Identifying the signs of a codependent relationship isn’t always easy. Oftentimes, these relationships are clouded with skewed judgment, heightened emotions, and the added element of a dangerous drug or alcohol addiction.
Codependency is a behavioral or emotional condition that affects a person’s ability to achieve a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship with the other person. This term is most commonly used to describe relationships with people who are struggling with substance abuse and are relying on another person for food, money, shelter, or emotional security. These relationships are dysfunctional by nature and harmful to both parties within the relationship.
Codependency is especially complicated when one of the individuals has a substance use disorder. Oftentimes, the codependent individual has an extreme desire to please and avoid rejection. Furthermore, this individual is likely to enable their loved one’s addiction rather than helping their loved one overcome it and seek recovery.
Codependency mixed with a substance use disorder adds a complicated component to an already unhealthy situation. Often times, codependency will lead an individual to feel trapped in misery while preventing you from helping your addicted loved one get the help they need. For this reason, it is important to be able to identify the signs of a codependent relationship.
What is Codependency?
As mentioned before, codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that is passed down from one generation to the next. Also known as “relationship addiction”, codependency is often one-sided and emotionally damaging to both parties involved. Codependency was originally identified while studying the family dynamics of alcoholics, however, codependency can affect anyone.
Individuals who are codependent rely on their loved ones to validate their sense of self-worth. Oftentimes, these individuals feel powerless and helpless and are terrified of rejection and abandonment. These types of codependent relationships are detrimental to both parties. Ulterior motives and unacknowledged fears that the codependent individual shares, often leads to overly controlling and self-centered behaviors. The complexity of codependency lies within the learned response often cultivated in dysfunctional homes where codependent behavior warps the relationship between parents or between children and their parents.
Many family units dealing with addiction often use codependency and other unhealthy behaviors as a way to cope with the chaos. If you are exhibiting or experiencing some of the signs listed below, you should seek professional treatment at a dual diagnosis treatment center. Here are 10 tell-tale signs of a codependent relationship.
10 Warning Signs of a Codependent Relationship
Whether you are addicted to drugs and alcohol or your loved one is suffering from addiction, you may also be experiencing codependent relationships. The National Mental Health Association defines some of the following characteristics as some of the most common warning signs and symptoms of codependency.
1. You have trouble articulating your emotions and feelings.
People who are codependent often avoid talking about their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Often times, these individuals feel as if their opinions don’t matter – even with talking with close friends and family members. Fear of rejection or hurting someone’s feelings often encourages these individuals to just say what they believe other people want to hear. Unfortunately, saying “yes” when you mean “no” can lead to the development of resentments and heightened tensions in the home.
2. You want to please everyone.
Most people with codependent personality traits struggle with low self-esteem, therefore they often seek approval, love, validation, and acceptance from the people around them. These individuals often feel like they have to prove their worth and are willing to go to any lengths to get others to like them.
Codependents also feel the need to make everyone around them happy, even at their own expense. In the end, this leads the codependent individual exhausted, stressed, resentful, and feeling empty. As a result, it is crucial to take care of yourself while loving an addict. Remember, it is impossible to please everyone and self-care is a key factor in overcoming codependency.
3. You feel the need to fix others.
Codependent individuals often center their lives around trying to control and fix others. These people often feel worthless if they are not solving conflict or attempting to fix another individual. Feelings of powerlessness go hand in hand with a codependent personality disorder because they feel as though they cannot control their partners.
Codependents tend to provide unwarranted advice, solutions, and agree to do things they don’t want to do – wondering why others won’t do the same for them. If you are constantly asking yourself what you can do to solve another person’s issues, it is a sign that you are in a codependent relationship.
4. You struggle to set clear boundaries in your life.
Many codependents will often talk about not tolerating behaviors (such as addiction and domestic violence), but fail to hold true to their boundaries. Instead, they tend to increase their tolerance until they are experiencing physically, emotionally, and psychologically harmful behaviors from others. Lack of boundaries leads individuals to wonder why they continue to get hurt and ultimately harbor resentment.
