Codependency: Signs, Types, Ways of Recovery

The term codependency is used in two senses: dependent relationships between two people (mutual dependency) and the clinical dependency of a spouse, friends, relatives on a person suffering from some addiction (drug addiction, alcohol, gambling, etc.). Let’s once and for all figure out what codependency really is.

Basic Concept

The concept originates from clinical psychology and narcology. Codependent relationships are those in which one person suffers from some dependency, while their close and loved ones suffer from a psychological dependency on them. Let’s consider an example.

It may sound strange, but, for example, the wife of an alcoholic may be interested in her husband continuing to drink. As long as he drinks, she feels needed, significant. Yes, he may cause trouble or even hit her, but then someone will have to bring the alcoholic water and a pill, take him to the doctor, and in other ways play the savior. In psychology, this is called the Karpman drama triangle: victim, aggressor, savior. However, codependent relationships are characterized by more than this. All actions, thoughts, and states of their participants are intertwined.

So, let’s define two similar terms. What are codependency and dependency:

  • Dependency is an irresistible attraction, an obsessive desire to possess something or someone. The attraction is uncontrollable, and the need for the object of dependency pushes all other needs to the background.
  • Codependency is a state in which one person is concerned with the problems and life of another person. They dissolve in the other participant of the relationship, forgetting about themselves, their problems, and needs. Controlling and helping the dependent person becomes the life purpose of the codependent relationship member.

Signs of Codependency

Regardless of the type of dependency in codependent relationships, they all share a common foundation: the codependent participant has low self-esteem, while the addict behaves like a capricious child, often displaying immaturity.

Other characteristics of a codependent person include:

  • Self-hatred, inability to accept oneself;
  • Feelings of guilt;
  • Striving to earn love through care and guardianship of the addict;
  • Anger and aggression (often suppressed);
  • Dependence on the opinions of others;
  • Inability to accept compliments;
  • Need to feel needed, significant, in demand;
  • Lack of personal opinion;
  • Complete suppression of oneself as an individual (all energy goes into living the life for the addict).

Both participants in codependent relationships tend to be depressive, and in families with codependency, sexual life diminishes. Both are reserved, emotionally restrained, and unable to converse calmly with each other.

Codependency is not commonly discussed, though it is often unnoticed by the participants themselves. This is in contrast to dependency, which is hard to miss but again, not commonly addressed publicly. In particularly severe cases, those affected deny the existence of the problem.

Who Falls Into the Category of Codependents

A dependent person is one who suffers from addiction (computers, food, alcohol, drugs, etc.). Those who can fall into the category of codependents include:

  • The spouse, lover, or partner of the dependent person;
  • Parents of the addict;
  • Children of the addict;
  • Addicts in post-morbid and pre-morbid states.

How Codependency Manifests and Its Dangers

The focus on the addict’s life is evident even in speech: “we drink,” “we made a scene again yesterday.” This is similar to how a mother talks about her child: “we ate,” “we are too young to do this,” etc. This is a characteristic feature of codependency: one plays the role of a foolish, disobedient child, while the other cares for and forgives their mischiefs.

Where Codependents Can Seek Help

For moral support, codependents can turn to friends and relatives, and for professional help – to psychologists, psychiatrists, and narcologists. They can also visit social centers or call a helpline to discuss their situation. Consultants will advise where to seek further assistance.

Attitude Towards the Creation of a Codependency Trend

The issue of codependency was first discussed in the 1940s in the West. Wives of alcoholics and drug addicts began to unite in groups to cope with family tragedy. This attracted the attention of scientists, and since then, the phenomenon has been actively studied. Since the 1990s in Russia, rehabilitation centers have been established to assist families of alcoholics and drug addicts. These centers employ doctors, social educators, and psychologists. Sometimes clergy are invited.

Causes of Codependency

The tendency towards codependency resides within the individual. It is a characteristic of thought and a result of upbringing. Traits that distinguish families where children with a victim mentality are raised include:

  • Antisocial behavior;
  • Addictions;
  • Violence;
  • Punishments;
  • Humiliations;
  • Prohibition of expressing feelings (“don’t cry”).

Social stereotypes also contribute. For example, in the minds of many, it is considered normal in a Russian family for a man to drink and hit, while the woman endures. Remember the terrible phrase “if he beats you, he loves you,” which, surprisingly, does not scare everyone. Some people take it as truth.

Important! A codependent person will continually enter similar relationships. If they leave an alcoholic, they may end up with a gambler, etc. The problem is not in the relationships, but in the codependent individual. It’s necessary to change their thinking, attitude towards themselves, and the world.

Stages of Codependency

Codependency develops in three stages, each with its own characteristics (classification by Darlene Lancer).

