Understanding the Meaning of Codependent

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Codependency involves relationships where one person has an addiction and the other does not. It is a complex mixture of changes in those who are not dependent that includes enabling the addict to continue their addiction habits while compromising one’s own health and wellbeing in the process. Codependency is described “as being overly concerned with the problems of another to the detriment of attending to one’s own wants and needs.”

Who Are the Co-Dependents?

Regardless of creed, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, age, or social status, addiction is estimated to affect more than 23 million Americans with “an estimated 24.6 million individuals aged 12 or older were current illicit drug users in 2013, including 2.2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17”.

Codependency can occur between couples, children and parents, friends, extended family members, or others who typically exhibit a wide range of coping patterns that they feel are necessary to maintain a relationship with the addict, deal with the consequences that arise, or prevent fallouts.

Impact on Families

Meaning of Codependent

Codependency can be problematic for people trying to overcome addiction and their loved ones.

Families of these individuals generally have the greatest emotional ties and innate bonding to the addict that allows the aspects of addiction to permeate their very beings. Drug abuse leads to reallocation of economic support away from the family; lack of participation in family activities, including caregiving; lack of emotional commitment and support for parents and children; and the inability to provide a reliable and adequate role model for other family members, especially children.

Spouses and children of addicts are more likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to avoid distress or suffer debilitating physical illnesses and mental health issues as a result of living with an addict. Research shows that individuals who endure the pain of a loved one’s addiction for needless years encounter depression, anxiety, suicidal, social, developmental, and behavioral disorders in greater frequencies than others in society.

What Are the Patterns of Codependency?

Denial, control, compliance, avoidance, or low self-esteem are patterns of codependency that, in the least, negate the importance of one’s own physical, mental, and emotional stability. Codependency changes the way the codependent perceives life and how they go about their daily activities and involvements with others.

The negativity, frustrations, despair, mistrust, and shame that usually encompass a relationship with an addict can eventually, become the dominating forces that keep co-dependencies active and the codependents themselves, become addicted to their coping patterns with ambivalence to change when they know it is warranted.

The most common patterns of codependency are:


  • Thinking the addiction is just phase and that the problems will go away on their own
  • Thinking that they can take care of themselves without support from others
  • Labeling the others with their negative traits
  • Masking the pain through anger, isolation, or humor
  • Minimizing, denying, or altering feelings and consequences to self or others
  • Difficulty in identifying feelings or recognizing the unavailability of the addict


  • Demanding that their needs be met by others
  • Believing that others are incapable of taking care of themselves
  • Attempting to convince others how to think, feel, or act
  • Having to feel needed to be involved in a relationship
  • Using blame or shame to emotionally exploit others
  • Refusing to cooperate, negotiate, or compromise
  • Using charm to convince others of their capacity to be caring
  • Lavishing favors or gifts on those they want to influence


  • Fear of expressing beliefs, opinions, and feelings that differs from others
  • Remaining loyal or in a harmful situation too long
  • Putting aside own interests to cater to the interests of others
  • Compromising values or integrity to avoid anger or rejection
  • Giving up the truth to gain approval or avoid changes
  • Taking on the feelings of others with hyper-vigilance
  • Reacting in an oversensitive manner to disruption, troubles, or disappointments
  • Becoming acceptable to the abhorrent behaviors of the addict


  • Walking on eggshells to avoid triggering unwanted responses in the addict
  • Avoiding emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance
  • Acting in ways that invite others to shame, reject, or express anger towards the addict
  • Using indirect or evasive communication to avoid conflicts and confrontations
  • Suppressing needs or feelings to avoid feeling vulnerable
  • Pushing people away or withholding expressions of appreciation

Low Self-Esteem

  • Harsh judgments of self and feeling like what you think, say, feel, or do is never enough
  • Difficulty making decisions or setting goals
  • Embarrassed to receive gifts, recognition, or praise
  • Feelings of unworthiness, lack of confidence, or perceived inability to be loved
  • Value others’ approval in behaviors, thoughts, or emotions above self
  • Have difficulties admitting mistakes
  • Unable to identify or ask for what they need
  • Difficulty staying focused, getting motivated, meeting deadlines, or completing projects
  • Look for others to provide safety or security
  • Disguising their appearance or inner self to others in order to look good or avoid exposure
  • Have trouble setting boundaries

Enabling the Addict

As the codependent modify their lives to adjust to the addict’s needs and behaviors or their own survival techniques, the addict is enabled to continue in their addiction without having to face the ultimate consequences that would make recovery more attractive. In their minds, their disease is a matter best left up to them and the codependent’s worries or problems mean very little in the scheme of things. It isn’t until they hit the rock bottom without enabling resources that they can truly be motivated into getting help.