essential for sustained recovery, and all UKAT clients receive one year’s free weekly group therapy sessions after completing rehab. This ensures continuous support and resources to help you maintain your progress post-treatment.

    Break free from addiction and codependency today

    Embarking on a journey to overcome codependency and addiction is a deeply courageous step, and UKAT is committed to providing the support and care needed to navigate this path. Remember, real change is possible no matter how challenging your situation may seem. With professional support and a willingness to engage in the process of healing, you can break free from the chains of addiction and codependency. Reach out to UKAT and start your journey to recovery today.


    Does codependency only involve romantic partners?
    No, while codependency usually occurs in romantic relationships, it can be present in friendships, child-parent dynamics and even between colleagues. Generally speaking, however, the more intimate the relationship, the more serious the codependency.
    Is codependency a form of addiction?
    Codependency is sometimes referred to as “love addiction” or “relationship addiction” due to the inclination of sufferers to form or stay in relationships that may be fundamentally unhealthy or destructive. Codependency also shares other traits with addiction, such as “withdrawal” symptoms when not in a relationship and continuing to compulsively engage in behaviours despite knowing they are harming you.