When Codependency Becomes an Addiction

When Codependency Becomes an Addiction

Today I will answer the question: When does
codependency become an addiction? But first, let’s ask a few other questions:
Where the heck did this strange word come from? And what does “codependency” actually
mean? Does it mean I’m dependent? If so, on what? And what is the “co-” part of the
word all about? Who or what am I “co” – dependent on? Yes, codependency is a confusing word that
was created in the 1980s as researchers and alcohol treatment facilities began looking
more closely at how addiction affected the family. After all, Al-anon always described
alcoholism as a “family disease,” which it is. What researchers discovered was that there
appeared to be some kind of mutual dependence between non-alcoholic spouses (usually females)
and their alcoholic husbands that made them fit together like a hand in a glove. In the
simplest terms, they realized that alcoholics needed enablers, and enablers seemed to need
alcoholics. Over the past 30 years, much progress has
been made in understanding codependency, including that it is not unique to alcoholic families,
but also common in any dysfunctional family system. Thus, an updated description of this
“mutual dependence” found initially in alcoholic families is that people who live in perpetual
chaos (because of their own poor decisions) need enablers, and enablers need to obsess
on people who need constant rescuing and caretaking. Now, it is fairly obvious why alcoholics would
need enablers, people who would rescue them from the negative consequences of their poor
choices, but why would codependents need someone to rescue? Why wouldn’t they simply find a
healthy partner to have a more fulfilling relationship? To answer these questions, we
must look into the belief system of codependents. If you viewed my previous videos, “What is
Codependency, Really?” and “The Birth of Codependency,” you learned that codependency is a strategy
developed in childhood for getting needs met in relationships, but it’s a flawed strategy based
on mistaken beliefs and magical thinking. Because of growing up in dysfunctional environments
where their needs were not being met by peers or caretakers, codependents came to believe
that their feelings and needs were wrong, bad, a burden to others, or even dangerous;
that saying “no” was selfish and mean; and that they had the ability to fix other people
and make relationships work all by themselves. With such beliefs at their core, codependents
are compelled to ignore their own needs and feelings, which they see as bad, and instead
focus on the needs and problems of others, which they believe they can fix. Codependents avoid getting involved with healthy
people because, by comparison, it would trigger feelings of inadequacy, and, besides, they
wouldn’t know what to do with someone who doesn’t need fixing. Getting involved with
healthy others would also trigger fear because codependents are certain they would soon be
“found out” as worthless (which they believe about themselves) and then be rejected and
abandoned. So, instead, codependents are drawn to people who have more problems than they
do, which serves several purposes. First, by fixing, rescuing, and caretaking others,
they feel a “codependent high” that temporarily eases their shame and fear. In addition, by
focusing on the problems of others, they can distract themselves from having to face that
same shame and fear that underlies their emotional world. And finally, by being with people who
are less together than they are, codependents can maintain the illusion that they have no
problems. Not all codependents are the same. Mild codependents
can have reasonably healthy relationships even as they struggle to advocate for themselves
and set boundaries. Severe codependents, however, are like fish that need a rock to swim around,
because without the rock, they are completely lost. An addiction is an uncontrollable compulsion
to repeat a behavior despite significant negative consequences. So codependency becomes an addiction
when a person seeks out one relationship after another with troubled people who are incapable
of being healthy in a relationship. Rather than learning from such experiences and choosing
healthier people, codependents keep making the same poor decision over and over because
of their need to feel the codependent high, and to boost their self-esteem by being the rescuer
and fixer, and to avoid having to deal with their shame and fear, which would no doubt
be triggered if they were in a relationship where they didn’t need to fix anyone. So, let’s return to the alcoholic marriage.
The alcoholic drinks to avoid dealing with his pain, and the codependent obsesses on
fixing the alcoholic so she can avoid dealing with her pain. Each is doing the same thing – using a compulsive behavior to self medicate their pain. One is an alcoholic, and the other is a codependent addict. The good news is that recovery from codependency
is possible, which will be discussed in my next video. If you liked this video, please click the
Thumbs Up button, and if you want to hear more, then subscribe to my channel, Counselor
Carl. I will be posting a new video every other Sunday. You can also visit my website, serenityonlinetherapy.com
for articles on various mental health topics and to view my credentials, areas of specialization,
and the online counseling services I offer for codependency and other problems of life. Thanks for watching, and keep paying attention
to your life. Until next time.


  1. Thank you very much for your clear language. I watched other videos too on that subject and found all of them very helpful. You did such a great job!

  2. what a lovely way of describing this with codependency.
    I've watched most of these videos and have found them so easy to understand. Thank you : )

  3. Really helpful video, keep em coming. How do you deal with the underlying shame? Is that a video that is on it's way? or have I missed that? 😀

  4. you are great. This is incredible. I see noe the picture.Alcoholics have low EQ, and fixing their pain with temp relief by using alcohol, co-dependant sees their problem and tries to rescue and fix them, by not realizing that this way they "temp-relieving" their own "pain" – shame and fear caused by their abusive parents.wow, I ve solved my family puzzle! Thank You Carl, I love you!

  5. A bit late to comment, but these are gems. Being an adult child of a narcissist, I binge watch vids on NPD and related stuffs. I found a lot of insightful content on NPD in YT. While searching for co-dependency, I stumbled upon your video, watched a couple of them and they are The Best, thanks for your effort and all the best!

  6. That says it all!! So right!! It has taken me years to figure this out!! Had I come across your videos earlier, would have been helpful! Thank you so much!

  7. Explained so well! It’s just the recovery that’s a job and a half. Thank you for bringing understanding 👏🏽

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