If you let your partner walk all over you despite the harm it causes, you may be in a codependent relationship. On the other hand, being able to set boundaries is at the foundation of every healthy relationship. As a result, if you want any hope of your loved one seeking treatment and healing from an addiction to alcohol or drugs, it’s crucial to learn how to set clear boundaries.
5. You sacrifice your own wants and needs to appease others.
If you find yourself revolving your life around the needs and wants of another person, you are most likely codependent. Instead of putting themselves first, codependents often latch onto their partner and only feel fulfilled if their loved one is happy – despite the negative consequences faced by the codependent.
For example, a codependent who is engaging in an unhealthy relationship with an addict will often put themselves in precarious situations to ensure the addict is getting their next fix. This vicious cycle is extremely detrimental to both parties as it only causes further harm.
6. You are loyal to a fault.
Do you find yourself in a relationship with someone and absolutely miserable, but can’t figure out why you can’t get out? If so, it is likely that you are codependent. People who are codependent tend to remain in harmful and even dangerous situations – even when it is not working.
Often times, these individuals feel trapped. If the codependent finds the courage to leave, they often fall into another unhealthy relationship shortly after because their happiness is reliant upon the happiness of others. Sometimes, loving an addict means letting go, saying no, and putting your so-called loyalty to the side.
7. You ignore and deny conflict and other problems.
Rather than finding healthy resolutions for interpersonal conflicts, codependents tend to ignore or deny issues within a relationship. Instead of addressing issues head-on, these individuals often pretend everything is fine. More often than not, codependent individuals convince themselves that their denial is reality.
Instead of expressing anger or hurt, codependent people often suppress their emotions in fear of rejection or abandonment. As a result, codependents often turn to drugs, food, alcohol, work, and other things to self medicate. If you would rather run from issues than stand up for your needs, it’s yet another sign that you’re in a codependent relationship.
8. You have low self-esteem and self-worth.
Codependents never really develop a strong sense of self-worth, but rather build up their self-esteem through helping others and based on the opinions of people they love. You may find yourself being extremely critical and perfectionistic and struggle with the feeling of always needing to be needed. But – when you aren’t needed, you may feel alone or worthless. Codependents often feel ashamed of who they are, the decisions they have made, and seek validation from others the same way an addict seeks relief from drugs and alcohol.
9. You feel responsible for the feelings and actions of others.
Another common warning sign that you may be struggling with codependency is taking on the caretaker role. Codependents often feel anxious or guilty when other people have a problem. More often than not, codependents are attracted to other codependents. These individuals tend to overcommit but get angry when they feel like their help is ineffective or unappreciated. This can lead to problems with communication, trust, and more.
10. You refuse to seek help because you don’t feel like the problem is that bad.
Codependent people often have trouble asking for help with anything, mostly because of their need to feel needed. Furthermore, these individuals deny the severity of their situation because they do not feel worthy of happiness. Codependents often feel ashamed to admit they need help or afraid others will abandon them if they knew the true nature of their issues.
However, the longer people put off getting help the worse the situation usually gets. Addiction is progressive, so the health of the addict is at risk. In addition, codependency, enabling, and other dysfunctional patterns can cause an array of health issues for the codependent individual, as well. That’s why it’s important to seek help not only for addiction but also for overcoming codependency.
Do You Need Help Breaking Free From a Codependent Relationship?
Codependency is often described as “relationship addiction”. Codependents are typically involved with a loved one struggling with addiction or are addicts themselves. A loved one’s enabling behaviors can become codependency when they become controlled by the addict’s behaviors and become dependent on that individual for validation, acceptance, and self-esteem. If you have experienced the warning signs listed above, it is likely that you are engaging in a codependent relationship.
If you or a loved one is addicted and in the midst of a codependent relationship, know that there are immense resources available to you. Programs like Al-Anon help family members of alcoholics deal with their struggles while groups like Codependent Anonymous directly target people with a codependent personality disorder. However, for many people, support groups alone aren’t enough.
Whether your loved one needs help or you are just starting your codependency recovery journey, contact us today. Our licensed clinical psychologists are here to help you and your loved one heal from the damages of drug or alcohol addiction. Don’t wait any longer – get help now.
Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.