Breaking the Cycle: The Role of Codependency in Substance Abuse

Breaking the Cycle: The Role of Codependency in Substance Abuse

Substance abuse and addiction do not occur in a vacuum. The actions of someone who struggles with their alcohol or drug use affect the people around them, particularly their friends and family members. Those closest to a person living with alcohol or drug addiction tend to take the brunt of the difficulty. This can lead to warped thinking and negative behavior patterns.

While codependency is a term used to describe people in a wide range of situations and relationships, it originated as a way to describe the harmful thought patterns and behaviors of people close to someone with alcoholism or addiction. But what is the relationship between codependency and addiction, and how can someone escape the cycle?

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Codependency and Addiction

Codependency is a learned behavior that affects a person’s ability to build and participate in healthy, satisfying, and mutually beneficial relationships. It usually results from a close relationship with someone who struggles with alcohol or substance use disorder.

Codependency was initially a condition used to describe the spouse of an alcoholic or addict but has since expanded to include parents, siblings, friends, or even colleagues. Some examples of codependent behavior include:

  • Feeling an exaggerated sense of responsibility for others’ behaviors
  • Seeking relationships where they can “save” the other person
  • Doing more than their fair share of the work all of the time
  • Feeling hurt when someone doesn’t acknowledge or recognize their efforts
  • Feeling an overwhelming need for recognition or approval
  • Experiencing an unhealthy dependence on relationships
  • Fear of abandonment or being alone
  • Extreme difficulty adjusting to change
  • Difficulty asserting or maintaining boundaries

These behaviors typically result from being around someone with active alcoholism or addiction for a long time. Research suggests they are also passed down from parents to children when a child watches their parent tiptoe around a struggling loved one.1

How to Break the Cycle of Codependency

Codependent behaviors are exhausting and oftentimes frustrating to live with. They are also hard to break. Fortunately, just as you might have learned codependent behaviors over the years, you can also unlearn them with intentional, ongoing practice.

How can you break the cycle of codependency and addiction? Here are some of the ways:


It’s easy to get yourself stuck in the same patterns after years living with someone who struggles with substance use. Learn more about addiction, codependency, and what a healthy relationship looks like. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to identify whether you’re in a supportive or codependent relationship.

Support Groups

Support groups like Al-Anon are a great resource for people experiencing codependency. These programs offer healing and hope to anyone who lives with or loves a person who abuses alcohol or drugs. Also, they provide a path to addressing your codependent tendencies and a way to work through the effects of your loved one’s behaviors.


Therapy is an essential tool if you hope to overcome your codependent behaviors. If you’re familiar with the behavior patterns but find yourself still struggling, therapy might be the solution. While your loved one finds support from an addiction treatment program like Silver Pines, you can find a solution in a family group or individual therapy.

If you’d like some help finding a program that’s right for your loved one and can also support you along the way, call us at 267-719-8689 or submit an online contact form today.


  1. Mental Health America. (2023). Co-Dependency..

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