Codependency in Relationships

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : November 19, 
| 4 Sources

Alcoholic Family System
What is Codependency?

Codependency is the fuel that runs many alcoholic family systems

Today the phrase codependency in relationships is used mainly in a negative sense. It is something to be avoided, and if you are codependent then you need to do something about it, break the chains, so to speak.

However, co-dependence on another person generally is a good thing. All relationships involve a degree of codependency. In fact, a relationship without any form of codependency is not a relationship.

To have a relationship you have to be codependent, in short you depend on that person to relate to you and they on you. It is only when you become too dependent on someone, and they on you, that it becomes unhealthy.

First, let's take a look at codependency in relationships without the alcohol involved. To be codependent doesn't mean alcoholism has to be a factor. However, it is common for individuals who struggle with an addiction to have someone in their life who is codependent.

What is Codependency?

A definition of codependency in its simplest form is: to rely on another person or other people to make you feel worthy and good about yourself.

Such behavioral traits that indicate codependency in relationships include:

  • Denial Patterns:

    -I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.

    -I minimize, alter or deny how I truly feel.

    -I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well being of others.

  • Low Self-Esteem Patterns:

    -I have difficulty making decisions.

    -I judge everything I think, say or do harshly, as never 'good enough'.

    -I am embarrassed to receive recognition and praise or gifts.

    -I do not ask others to meet my needs or desires.

    -I value others' approval of my thinking, feelings and behavior over my own.

    -I do not perceive myself as a lovable or worthwhile person.

  • Compliance Patterns:

    -I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others' anger.

    -I am very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same.

    -I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.

    -I value others' opinions and feelings more than my own and am afraid to express differing opinions and feelings of my own.

    -I put aside my own interests and hobbies in order to do what others want.

    -I accept sex when I want love.

  • Control Patterns:

    -I believe most other people are incapable of taking care of themselves.

    -I attempt to convince others of what they 'should' think and how they 'truly' feel.

    -I become resentful when others will not let me help them.

    -I freely offer others advice and directions without being asked.

    -I lavish gifts and favors on those I care about.

    -I use sex to gain approval and acceptance.

    -I have to be 'needed' in order to have a relationship with others.

These patterns and characteristics of codependency in relationships were put together by CODA (Co-Dependents Anonymous).

This support group, based on the 12 step method of Alcoholics Anonymous, believes that the person who is codependent cannot have healthy relationships with other people and themselves. They cannot because their behavior follows the patterns above. In short......

.........they believe doing things for other people makes them good, they are not good in themselves.

The extreme codependent is hollow inside, denying all feelings, existing only for others. They do not exist as an individual.

He/she uses other people like a drug or alcohol. Other people make the codependent feel good and help them forget or ignore their own feelings.

The more they do for other people the better they feel about themselves

The codependent is an addict - addicted to people.

Codependency in Relationships

What Causes Someone to Become Codependent?

Usually it is rooted in childhood:

In healthy families (or functional families) the members feel comfortable in expressing their opinions and feelings. They trust each other so know that if they tell the truth it will be respected. It is a safe environment in which to live.

In unhealthy families (dysfunctional families) the opposite happens. Feelings are not expressed, there is no trust and emotions are ignored. So the children get their acceptance, rewards, and moods from those around them.

They learn that other people make you happy/sad etc. They have no power over how they feel, everybody else does. They also learn that codependency in relationships is 'normal'. They do not see it as unhealthy.

Codependency in Relationships and the Alcoholic Family System

The patterns and characteristics of codependency apply to the alcoholic family.

However, once you add alcohol dependence into the mix it all gets a lot more messy and the consequences become more unpredictable.

In an alcoholic family system a codependent spouse or child gets all their self worth and value from the alcoholic.

They need the alcoholic to approve of them so they can feel good. What makes an alcoholic feel good? You get the picture.

Codependents enable alcoholics.

They make it possible for him/her to drink more and for longer by the way they behave towards him/her.

An Example of Codependency in the Alcoholic Family System

THE CODEPENDENT: A woman stays with her alcoholic husband even though he has been abusive towards her over many years. She tells her friends,my husband is an alcoholic, however she continues to stay with him. Why?......

Because if she leaves him then she will lose him. Leaving him would make her feel that it was her fault, she failed to look after him, to control him and because she gets all her self-esteem from him, she would feel worthless and useless.

THE ALCOHOLIC: His wife never leaves him despite his abuse and drinking. To him this is a green light to continue drinking. If she left he might do something about his drinking.

How to Break the Cycle of Codependency

There is no easy way, I'm afraid. Just as the alcoholic finds it hard to stop drinking alcohol, so the codependent living in the alcoholic family system finds it equally impossible to get out of the patterns and behaviors of codependent living. These patterns have been reinforced over many years and are a part of 'normal' life, they are automatic.

To move forward from codependency relationships, we need to shift the focus from others to yourself. Think about your own needs, and make them a priority over the needs of others like you are used to.

All is not lost, however, CODA, as mentioned above, is a great resource. There are meetings in many cities and towns throughout the U.S. and U.K, go to their website to find details of these and help and advice on breaking the cycle of codependency in relationships.

Also, counseling and therapy can also be a good resource for those attempting to break out of a codependent alcoholic family system.

love an addict
Being codependent with an alcoholic may seems like an impossible bond to break. Yet, it doesn't need to be, C.P.Lehman in his book, Help Me! I'm In Love With An Addict gives you the strategies that will enable you to find happiness and get your life back on well as other skills that are crucial when attempting to cope with an alcohol dependent.

If you found this page helpful, then the following may be of interest to you:

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


Article providing a basic understanding of codependency provided by Psychology Today: Codependency | Psychology Today

Article reviewing codependency and discussing how to recover provided by Psychology Today:  How to Conquer Codependency | Psychology Today

Article discussing codependency and addiction provided by the American Addiction Centers:  Drug Abuse Services - Dangers of Codependent Relationships & Addiction (

Medically reviewed article provided by Psych Central about codependency and recovering from it: Codependency Addiction: Stages of Disease and Recovery (

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