What is codependency addiction?

Codependency addiction is an emotional and behavioral condition that results in unhealthy relationships. More on how you can identify and treat the enabling and denial behaviors that characterize codependency here.

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What does codependency mean?

Are you wondering, “Am I codependent in a relationship?” Simply put, codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that results in unhealthy relationships. Some of the negative patterns that develop include enabling, denial, low self-esteem, and control issues. Codependency is also sometimes called “relationship addiction.”

In families that are dealing with an addicted member, codependency is a common problem. It is difficult to be in a relationship with an addict and not fall into codependent behaviors. While these patterns don’t happen overnight, most people who live with an addict for a sustained period of time eventually take on codependent tendencies.  How to stop a codependent relationship takes time, awareness, and effort.

What are codependent behaviors?

So what do codependents do? What typically happens is, as the addict gets worse, the family members become mentally and physically unhealthy as well. They spend sleepless nights worrying, suffer from stress-related illness, lie to avoid shame or embarrassment, become financially strained, and grow increasingly resentful toward the addict. This is why addiction is often called a family disease.

While there are many destructive patterns involved with codependency, two of the most common are enabling and denial. Let’s take a closer look at these two behaviors:

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1. What are enabling behaviors?

When somebody you care about is suffering with an illness or a disease you naturally want to help. As a result, loved ones often step in to save the addict from the devastating consequences of their actions. This is called enabling. It is difficult to be in a relationship with an addict and not get sucked into enabling behavior.

Family members believe they are doing the right things when they help to save the addict’s job, help him or her to stay out of jail, help to pay their overdue bills, or save them from whatever horrific thing is getting ready to happen. But, in most cases, it’s not helping. Instead it is making it easier for the addict to continue drinking or using drugs because the consequences aren’t bad enough to convince him or her to stop.

If loved ones can learn to let the crisis happen for the addict, the consequences could be enough to convince the addict to accept help. So how can somebody love an addict without stepping in and enabling the addiction? You do this by treating the addict with respect (expecting him or her to handle their own responsibilities), getting educated to understand addiction, and offering hope and words of encouragement.

2. How is denial a drug?

Along with enabling comes the behavior of denial. The addict denies his or her problem, the family denies how bad things have gotten, and emotional or psychological abuse is often denied as well.

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When family members refuse to admit that the addiction is causing serious health, relationship, and financial problems – this is called denial. Denial is a defense mechanism. Sometimes we are faced with something that is too uncomfortable to accept, so we reject it, insisting that it is not true despite evidence.

As addiction becomes more severe, the family’s denial may get worse as well, until the problems become so obvious that denial is no longer possible.

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Help getting over codependency

If you have a loved one struggling with addiction, and you have fallen into these codependent patterns, now is the time to reach out for help. If you can’t find the courage to do that, then how can you expect the addict in your life to find the courage? Set the example and lead the way to positive change.

Family support groups, such as Al-Anon, are one of the best forms of support available. Through these groups you will learn how to handle the challenges of living with an addict, learn to set healthy boundaries, and discover how to create an environment that encourages recovery.

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About the author
Lisa Espich is the author of the multi award-winning book, Soaring Above Co-Addiction: Helping your loved one get clean, while creating the life of your dreams. For additional articles, resources, and a free preview chapter of Soaring Above Co-Addiction visit her website. Her book is available at bookstores everywhere and at Twin Feather Publishing.


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  1. My husband is addicted to cocaine . He has been doing it for 2 to 3 years .. at first I accepted it and I was k with him doing it at home as long as I was there , I knew he would not get into any trouble . The continue and it got worst and worst . He lost a few jobs as a result of his drug use . The behaviour got worst too , constantly paranoid and moody . It got to a point in where he would be high all the time and lie about it even though the drug was running down his nose . I am broken my heart hurts and i dont know how to help . him . We have built a wonderful life but his addiction wins over everything else. He makes attempts at getting clean but weeks later he goes back to using again . He often tells me I dont provide enough support or that I always think of myself rather than his issues. We moved away from home to in an efford to change his enviroment but he was able to find cocaine and now he is trying crystal meth . I am tired , I been with him for 10 years and I dont know how to help or where to start