Early Stage

Characteristics of the first stage:

  • Attachment to the dependent person. Offering help and support. Gifts.
  • Striving to earn the addict’s favor, to be liked by them.
  • Active interest in the life of the addict. Investigating the reasons behind their actions, analyzing life situations.
  • Justifying the dependent: “He drinks because his parents programmed him that way.”
  • Denying the dependency: “He’s not an alcoholic, he just likes to unwind after work.”
  • Giving up personal interests, for example, staying indoors to control the husband’s behavior.
  • Narrowing social circle. At most, remaining in contact with those to whom the codependent complains about their fate. Or limiting contacts to discussing work issues only.
  • The mood and behavior of the codependent directly depend on the mood and behavior of the addict.

Middle Stage

Signs of the middle stage:

  • Denial or minimization of consequences: “Yes, he stole money, but the amount is still small.”
  • Defending the addict by lying for their benefit. Hiding the fact that they drink.
  • Self-blame, worry, anxiety (“I must be doing something wrong since he still drinks”).
  • Isolation from family, friends, acquaintances.
  • Further decrease in self-esteem.
  • Even greater control over the addict.
  • Manipulations, accusations towards the addict (“you want my death”).
  • Anger and confusion when contrived attempts to bring the addict back to life don’t work (wives often send their husbands to healers instead of qualified narcologists).
  • Realization that life revolves around the addict and the situation is uncontrollable.
  • Emotional instability, psychosomatic illnesses, and other problems independent of the addict’s condition.
  • Shifting responsibility from the addict, further justifying their behavior.
  • Unspoken family rule of “don’t talk about it,” “no one should know.”
  • Development of the same or different addiction in the codependent. Some wives start drinking with their husbands or to ensure less alcohol for the addict. Others begin to overeat as a way to cope with the problem.

Late Stage

All previous signs are maintained and worsened. Additionally:

  • Constantly low mood;
  • Strong dependency;
  • Constant feelings of emptiness and indifference;
  • Sense of hopelessness and despair;
  • Psychosomatic diseases;
  • Even greater control over the dependent, up to violence, attempts to punish and teach a lesson.

Codependency: A Mental State or Disease

Codependency is a mental state, while dependency is a disease. Either way, both participants in the relationship need inpatient treatment from a psychotherapist. Family and individual consultations are recommended.

Psychosomatics and Codependency

Systematic suppression of emotions and living a life not one’s own eventually leads to the development of psychosomatics in the codependent partner. Common manifestations include general weakness, heart diseases, sleep disorders, and gastrointestinal pathologies. However, reactions vary based on individual characteristics.

Female Codependency

Women are more likely than men to be in codependent relationships, often due to fear of loneliness, following their mother’s example (“this is my cross to bear”), and parental teachings like “a woman should be obedient,” “a man should be the only one for life.” Women accustomed to the role of a victim, having learned it from their mothers, will continue to find new tyrants or endure the same man until they seek psychotherapy.

Codependency in Relationships

Signs of codependent relationships:

  • Both or one of the participants define their identity exclusively through the relationship, unable to imagine life without it.
  • Mood, actions, and opinions of one participant depend on the mood of the other.
  • Conscious fueling of dependency, limiting one’s own freedom and that of the partner.
  • One of the participants does not perceive themselves as a complete individual, an independent unit.
  • The codependent fills the emptiness in their soul with relationships, running away from themselves or loneliness.
  • Participants have absent or very blurred personal boundaries.
  • One or both participants do not trust their opinion but listen to their partner’s.
  • Jealousy and idealization of the partner are present in the relationship.
  • One or both partners feel guilty if they rest while the other works.
  • Instead of normal communication and expressing feelings, guessing and interpretations are used.
  • Struggle for power, manipulations. To get attention and care, one partner may pretend to be sick or actually become ill (psychosomatics).
  • Total control, conditions, and entangled responsibilities. People who are dependent on others’ opinions enter codependent relationships. They do not see themselves as individuals, thus complement themselves with another person, dissolving in them.

Codependency in Alcoholism

Codependency in alcoholism has some different features. Here, the addict has a chemical dependency, and the partner depends on the addict. This has been discussed earlier. It is worth adding that such families rarely recognize the codependent nature of the relationship and unconsciously support the addiction.

Codependency in Drug Addiction

Codependency in drug addiction is no different from codependency in alcoholism or other chemical dependencies. The codependent justifies the partner’s behavior, tries to save them, and is unconsciously interested in maintaining the addiction. It goes to the extent that one partner allows the other to prepare or store drugs at home, believing it to be safer, or allows the use of lighter drugs instead of harder ones.

Ways to Overcome Codependency

To heal, it’s best to consult a psychologist and a narcologist. The specialist will select the optimal rehabilitation program. There are hundreds of programs for overcoming codependency, but let’s examine the most popular one, “The 12 Steps.”

The 12 Steps Program

Codependency typically develops within six months of living with an addict. However, the psychological climate in the family, individual psychological characteristics of the participants, and specifics of their living and working environment also play a role.

In every such family, the spouse of the addict loses their identity. The “12 Steps” program allows gradual recognition of the problem, the importance of freedom and self-expression, and the need to return to one’s own life.

