What Is Codependency?

Codependency is a term frequently used in the addiction world that can be difficult to understand and even harder to identify. In sociology, codependency describes an emotional and behavioral condition that impacts an individual’s ability to hold mutually beneficial relationships. This condition centers around patterns of learned behavior that can be passed down through generations. 

Codependency was initially observed within the relationships of those with addiction but has been extended to describe any co-dependent behaviors exhibited in those from a dysfunctional family. People with codependency issues will find themselves developing behaviors where they seek to please others in an attempt to keep the peace in toxic households. They will find themselves sacrificing their own needs to help others, which harms their self-worth and overall health. 

Behavioral Identifiers

Learning the characteristics of codependency can help individuals identify the behaviors within themselves. Two of the principal identifiers of a co-dependent person is the presence of addiction or dysfunction in their family. Dysfunctional families may lack communication and display poor conflict resolution and coping mechanisms, which can spark feelings of mistrust, resentment, self-doubt, and worthlessness. 

Characteristics of a co-dependent person include: 

  • Confusion of love and pity: People who exhibit co-dependent tendencies may believe they love people they can pity or rescue.
  • Doing more than their share: Co-dependents often feel like they never do enough for the people they love, which pushes them to go above and beyond even if it means sacrificing their own needs.
  • Becoming hurt when people do not recognize their efforts: Often, co-dependents will go above and beyond for their loved ones because they wish to receive that same kind of love and support.
  • Extreme need for approval and appreciation
  • A compelling need to control others
  • Lack of trust in self and others
  • Fear of being abandoned: This can be why they often do more than their share.
  • A sense of guilt when asserting themselves: It can be challenging to assert boundaries because of low self-worth.
  • Problems with intimacy
  • Chronic anger or dissatisfaction 
  • Lying to please
  • Poor communication 
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty identifying feelings
  • Going against better judgment for fear of losing relationships: Because of their fear of abandonment, co-dependent individuals may find themselves doing anything to hold on to their relationships.

These behaviors can have adverse effects. People with codependency problems hold on to their relationships and relish the feeling of being needed. Behaviors like issues with trust and fear of abandonment can cause irreparable damage to relationships and push their loved ones away. 

Codependency in Addiction

Codependency was first studied amongst those with alcohol addiction and their families. Codependency and addiction have a unique relationship. Individuals suffering from substance use disorder (SUD) and their family members are susceptible to developing co-dependent behaviors.  


Codependency is a behavior that can be inherited and learned from behaviors exhibited in a family household. The main risk factors of addiction are genetics and environmental factors, which are likely to be rooted in childhood. 

Often, people with an addiction have co-dependent tendencies that cause stress and tension in their lives from their need to please others. When relationship troubles and feelings of inadequacy begin, individuals may attempt to cope with those feelings with drugs or alcohol rather than seeking professional help for their co-dependence. 

Family members of those dealing with addiction will develop these tendencies while balancing or enforcing boundaries and still providing love for their family members addicted to drugs or alcohol. They may find themselves doing anything to keep their loved ones happy and off substances. When this doesn’t work, they may feel defeated or have feelings of low self-worth, which can leave them vulnerable to manipulation and persuasion. 


Enabling is a sign of a co-dependent relationship. Enabling is the act of giving someone the authority or means to do something. By definition, enabling could be seen as positive or negative based on the context in which it is used. A person could positively enable another by helping them pay for gas to make it to a job interview; however, a person could also negatively enable another by handing them cash when they know this person has a drug or alcohol addiction.

Those with a SUD will often find any reason to continue drug or alcohol use. Enabling such use in any way could encourage them to continue down their self-destructive path. Co-dependent people will often find themselves enabling their loved ones because of their fear of conflict and confrontation. Identifying co-dependent behaviors could encourage a positive shift in the attitudes of a person struggling with addiction through their support system, encouraging strong boundaries and healthy conflict resolution. 


Because codependency is likely learned in childhood, treatment for this condition involves therapies that explore the relationship between early childhood issues and their current behaviors. 

Therapies for codependency include:

  • Individual psychotherapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Experiential therapy
  • Education

Learning about co-dependent behaviors and why they negatively impact a client’s life can encourage them to work on those specific areas in their lives. Through these therapies, a person can begin to recover from the effects codependency has had on their lives. They can reap the benefits of self-care and the presence of positive, mutually beneficial relationships with healthy boundaries and equal respect. 

Why Receive Treatment?

Receiving professional treatment for codependency can help an individual by:

  • Encouraging healing from the harmful relationships they have had and regaining trust
  • Working through abandonment issues that may directly impact their ability to have mutually beneficial relationships
  • Reassuring their sense of self-worth
  • Instilling confidence around setting boundaries and conflict resolution
  • Providing healthy coping strategies
  • Providing a trusted, safe space for healing and growth

Codependency is a condition that involves learned behaviors developed in a family with addiction, dysfunction, or both, but it can be fixed. Laguna Shores Recovery works closely with clients and their families on the relationship between co-dependence and addiction while providing activities and treatment modalities for healing. Call us today to learn more about our treatment options at 866-934-5276.