Relationship Addiction/Codependency


Originally, the concept of relationship addiction or codependency developed with the growth of Alcoholics Anonymous. The wives of the men trying to sober up formed a separate organization they called Alanon. From the very beginning, there was a conflict of ideas and needs. One group gives you suggestions regarding how you can help your impaired relative. The other focus is how you can help yourself.

There is a third issue with relationship addiction. I wrote about that here: Is It Love or Is It Addiction?

The people who write about co-alcoholism from the ‘help your relative’ point of view will talk about enabling or rescuing. Enabling is something you do that might help you feel better but also helps your impaired relative continue in destructive behavior. The advice you will be given will help you stop doing whatever you are doing that might support another person’s problems rather than their solutions. There is no guarantee that your changes will actually help that person stop their addictive behavior. It might, but then it also might not have any impact at all.

There is no guarantee that your changes will actually help that person stop their addictive behavior. It might, but then it also might not have any impact at all.

I favor the ‘help yourself‘ point of view. Relationship addictions involve giving parts of yourself away that you cannot afford to lose. If this allows another person to behave destructively, then you are in fact enabling them.

However, sometimes you are giving parts of yourself to others that do nothing for the other person. Here you are only hurting yourself. In other circumstances, a person might be giving to others and not harming themselves. Outsiders might suggest that you are enabling, but you are not behaving from an addictive place.

You can be in addicted relationship to your husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter or any person in your life including your boss or employees.  What happens is that you begin giving to the other person usually because they really need your help in some way for some issue or problem they have.

But problems develop which now cause you anxiety in relation to them and their issues or behaviors. So you start giving to them or taking care of them to relieve your own anxiety. And before you know it you are addicted to giving to and taking care of another person. Loving then becomes codependency.

People sometimes ask me: But what about my religion and charity? Isn’t it the right thing to do to give to and help others? Before you know it, they assert, all good things will be classified as a disease!

There is a vast difference between healthy charity or charitable behavior and relationship addiction. Remember with addiction we have the following characteristics: The disease model, heredity, allergy, abnormal reactions, tolerance, progression, consequences, and denial. You can read about that here: Addiction and the Disease Model.

In the disease model, you have addictive behaviors in your relatives going back throughout your family tree. In relationship addiction, you almost always have grown up in what is known as a dysfunctional family with chemical dependency, family violence and/or personal experiences with being abused as a child. This leads to a life filled with unpredictability and personal feelings of anxiousness.

Somewhere along the line, you learn that if you take care of the people involved in these dysfunctional behaviors, you can feel and sometimes be safer. But, like all addictive behaviors, your caretaking does something more for you than it does for others. It gets you high. That is the allergy.

Like all addictions, you develop tolerance. You need to do more and more for other people to achieve the same feelings of peace and calm. The consequences you experience for your behavior progress along with your tolerance. In relationship addiction, you begin with exhaustion and loneliness and progress all the way to a form of emotional and often financial bankruptcy as you give more than you have inside you to others in an ever increasing fashion.

Finally, you lie to yourself about your behavior as well as the consequences of your relationships. Like all addicts, you avoid personal awareness of what is happening to you.

If you are concerned about your relationship with someone who drinks, you can contact Alanon Family Groups.

If you are concerned about your caretaking behavior, you can contact Codependents Anonymous.

If you are concerned that you are addicted to relationships and love, you can contact Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

It has been my experience that people who actively work a 12-step program change their lives. When I worked in my private practice as a therapist, I watched people participate in therapy AND go home to work on their issues using their program tools and steps. They grew and solved their problems at a massively different rate than people who just came for therapy or didn’t need a 12-step program.

The same is true for life coaching. People reach their goals and dreams by working on them. People in 12-step programs have more tools to use to work toward their goals and dreams. 12-step Recovery Wellness is life coaching for people who want to use all the resources possible to reach for the stars.

Your feedback is important! Please let me know your thoughts and feelings about this writing.

Just scroll a little further down the page and use the “Leave a Reply” box to add your opinions. Make your suggestions and let me know what your needs are.

If you like my writing and are interested in applying some of these ideas, subscribe to my newsletter.

If you’d like to make an appointment, call me at:

Telephone: (615) 464-3791

Or write me at:


Credentials verified by Psychology Today


©2016-18 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Privacy Policy

Comment Policy


Leave a Reply