Saying Goodbye to Illusions

Bring the problem to the conscious level. Realize the danger of the situation. Could the addict deprive you of your home, job, life? Try to look at the situation objectively from the outside. Acknowledge that you cannot change the situation on your own and need help from qualified specialists.

Finding a Source of Strength

Admit that you are not omnipotent and cannot handle the problem alone. Find support – whether through faith in God, consultations with a psychologist, communication with friends and relatives, anonymous online interactions, or helpline calls. If you have never shared your problem with anyone, now is the time to do so.

Decision Making

Resolve that in moments of instability, you will turn to your source of strength. But promise yourself that this won’t become a new codependency or dependency. Treat it as a crutch, a support in a difficult situation, an opportunity to take time to analyze the situation.

Situation Analysis

Constantly compare your impulses to help the addict with objective reality, aided by your source of strength. The optimal choice is to visit a psychotherapist.


During recovery, you will inevitably feel guilty, both towards yourself and the addict. Don’t harbor these feelings; accept and release them. Find the reasons for your self-destructive behavior and victim mentality. Accept this experience and learn from it.

Moral Attitude

Say goodbye to old relationships and former thinking. A new life awaits you, and you must desire it and understand the impossibility of living the old script.

Concrete Actions

The most challenging stage. Guilt and fear will hinder you, but you must start living for yourself, leave the relationship, divorce, move out of the apartment. Even if both of you are on the path to rehabilitation, it’s better to separate while working on yourselves. Then, meet as two mature and healthy individuals and decide if new relationships are possible.


Acknowledge that you have caused pain to others, especially to yourself. If there are children in the family, codependent mothers realize their guilt towards them. Find the strength to apologize, choose words for a face-to-face conversation.

Compensation for Damage

Think about how you can make amends. Analyze the situation and choose appropriate actions. Remember what you deprived yourself of for the addict’s sake. It’s time to return to old interests or acquire new ones.

Important! At this stage, as at others, it’s beneficial to consult a psychologist.


Regain control and rationality through regular self-analysis, summarizing the year and half-year, recognizing mistakes, and learning lessons. You must discover yourself as an individual, form your worldview, and eliminate dependence on others’ evaluations.

Focus on Self-Improvement

Relying on your source of strength, transform yourself and your life. Every cell of your body, every sphere of your life, should align with new thinking and new life principles.

Realizing Your Own Worth

Become a useful member of society. This will restore your self-respect, sense of self-worth, and significance. Become a volunteer, help people or animal shelters, take an active civic stance. Give your life a new meaning that benefits both you and others.

Self-Check Test: Are You Codependent?

You can suspect codependency not only by analyzing the signs discussed earlier and consulting a psychologist but also by taking a test. For each statement, choose one response:

  • Completely disagree – 1 point;
  • Rather no than yes – 2 points;
  • Not quite so – 3 points;
  • Almost so – 4 points;
  • Rather yes than no – 5 points;
  • Completely agree – 6 points.

Test Questions

  1. I have difficulty making decisions.
  2. I can’t say no or refuse.
  3. I find it hard to accept compliments and think they are undeserved.
  4. Sometimes I almost feel bored if there are no problems to solve.
  5. I don’t help if I’m not asked and don’t do for others what they can do for themselves.
  6. If I do something for myself or enjoy my time, I feel guilty.
  7. My anxiety is within normal limits.
  8. I believe and convince myself that life will get better when my loved ones stop doing what they are doing now.
  9. In relationships, I always do much more for others than they do for me.
  10. Sometimes I focus so much on one person and relationship that I forget about other people, relationships, and responsibilities.
  11. I often enter relationships that cause me pain.
  12. I hide my emotions and feelings from others.
  13. If someone offends me, I keep my feelings to myself, harbor resentment, and then “explode.”
  14. I’ll do anything to avoid conflict.
  15. I often feel fear and a sense of impending danger.
  16. I often sacrifice my interests and needs for the interests of other people.

Total Points

Calculate your total score by adding all your answers, but use the reverse value for statements 5 and 7. For example, if you chose 1, count it as 6.

Evaluate Your Result:

  • 16–32 points – you are not in a codependent relationship;
  • 33–60 points – moderate codependency;
  • 61–96 points – severe stage of codependency.

Independent Exit from Codependency

To exit codependency on your own, you can use the method of S.N. Zaitsev. The psychologist suggests fighting codependency as follows. Imagine that dependency is a monster standing on three legs:

  • The first support – the addict;
  • The second support – the macrosocium that supports addiction;
  • The third support – the microsocium that supports addiction. While changing the macrosocium is unlikely for the codependent, they can change relationships within the family and their behavior. The methodology is detailed in the author’s book “Codependency – the Ability to Love,” a practical guide for self-help for dependent people (behavior correction and support).

Important! Codependency has two possible outcomes: both people recover and start building new relationships, or the relationship ends altogether. In practice, the second option is more common.

Rate article