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Co-dependency & Addiction

Updated: Jan 27

Co-dependency; A co-dependent relationship is an interpersonal relationship in which unrestrained addiction, immaturity, or irresponsible behaviour are facilitated by one or both persons.

Co-dependency & Addiction

Although enablers may mean well, they often reinforce addictive or negative behaviour. Both parties are getting something they need from the relationship. Co-dependent relationships feed a complex cycle that is difficult to break. Addicts depend on a co-dependent to cover for and enable bad behaviours they are unable to stop. While much of the enabler's identity is founded on feeling needed by the addict, the loved one of the addict often performs the role of caretaker and enabler. It is not uncommon for children to adopt these roles.

Understand how to deal with co-dependency

Co-dependent Personalities

Co-dependents often have difficulty making decisions. They have trouble expressing their feelings and seek others' approval obsessively. Here are a few characteristics of co-dependency:

Low Self-Esteem:

Co-dependent people often feel unlovable outside their relationship roles. They rely on the approval of others for their sense of self-worth.


For co-dependents, the opinions of others carry tremendous weight. It may be difficult for this individual to say "no" to others. They will do anything to ensure others have a positive opinion of them.

Signs of a co-dependent relationship


This person is driven chiefly by the desire to provide for others. Often at the expense of self-care. In extreme situations, they suffer from anxiety until they must care for someone else. The caretaker often prefers the addict to be in active than recovery as they have control over them.

Unhealthy or Absent Boundaries:

Co-dependents may not understand or respect their own or others' boundaries. Some of these individuals may offer unwanted advice. They may want to manipulate or control others to feel secure and feel responsible for other people's feelings.

Obsession with Relationships:

Co-dependent individuals feel defined by their relationships. They may become obsessed with them.

Co-dependent Relationships and Substance Abuse

Without help, it may be difficult to stop using drugs due to the damage addiction does to brain pathways. The drive for drugs is so strong that an addicted person manipulates those closest to them. They will do anything to help them get the addictive substance. This type of co-dependency helps to cover up their behaviour with friends, family, and co-workers.

Co-dependency can make recovery challenging

In a co-dependent relationship between an enabler and a drug user, the enabler may base their sense of self-worth on needing the drug addict. The enabler may unintentionally encourage the addict's behaviour, shielding him or her from the consequences of the addict's actions and preventing conflict with family members and others affected by the addict's actions.

Co-dependency Harms Everyone in the Relationship

Harm to the Co-dependent Person

Co-dependence for the family

Despite the harm caused to everyone involved, co-dependent relationships pose risks to enabling individuals. Co-dependent individuals often neglect their own needs. They spend so much time and energy meeting the needs of the addicted person while the damage and embarrassment caused by the addict result in mental and physical health problems including depression and low self-esteem.

Risks associated with co-dependent enablers include:

  • The development of a substance, food, behavioural or gambling addiction

  • Relationships outside of the co-dependent relationship end up getting cut off

  • Co-dependency makes it difficult to fulfil responsibilities outside of the relationship

Co-dependents are often conflicted. They may consciously want to help their addicted loved one recover while subconsciously they fear that if the addict recovers they will no longer need the co-dependent.

Harm to the Addicted Person

Co-dependence for the addict

As a result of addiction, the pleasure and reward centres of the brain are rewired unable to experience pleasure and well-being without being under the influence of drugs. The damaged brain can't generate those positive sensations. It is extremely difficult for a person to stop using drugs without professional help.

Addicts lack the motivation to stop using drugs. Despite completing a drug treatment program, the addicted person is at greater risk for relapse due to the co-dependent person unconsciously facilitating continued addiction. Co-dependency should be considered as part of the individual's treatment plan. It's these behaviours of co-dependency that most families have and are not aware of them.

Due to the strong connection between co-dependency and addiction, recovery, and relapse both the addicted person and the co-dependent person should receive professional treatment. Pace Recovery Centre integrates the addicted person's family members into the treatment program and introduces them to Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and/or CODA meetings.

Establishing Boundaries

Co-dependent partners may also benefit from personal therapy. Therapy can resolve issues that contribute to their co-dependency. They can also learn how to set boundaries. Setting and maintaining boundaries is effective in breaking the cycle of co-dependency.

Here are a few tips on what you can include when setting boundaries:

  • Make sure your loved one takes responsibility for their actions.

  • Make sure your loved one doesn't receive anything they should do for themselves.

  • Avoid lying or trying to cover for them.

  • Wean yourself off of providing them with loans and bailouts.

  • Despite your desire to "keep the peace" with the family, speak up.

  • Taking care of yourself and your health is important.

If family members set firm boundaries and support each other in keeping them. You not only create more peace within the family, but you also increase the chances your loved one will seek treatment.

I didn't cause it, I can't control it, and I certainly cannot cure it

Don't forget to include all members of your family in your effort to get help. Several 12-step groups can provide valuable information and support, such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and CODA. You can visit their website to find support meetings.

Break away from co-dependency

Co-dependency and Addiction Treatment

Family dynamics are at the heart of PRC Recovery Centre's philosophy. We would like to teach you how to identify toxic relationships with others. Our team of professionals are experts in the field of addiction treatment. We are dedicated to helping those who live with substance abuse problems or behavioural addictions while providing education, counselling, and support to the family as well.


Pace Recovery Centre, 081 246 7452,

Alcoholics Anonymous South Africa, 0861 435 722,

Narcotics Anonymous South Africa, 0861 00 6962,

Al-Anon South Africa, , 0861 252 666,

Nar-Anon South Africa, 088 129 6791,

Co-Dependents Anonymous South Africa,


Delve into the intricate dynamics of co-dependency and addiction, understanding how enablers unintentionally reinforce destructive behaviour. Explore the characteristics of co-dependent personalities, the impact on relationships, and the risks associated with co-dependent individuals. Unveil the harm co-dependency inflicts on both the enabler and the addicted and discover the importance of establishing boundaries for a healthier dynamic. The text emphasizes seeking professional treatment, and integrating family members into recovery and provides valuable resources for support. Break the chains of co-dependency and addiction with insights from PRC Recovery Centre.

Co-dependent Relationships Defined:

Description: Co-dependency involves interpersonal relationships where addiction or irresponsible behaviour is enabled by one or both individuals.

Explanation: Enablers, often well-intentioned, unknowingly support negative behaviours. The relationship creates a cycle where both parties fulfil their needs, making it challenging to break.

Co-dependent Personalities:

Co-dependent Relationships and Substance Abuse:

Establishing Boundaries:

Co-dependency and Addiction Treatment:

Therapeutic Intervention:

Understanding co-dependency's impact on addiction, addressing personal traits, setting boundaries, and seeking professional help are crucial steps toward breaking the cycle. Family involvement, education, and support play integral roles in the recovery process, emphasizing the interconnectedness of co-dependency and addiction treatment.



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