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What is Codependency?



What is Codependency?

The developing addiction in one of the family members significantly affects the functioning of the whole family, the partner relationship and the well-being of its individual members. Excessive alcohol consumption, drug use(read more about Signs of drug use) , gambling and other harmful behaviors cause family members to live in chronic tension and danger, and the predictability of everyday situations is severely limited.

However, this does not mean a cause and effect relationship, i.e. not only the addicted person is the cause of stress in the family. Also, other family members, through their behavior and attitudes, can exacerbate the problem or influence it to be solved faster.

For the proper functioning of the family, what is happening in the marital or partnership relationship is of particular importance. In the case of families with addiction problems, it is important how the partner of the addicted person reacts to what is happening in the relationship and in the family. For example, to what extent does he actively and consistently communicate and describe events with which he disagrees, and to what extent does he adapt to the situation he finds, reacting to the accumulation of difficult events with aggressive or submissive behavior.

What is Codependency?

As a result of many years of living with an addicted person, adaptive reactions to a given situation may develop, which are referred to as co-dependence. It should be remembered that codependency concerns the spouse or partner of an addicted family member, i.e. a person who can potentially get out of the relationship. Codependency syndrome does not affect children and parents, although they can also present reactions in this area.

Codependency is therefore understood as a disturbed adaptation to a difficult situation through the consolidation of specific patterns of functioning and reaction that develop during the period of maintaining a relationship with an addicted person. Codependent people use a variety of coping strategies to cope with the stressful events of addiction. As co-dependence develops, destructive adaptive mechanisms intensify, which, while maintaining balance in the family, at the same time cause deterioration of health and psychosocial functioning in a co-addicted person.

Family processes are understood in terms of circular causation, for example, if one person develops an addiction and starts behaving in an irresponsible way, habitually neglecting his duties, then another person in the system (usually a partner) takes over most of his duties. This person becomes excessively responsible, alert to what is happening, controls events and situations. Thus, it gives consent to the partner’s repeated and more frequent destructive behavior and unconsciously increases his sense of irresponsibility. The reason for such reactions is the need to maintain a certain internal balance in the family and the fear that if you do not take responsibility, something very unfavorable will happen. Therefore, what is known is maintained, and a change (even for good) causing a disturbance of the balance in the family may be paradoxically interpreted as threatening.

It should be noted that by excessive control and taking over duties, a co-dependent person unconsciously and unintentionally maintains the partner’s addiction. This does not mean that the partner of the addicted person is to blame for the development of his or her addiction. However, these are mechanisms that maintain mutual entanglement, which significantly impede treatment by an addicted person.

Slow entanglement process

Life with an addict is full of all kinds of difficult events, which at the beginning subtly disturb the peace and sense of security in the family. As an addiction develops, “drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or gambling” gradually becomes the most important thing in the family. Co-dependent people first of all deny that the problem with developing addiction in the family exists at all. The consequence is that the addicted person does not take responsibility for their behavior, and often they are not aware of the problem. Denial, which initially plays a defensive role, in the long run causes the accumulation of tension and contributes to increasing stressful situations. The short-term “gain” of denial is that the family balance is maintained, so “nothing needs to change.” However, over time, family relationships deteriorate, resentment, hostility, helplessness, shame, sadness, anger and other difficult experiences increase.

Difficult for a codependent person is also the period when the addicted partner does not drink alcohol. Then the often fleeting hope for a change in the family situation may arise. Illusory beliefs about the partner come to the fore – “he is a very good person when he does not drink”, “he is an exceptional person, resourceful, caring”. Temporary but positive behaviors on the part of the addict are often related to the guilt they feel about their past behavior. Often codependent people do not perceive this period in the relationship with the drinker as difficult, and it is this period that most perpetuates the entanglement. It intensifies the unrealistic thinking that: “if he stops drinking, everything will be fine.”

The changeability of the discussed situations is often surprising and incomprehensible, and often fraught with consequences, so it makes it impossible to stabilize both in the family and in individuals.


Codependency is an adjustment disorder and in many such cases psychotherapy is beneficial – regardless of the addict’s will to undertake his treatment. This type of psychotherapy provides support to a co-addicted person and helps them understand the unfavorable mechanisms that drive them (and often maintain their addiction) and promotes the introduction of healthier and more effective ways of functioning. Psychotherapy of a co-addicted person is sometimes indicated regardless of the fact that the addicted partner has started therapy. It is possible to conduct these two processes of therapy in parallel, and therapy of an addicted couple is also beneficial.