  2. Hi Jenny, I really like this post. Let it be known that I myself have been here for years. My husband and I have been together for 12 years. We have 2 kids together. We have had a rocky relationship. I am well educated and perfectly capable of working and being a good mom. However, the thought of doing it by myself is scary. Although people tell me that I am doing it without him. You see, my husband is addicted to crack and alcohol. Not to mention anything he can get his hands on. I don’t think there is a drug out there that he hasn’t tried. I fear he will die. He has had countless number of jobs which he keeps losing because he doesn’t show up for days or he shows up drunk and /or high. I have taken to babysitting at home so I can still make money and be a responsible adult at home. I can’t leave him with my kids. He makes excuses that it’s my fault that I don’t have a good job or make enough money. He has recently started getting physically abusive, having literally kicked my butt! Laughing it off saying I needed it to smarten up! I have packed his things and have them ready at the door. He has been gone for 2 days. He has exhausted my bank account. And has alienated our friends and family to the point where they are extremely apprehensive to help. They keep telling me to leave him, but it’s MY house. We live in a place where there is only 1% living rate. He refuses to leave. I have been informed by the landlord that if there are any cops at our house we will be evicted. I’m stuck. If he doesn’t leave quietly, what are my choices? What can I do? When I call for help on the hotline, they tell me to try the shelters. They are all full! And I really don’t want to take my kids there when I have a good home with a roof over my head. Please tell me what to do! Feeling so lost in this mess. It would be easier if he would just leave me alone! Please help!

  3. What a nice bunch of caring people on here. Of course we are.. we are all co-dependent.
    Cheryl- Your story brings me hope- it seems that you are finally finding yourself. Congrats!

    I find myself at a real juncture. My boyfriend of 3 years went into the hospital 1.5 years ago after getting severely ill. Turns out he has cirrhosis and HepC. I supported him as much as possible.. only to find out he picked up heroin again. Lies, lies and another year and a half later.. and he was hospitalized for a seizure. He is on his 22nd day in the hospital. and just got transferred out of the ICU yesterday. It is excruciating to watch someone with such potential throw his life away. For a while I felt responsible.. we kind of parted ways 2 years ago.. and I know he had heartache and picked back up at that time. Through lots of reading though.. I am realizing its not my fault. I tried every damn thing to get him to get a grip. Now I see none of it worked. I am grateful he is alive and still has his mind and can move. His heart infection caused 2 strokes. I cannot do this to myself anymore.. worrying till I make myself sick. Unable to eat.. sleep.. constant anxiety and panic.

    Let’s take care of ourselves. We can love them. But to quote an Al-Anon principle. We didn’t cause it.. cant control it.. and cant cure it. Let’s cure OURSELVES from OUR addiction of trying to help them. God Bless our loved ones who struggle, and ourselves in finding our way back to a normal way of living.

  4. Hi my name is Vickie I have been married for 24 years and have 3 kids now all grown up now.The problem is my Husband have been on drugs since we met.Cocaine and Alcohol and now he tells me he think there giving him crystals met.Thru the years I covered it up kids not knowing where there dad for days now there grown up and they voice how they feel about the drugs and alcohol it all leads up to a huge argument and he wants to kick them out the house.Im at the point in my life where I’m tired my kids are my joy and we don’t have that anymore I lost my job in 2011 as a Banker due to a merger and haven’t been able to get back on feet since.He have been paying all the bills but constantly gripes cause he’s not having no money for himself to do what he want to do so now he takes the rent money and go out buys his crack and alcohol for days don’t go to work been fired from God know how many jobs and now we are behind again but yet tells me he he not a addict my life at this point is to walk away and don’t look backI am so tired I have put my life literal on hold for my husband praying that he stop constantly asking God to protect him etc.I have cried so much to the point where his addiction gets swept under the rug but it’s a repeat cycle.So right now I say enough is enough I plan on selling everything and walking away and not looking back.I have to think about me and the relationship with my kids and grandkids.I have worried so now to the point where I have AFIB doctors don’t know why but I do I have to stay calm but not in a situation like this Please give me some advice.Ive gone to classes with him he has been in rehab but nothing seems to HELP.Im lost at this point….Thanks

