Updated on 04/09/24

Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC

Substance use and related disorders often contribute to chaotic life circumstances. When addiction begins to take over an individual’s life, it may be only a matter of time before their interpersonal relationships are negatively affected. Although the consequences may seem mild at first, the more chronic an individual’s substance use becomes, the more likely their relationships are to suffer.

Substance use affects relationships in more ways than one. When an individual struggles with an addiction, they may lie to loved ones, engage in abusive behaviors or harm their relationships in other ways. What’s more, there is an inevitable link between addiction and codependent relationships.

It’s common for the individual struggling with substance use to become dependent on their partner as they also become dependent on drug use. With this, the other partner can become more vulnerable to enabling behaviors. It is essential to recognize how common codependent relationships can be between individuals who are struggling with substance use and their loved ones, but also that there are treatment options available to help heal from both codependency and addictive behaviors simultaneously.

What does it mean to be codependent?

Codependency is defined as an excessive preoccupation with the lives and emotions of other people. It is both an emotional and behavioral condition that can interfere with an individual’s ability to experience healthy and mutually fulfilling relationships in their life. Codependency can vary in severity and can occur in many different types of relationships, not just with a significant other.

To have healthy relationships with others, one must have responsibility for the well-being of both themselves and the other person. Unhealthy relationships, specifically codependent relationships, often occur when one individual finds their sense of worth solely through their relationship and interactions with the other person. A person in this type of relationship may feel as if their entire life revolves around the other person or as if their livelihood depends entirely on them.

What causes codependency?

While there is no one cause of codependency, there are a number of risk factors that can make an individual more vulnerable to developing codependent tendencies. The etiology of codependency is multifactorial, including risk factors associated with one’s biological, psychological, environmental and social makeup. Several of these risk factors include:

  • Parental conflicts as a child
  • Emotional abuse
  • Neglect or lack of secure attachment
  • Parentification
  • Rigid family systems
  • Inconsistent family structure as a result of substance use

There is a relationship between substance use and codependency.

Codependent relationships are common for those who struggle with complex mental health disorders, such as addiction. They typically occur when one person struggles with physical or mental health needs so severely that their partner, loved one or friend adapts to regularly attending to that person’s needs. The condition can manifest in several ways.

Symptoms of codependency may look like:

  • Poor boundaries with others
  • Low self-esteem
  • People-pleasing
  • Caretaking
  • Obsession with relationships
  • A need for control
  • Difficulty making decisions

When a person struggles with substance abuse, codependency often occurs in:

  • Children of those who are actively using substances: Children may become codependent as they try and take on a caretaker role for their parent who is struggling. These children may grow up feeling like they need to cater to others and may struggle with their own identity as a result.
  • Partners of those who are actively using substances: Partners may believe that their loved one is finding relief through self-medicating practices and enable them to use drugs repeatedly. Similarly, partners may enable their loved one financially by covering the costs of their drug use or bailing them out when they can’t pay bills. They may also enable their loved one’s substance use by dismissing the presence of a potential SUD.
  • Partners who both use drugs: Unfortunately, these partners will likely continue to enable one another’s drug use even after obvious substance use consequences become apparent.

It is important to understand that codependency is a condition separate from chemical dependency. Just as an individual who is struggling with an addiction is not guaranteed to be codependent, a codependent person is not guaranteed to develop an addiction. However, the overlap between codependency and chemical dependency is significant.

Treatment can help codependency and addiction.

When codependent relationships are left untreated, the relationship will likely experience worsening consequences over time independent of substance use. For codependent relationships that involve a partner struggling with addiction, interpersonal conflict along with severe health consequences can result if these conditions are left untreated. Both partners will likely experience poor health, low self-esteem, symptoms of depression and other mental and physical consequences.

Fortunately, treatment is available for those who are struggling. While couples or family therapy can do wonders for codependent relationships, it is vital that the partner struggling with addiction also receives treatment to establish and maintain sobriety. If the addiction is left untreated, the codependent relationship cannot fully heal. Many treatment centers offer behavioral therapies alongside family interventions that can work to treat the underlying causes of both codependency and substance use, which is necessary for long-term recovery.

Through therapy, partners can learn to set healthy boundaries for themselves as they increase their sense of self-worth. By improving self-esteem and knowledge of healthy relationships, each partner can learn how to heal individually while also healing together. Support groups can also be beneficial for learning different perspectives in relationships and can help to make partners feel less alone in their struggles.

Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is a premier drug and alcohol treatment center that recognizes the challenges that substance use can cause in interpersonal relationships. We believe that in order to heal from substance use, the underlying causes of substance use must be treated. For some, substance use may result as a way to cope with trauma. For others, substance use may result from insufficient knowledge of healthy coping mechanisms. No matter your story, we offer a range of treatment programs to help individualize your care. To learn more, call us today at (877) 557-5372.