Codependency: Signs, Symptoms, and Support

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Codependency is a word that you may have heard, especially if you have a loved one who suffers from drug or alcohol addiction. There’s entire books, classes, websites, and support groups dedicated to educating people about and proving support for this condition. Codependency is a term used to describe people who participate in and enable dysfunctional relationships. While the term is commonly identified in relationships that involve an addict or alcoholic, it can develop as a result of any type of one-sided relationship where one person supports the negative behaviors of the other. 

What’s worse is that the behaviors and emotions associated with this phenomena are painful to the person suffering from it, progress as the relationship continues, and are unhealthy to both parties involved. Until a person seeks treatment, it’s likely that he or she will continue to suffer from codependency. 

When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, codependency is widespread. People who have an addicted loved one often develop unhealthy family roles to cope with addiction. One of the most popular and painful of these roles is the codependent. 

What Causes Codependency?

Unhealthy relationships that involve physical or emotional abuse between friends, family members, and partners are vulnerable to developing codependent behaviors. These learned behaviors typically come from past difficulties and behavioral problems, such as growing up in a home with an alcoholic or drug-addicted parent. For example, many adults with codependent relationships had problems at home as a child, such as parents who abuse substances and/or didn’t provide the nurturing and emotional support that children need for healthy emotional development. As a result, a child begins to believe that his or her needs and emotions don’t matter. Instead, they sacrifice their happiness and health to make others happy. 

Codependency doesn’t have to stem from a dysfunctional childhood. It also develops in otherwise healthy adults who live with or are in relationships with someone suffering from addiction, mental illness, or even chronic illness.[1] These individuals take on a care-taker role where they assume responsibilities for their afflicted loved ones and put their loved one’s well-being above their own. Consequently, the care-taker, or codependent, loses his or her sense of self and begins making huge sacrifices to protect or enable a sick loved one. 

Any type of abusive, one-sided relationship can lead to the development of codependency. One person, the addicted or sick, benefits from the tireless sacrifices of the codependent loved one. As a result, the sick person typically becomes sicker, tensions in the relationship escalate, and the codependent suffers more and more until he or she has had enough. 

Identifying the Signs, Symptoms, and Characteristics of Codependency

Since codependency typically gets worse if it isn’t treated, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of this condition. Since every relationship is unique, you don’t have to relate to each and every sign and symptom to be considered a codependent. 

Signs and symptoms of codependency include:[2]

  • Low self-esteem, self-worth, and negative self-talk 
  • People-pleasing or going to extreme lengths to make someone else happy even if you don’t want to
  • Inability to set healthy boundaries
  • Feeling responsible for the way other people feel or the things other people think
  • Reactivity and defensiveness when someone says something you don’t agree with
  • Putting the needs of others above your own
  • Feeling responsible to take care of, pay bills for, or support a loved one who is behaving negatively (i.e. drug or alcohol abuse)
  • Feeling like your own thoughts and feelings don’t matter
  • Easily manipulated 
  • Difficulty communicating in healthy ways
  • Inability to stand up for your own needs and wants
  • Constantly obsessing over a sick or addicted loved one
  • Feeling depression, anxiety, shame, guilt, rejected, abandoned, and stressed
  • Feeling worthless without your loved one
  • Denying that a loved one has a problem
  • Denying that you are enabling a toxic relationship
  • Problems being intimate
  • Feeling hopeless that neither you nor your loved one can ever get better

Furthermore, you can spot codependency by looking for certain behaviors, such as:

  • Bailing an addicted loved one out of jail
  • Driving an alcoholic loved one to the liquor store
  • Loaning money to an addicted loved one
  • Providing money, shelter, or support to someone who is disrupting the household
  • Saying “yes” when you really mean “no”
  • Lying about the behaviors of a loved one
  • Calling into work for a loved one
  • Agreeing to do things you don’t want to do
  • Keeping quiet to avoid arguments 

Are you in a Codependent Relationship?

If you suspect that you’re in a toxic, codependent relationship, the experts at WebMD recommend that you consider the following:[3]

  1. Do you have trouble finding satisfaction in your life outside of your loved one?
  2. Have you recognized your loved one acting out in unhealthy behaviors but continue to remain by their side?
  3. Are you sacrificing your own physical, mental, and emotional health to support your loved one?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you might be in a codependent relationship. It’s normal to feel worthless and ashamed of enabling a toxic relationship, however, there are tons of resources and help available at your disposal. 

Finding the Help You Deserve

Every codependent has good intentions. However, these repeated attempts to save, rescue, or protect a loved one who is abusing drugs or alcohol contribute to an extremely unhealthy and unhappy relationship. If your loved one is refusing to get help for drug or alcohol addiction, you can stage an intervention and convince them to go. What’s most important is how you take care of yourself. Believe it or not, addiction hasn’t only led to negative behaviors on your loved one’s part, but codependent behaviors are negative, too. Just like your loved one, you deserve to heal as well. Contact our addiction intervention specialists in New Jersey to learn how we can help you and your loved one heal from addiction and codependency. 




Medically Reviewed: April 19, 2020

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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