  5. It is so nice seeing this article online and reading a few of the messages with women having the same problem as mine. My husband and I is on our 10 year of marriage bit been together for 14 years. When we were dating he did said he was a user and never really know the signs of someone who is an addict. I found out about his addiction to marijuana when we got married. We fight everytime I smell and suspected he have used but he never really admitted it. When i got pregnant with our first child I thought he will change but still uses and cause him losing a job or two. I even told his family about my problem but never really helped much. We had like an intervention type where I have finally told my mother about my problem but still only promises. When our eldest turn 3 I’ve had when I caught him using I kicked him out of the house with the help of my family. I told him I cannot take him back to our lives until he seek help. Well that worked for a year he was clean and in between we had our 2nd child. At those times were rough financially for us. He was able to find a job with minimum but I was unemployed. My mom was selling her house and we have no where to live. We decided to go abroad qoth our kids leaving my husband with his family to keep working. We decided to stay abroad for about 2 years. Biggest mistake. It seems that as soon we left he went back to his old ways using marijuana again but denying it. I trusted him i guess he was not strong enough now I am suffering with consequence of leaving my husband behind. He is an awesome father and hisband when he is not using but when he does he is totally different. I cannot have a decent conversation and now pur kids are fetting older and understanding what is going on i fear they will find put and eventually be doing the same thing. I am scared all the time when my husband is at home with my kids. I always think that he uses when I am not around. I fear for the safety of our family because he is not in his senses when he use. I tried giving him support, tried giving him the ultimatum he even realize that he will go back counsellong but then the next day he taken it back. He keep saying he is not an addict comparing himself to others who are using other things. I am so tired and needed an advoce or two. both our families do not know what i am dealing with now. Please help

  6. Reading this was extremely helpful. All the while, as I was becoming more knowledgeable about drugs and addiction, I didn’t realize I was in a codependent relationship with my fiancé. I’m not in denial. I built up the courage, thru lots of prayer, to approach him a year ago. We’ve been together for slightly over 3 yrs. I wasn’t completely familiar with the signs of an addict, but I started noticing behaviors then talking to trusted friends and friends. Then it became apparent when I started finding evidence all over the house. I felt angry, disappointed and more angry with his grandmother and grand aunt who raised him and ignored providing him with the therapy he needed as a child abandoned by his parents, not to mention his mother has mental illness. To fast forward, it wasn’t until this article I realized that I wasn’t helping him. I just made it easy for him to get high, because now it’s not a secret in our house and he knows I feel bad and want to help. So as of today, I will not send him another article of information that I think will help him. Nor do I plan to discuss what I think is best for him.

    Essentially, I’ve been reacquainting myself with my Creator, repairing my self-esteem and rebuilding my life. I’ve attended Al-anon, but it was helpful for the moment to help set the tone towards my recovery and repair. I started working again, treating myself to massages, repairing my credit with plans to purchase a home and relaunch my business. I need to start living for me again, when I was fearless and confidence, not living for him. The overall goal is to relocate and hopefully he’ll come along to remove himself from the environment that led to his demise, but if not, ultimately the process is for my repair.

    Thank you for this article and everyone for sharing.

  7. The only consequence for my partner when he relapses is me getting upset. His friends and family all know about his addiction, but they don’t treat him any differently when he uses compared with when he is sober. His drugs don’t cost him any money, so there’s no financial consequence either. If I try to stop being codependent and stop getting upset/dragged down when he relapses, where will his motivation for recovery come from?

  8. abandoned-soul and LILY I can also relate to your stories. My fiancé has a BAD drinking problem. We have a toddler with lots of health issues from havin Bacterial Meningitis as a infant. I want nothing more then to raise her with him her dad. I grow up in a home where my dad was a acholic and I went threw things no kid should have to ….I don’t want that for my daughter! And he knows that . He feels me with false hope and broken promises all the time and I always stay eventhought I always threathen to leave. I feel his is my soul mate n Im the only one he has. I always pray n hope for the best but it after three years im starting to c the truth. He constantly accuses me of cheating and lieing when I don’t do anything but treat him good. He lies all the time n I hope he doesn’t cheat just with the beer! I went to al lon meeting with my mom and it helped to open my thoughts to things but I tried to change my ways and not to count the bottles and not to say anything to him and not to worry when he doesn’t come home just like they say focus on your own live ……I cant ! My mind has automaticllay is….. I see him with a beer and boom anxiety sets in I go from happy to sad/mad, worried. and I cant change that ….CUZ EVERYTIME HE HAS drank in the past something bad happens!!!!! Im left with bruises broken phone no car keys he wont leave . Then get this instead of him being upset bout what he did when he was drunk he is worried bout what I was doing when he was blackout drunk!!!!!! OMG REALLY!! NO trust. my anxiety is at a all time high for me in life right now and I feel sick from it and I have a daughter to raise and protect . he is great when he doesn’t drink but terrible when he does . I found this article today looking for answers to what to do, my mom told me awhile ago, It s your choice to stay with him just remember once a achlohlic always a achloic. It s your chose to be in a relationship you don’t have to . Latly I don’t want to !! Its to much work and I need to focus on my health and my daughters health and happiness. Im so torn up I don’t want to be with out him but I cant live like this no more!

