How Codependency Resembles a Relationship Addiction

Legs of couple jogging along an outdoor pathThe term “codependent” is used loosely. A quick Google search on the term turns up a Huffington Post article titled “NBC and Brian Williams Put Codependent Relationship on Hold” and BuzzFeed’s “8 Important Facts About Always Giving Too Much Of Yourself In Relationships.” Although these articles are entertaining and certainly fall in line with an underlying cultural obsession to self-diagnose, the reality is that codependency is a complicated, multidimensional behavioral issue.

Codependency is a condition in which individuals attempt to and believe that if they control people, places, and situations, they can derive a sense of self-worth. It resembles an addiction to taking care of the needs and the problems of another person. In fact, many of the people I’ve worked with who are in these types of codependent relationships find themselves feeling, in many cases, what can be described as classic signs of addiction. Some of the experiences they report include:

After ruling out that a person is abusing substances, such as alcohol or drugs, and determining that his or her symptoms are not signs of other emotional or mental health issues, I find what they are experiencing is, in fact, chronic, progressive, and relapsing addiction. In effect, many who are in codependent relationships simply become dependent on the people with whom they are in a relationship.

As such, many find it difficult to “quit” the relationship, much like a person addicted to alcohol has difficulty quitting drinking. The “relationship addiction” controls a person’s ability to rationalize and make healthy decisions in his or her best interests. Although many agree they need to end the relationship, they find themselves in a pattern of committing to end the relationship and going back. They are hoping that, perhaps the next time, they will be able to control the outcome of the relationship. These dependent relationships often cause people to lose clarity and rationality. They may stop protecting themselves emotionally and sometimes even physically.

Four Key Steps to Codependency Recovery

Finding a therapist who makes you feel comfortable and safe is a great place to begin for any person who wishes to change codependency patterns. In therapy, some of the approaches used to help someone realize and work on the emotional and cognitive aspects of codependent behaviors include:

  • Developing knowledge of what a healthy relationship looks like: I never assume that a person Admitting and accepting the addiction component of codependency takes time, and since it is a relapsing condition, encouraging people to continue to work on their recovery one day at a time is critical to their success and eventual healing.experiencing codependency has a good understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like. Part of my job is helping people understand what to expect in a healthy relationship.
  • Developing a healthy sense of self-identify: Like many people living with addiction, many people who are codependent struggle with who they are and what their purpose is. Rarely are they aware and attuned to their inner self-talk and frequently have no idea what they like or do not like.
  • Learning self-validation: People with codependency often have a tenuous definition of self, so guiding a person to learn how to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, let go of self-destructive patterns of behavior, and practice self-validation will aid in the process of building self-esteem.
  • Boundary building: One of the most important steps to master in the journey of codependency recovery is learning to build appropriate emotional boundaries. Assisting the person with codependency in learning that he or she does not have power over others is a crucial step in developing healthy relationships.

Codependency recovery is a process. Many who experience it have been practicing dysfunctional relationship skills for most of their lives. Admitting and accepting the addiction component of codependency takes time, and since it is a relapsing condition, encouraging people to continue to work on their recovery one day at a time is critical to their success and eventual healing.


  1. Daire, A. P., Jacobson, L., and Carlson, R. G. (2012). Emotional stocks and bonds: A metaphorical model for conceptualizing and treating codependency and other forms of emotional overinvesting. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 66(3), 259-78. Retrieved from
  2. Springer, C. A., Britt, T. W., and Schlenker, B. R. (1998). Codependency: Clarifying the construct. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 20(2), 141-158. Retrieved from

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Joyce

    November 23rd, 2015 at 10:37 AM

    My last relationship was a pretty tough one, one where I let go of everything that was important and of value to me to make things “better” for him. Oh yeah his life was a breeze as mine became more and more miserable trying to be happy with things that did not mean that much to me but that meant a great deal to him. I had to learn in a very hard way that I have to make myself happy first before I could ever try to do that for another person, and it still hurts thinking of what might have been but then I know that for that to happen I would have ceased to exist and I finally wasn’t willing to allow that.

  • audra

    November 23rd, 2015 at 2:44 PM

    If you depend far too much on what someone else does to determine your own self worth then you might be codependent

  • Lew

    November 24th, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    How poorly do I have to think of myself to feel like I am valuable if and only if I am controlling someone else?

  • Casey

    November 25th, 2015 at 10:02 AM

    If this is happening with a friend or family member the tough thing to understand is that no matter how much YOU may see that these are things that they are doing, it will not matter unless they see them too and then feel the need to make some changes.

    Springing all of this on someone if they are not ready to break free from that relationship will only drive a wedge between the two of you.

  • Julie

    November 26th, 2015 at 6:28 AM

    Until I found myself right smack in the middles of a codependent relationship I honestly didn’t have any idea that my life and the things that I did would revolve so completely around this one person. I think that it all happened at a time when I was pretty vulnerable after my marriage broke up and I was sort of ripe for the picking so to speak. I didn’t realize the control that he had over me for a very long time and it took even longer for me to have the courage to get out of it. It was like an addiction and there was nothing that anyone else could say that would make me see it until I was ready to see it on my own.

  • Claude

    October 18th, 2016 at 6:45 AM

    Hi Julie, I’m Claude. I just read your post from nearly a year ago. Though I’m a guy, my curcumstances sound similar. I’ve been trying to exit a relationship for a year and a half. Like you I’ve often thought of it as an addiction and Ive NEVER had addictive traits except for this. So my question for you is “Did you break free”? If so, how? If not, let me know that too. Like I said, I’ve been trying for well over a year. Hope to hear from you. All the best!! C

  • kramer

    November 27th, 2015 at 7:35 AM

    I would love to know how those who have been through a relationship like this then find the strength to then reestablish the boundaries that one has to have in order to come out of it and be able to then have a healthy relationship with another person.
    I would suspect that it could take months or even years to build back up what has been destroyed by being in a relationship like this.

  • Trinity

    November 30th, 2015 at 3:05 PM

    I am an adult and would never want to be in a relationship with someone that I felt like I was having to babysit.

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