  9. abandoned soul- oh your story is EXACTLY like mine! with my husbands drug use and he too did all those same things, accusing me, going through my phone and wanting to FaceTime me so he can check up on me, which I refused. I hate his drug use but I am at peace with that, I let it brother me for many years and tried to tell him ‘don’t do that, it’s bad for you, blah blah blah’,and eventually I realised that there is no point, it’s his problem and I just got want peace in my own life. But then he tried crystal meth and turned into my paranoid enemy. And I just can’t take that kind of treatment. I never knew he had trust issues or insecurity after the many years we have been together, and now there is a tidal wave of insecurity and distrust coming at me from him.
    I dont want to experience any of this, but I love him and we are married with two small children so I can’t just break up and move on with my life, because our lives are so intertwined and I really need his help and support for our family, although he can’t always give the help I need, rarely.
    I’m finding these articles very helpful and realiseing how I enabled him so I won’t do it again. I think we are in a codependent relationship. Things have to change.

  10. My son is 39 y.o., been addict to crack for 20 years, attended 3 treatment facilities. Now about to become homeless. I need a support group to help me. I am 65 and starting to have health problems, many stess related. Can Alanon help me?

  11. My fiance and I are at wits end. With a baby to raise I feel I can’t jyst up and leave. Althoygh i dont have abolute proof he relapsed and using again the signs are there; stealing my money, out all night, stays up for days, sleeps for days, and texting that are not obvious but are suspucious. He was doing great at the beginning of his recovery. His problems started when he began hanging with a married couple more often than usual. I’ve expressed my concern to both my fiance and his friends but they still manage to set up a plan to meet up and “chill”. He does not use at home nor in front of me or oyr son. Could these be signs he is using?

    1. Hello Jenny. I think you’ve lost your trust, but you must be sure about the things your fiance does. Have you tried making him do drug tests?

  12. Hi Lisa my name is Maria, and I realy like your articles regarding addiction. I have been married for almost 18 years and my husband has been on and off of drugs “meth.” In the beginning of our marriage I dis not know till the day came in 2002. Since then I have been trying to help him recover. I have educated myself regarding addiction and the drug, and I have also educated him too, I have also made false threats and sometimes went through but nothing! Recently Las year he went finally to rehab. He was there for 2 months and was out and 9 months later again back on drugs. We have two amazing daughters and we build a great life but his drug addiction has managed to crumble it. I recently kicked him out, because I can’t take it any longer. I love him and want to help him but I also hate him. I am so frustrated and confused. I don’t know what to do. He has never faced the consequences of his actions, I have always managed to save him from any problems he has created. I don’t know what to do. I am tired and overwhelmed. But I really enjoyed reading your articles, because they help me see and understand the mess i am in. My family and friends know about his problem and we are not in denial, therefore I don’t know how to help him, or even want to help him because I have done everything and nothing changed. He was a self employed truck driver, we had a farm, and one other business and we have lost it all, even our home. Our daughters don’t want him to come back, because they don’t want to see him under the influences. He doesn’t accept responsibility and blames everyone for his drug addiction. He is 36 years old and I am 32 years old. I don’t want to hate him or for him to hate me if I continue to block him from drugs. What should I do? I have worked so hard to keep our family together but now I have basically given up. Thank you for reading my email.

  13. Recently I broke up with my boyfriend because of his addiction. Him and I had a wonderful relationship and we promised to get marry before his drug addiction came out. One day, he started to act very strange. He was keep accusing me for cheating and he insisted to looking at me through facetime while I was sleeping. He even audiorecorded my room without my permission and kept saying there’s sex noise recorded. One day He came to my house in the middle of the night and searching my room. He was so angry and furious during this time, and he said sorry the next day after he got some sleep. It was repeated almost every night for weeks. I didn’t know anything about his drug behaviors or history at that time, so I was so confused and scared. I swear to God I never cheated on him! I cried everyday at work and couldn’t talk to my friends or do anything else other than stay with him to assure that I never cheated on him. This was keep happening for about a month and my parents noticed that his behaviors getting very strange and dangerous way. So they tried to split us up, but I resist to stay with him. But it never got better and one day, he finally told me that he was high on meth during this time. I was so naive about drug or meth, so I forgive him and I was even little relieved because I thought he had mental illness like schizophrenia. I promised to help him out and take care of him while he is going through withdrawals. He slept almost all day for 2-3days and I was relieved and happy to see him sleeping because I thought everything is finally over. But it wasn’t. He started to use aderal to stay awake for work and he got addicted on it. He said he needs to check me during the night so he can be feel relaxed to know that I am not doing anything. So he asked me to put little video camera in my room and I thought that was helping him to figure out all things that he saw was hallucinations. So I stupidly agreed. And he was keeping seeing things even he wasn’t high on meth. But That was what he told me, so I never know that he was high on meth during that time. I didn’t know anything about drugs or addict behaviors.. I couldn’t do anything better than keep play along his manipulation… He was kept looking through my phone, called me in the middle of the night and screaming that somebody is next to me or I was moaning or something. Nothing was make sense. And I decided to take a break with him. I thought it help us out from this crazy madness situation. He agreed, too. But after 4days, I got back to him because he sent me a text that he is leaving the town. I was devastated and desperate. I wanted him to get better not run away from me. We talked and decided to fight this together. During this time, I learned about his drug history. He had done various hardcore drugs since he was adolescent. But he was clean for 5 years before he met me. And all of sudden, he started meth just because one of his friends handed it over. I was so frustrated and disappointed how he could do meth like that when we were so in love? We had promising future. I just couldn’t understand. And during that time, he kept said he was clean and doesn’t even think about to doing it again but he was keep seeing things. I thought it was flashbacks but my therapist told me he must be still doing the meth unless he would not have flashbacks. So I poke him and poke him to tell me the truth, he told me he couldn’t help him self…. How i felt? I felt like my world just ended. I gave him endless trust and love becuase i really trusted him that he can quit that shit for us. I never thought he could lie about that again to me after what we’ve been through. I didn’t talking to my mom and dad because they hated him and wanted me to break up with him. I couldn’t talk to my friends because they heard what had happend and they also hated him. I was so sad about that My friends and family wasn’t supportive towards him and me, and also mad at myself that I talked to them to ask help and advices so ended up they hated him. I was mad and tired and sad about this whole situation… So I couldn’t believe that he did it again when I was struggling with all this situation. We almost breake up at that point, but we decided to go to trip instead. Put everything behind, we went to trip to other city for a week. We had wonderful time there. I could feel he came back to normal. After the trip, we seem like we came back, but we had a fight over a stupid thing. And he ended up looking through all my text msg with my friends and family. And it was all from a year ago texts. I was so devastated because he was clean for about two weeks at that time, but he was doing the exact same thing that he did when he was high. I realized he has drug problem but he also had trust issue. It was sad but clear. I couldn’t be together with someone who is always questioning about my behaviors and fidelity. So I broke up with him. It was so sad cuz I still think he was my soulmate… But I couldn’t live like that. I was isolated from my family and friends. All I wanted was he got better and came back as the person that I fall in love with. But i learned that this addict is also him. This was part of him. But I couldn’t love this addict. All he did was manipulating and abusing me verbally and emotionally. I was so tired of all his broken promises and apologizes. I gave up. I gave up on my one true love. I still hate myself that I give up. I am studying a lot about drug addictions and co-dependent through this blog. I don’t know why I couldn’t find this blog while I was with him. Then it might be different. I want him to be get better and quit drugs. I wish him the best of best. I still love him. But I need to take care of myself first. That was my decision for now. I wish We could get back to each other one day inmy life, but I learned that hope is useless.. But every night, i still pray for him…

  14. I have just seen Emilys post dated January 10th, 2015 and would like to encourage her that it is not too late to live life again. I have been with my addict husband on and off for the past 25 years. I went back twice because I felt guilty and well meaning people kept telling me it was the right thing to do! But how would they know as they hadn’t been in a relationship with an addict? I have now been on my own for the past three years and although I sometimes regret the years I wasted being unhappy because I felt it was the right thing to do, I am so much happier now and am starting to rebuild my life and my self esteem. I really hope you find that you can whether you continue living with your husband or not. Take time for yourself and find things to do that you enjoy, it will take time but you need to get your life back.

  15. After spending 22 years with my husband with multiple addictions I feel defeated. I am regretting ever meeting him and find it hard to forgive myself for being such a fool to have stayed and allowing myself this treatment. I don’t know how to start over. I am 55 and feel like it is too late to live life again. I am not living,just existing. Are there any more stupid women out there like me. Please help me .

  16. Thanks for this great post. Enabling also perpetuates denial and the addiction by removing the consequences of it. Until an addict can suffer the consequences of his or her drinking or using, he or she isn’t motivated to recover. Overcoming codependency helps the entire family.
    Darlene Lancer, MFT

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