Wednesday, December 8, 2021
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Help, I’m Addicted to My Addict

How Substance Abuse and Addiction Can Sabotage Healthy, Stable Relationships

The following is the first in a three-part series exploring how substance abuse and addiction can sabotage healthy, stable relationships. First up, Codependency.


What Exactly is Codependency?

Codependency is one of the most common consequences that befall relationships where someone is struggling with addiction. But what exactly is “codependency”?

Whereas the addicted family member is hooked on drugs and/or alcohol, the codependent is “addicted to a person or a relationship.” A codependent person is someone whose focus and energy has shifted away from his/her own needs, desires, and responsibilities and onto someone else, often the addict in this case.

However, the addict is not immune to codependency. A codependent person is ANYONE who works so hard to control and fix someone else that his/her own life is in turmoil as a result.

Because no one can really control anyone else, and other people’s troubles are mostly due to patterns only they can change, a codependent person is in for one painful disappointment after another.

A codependent person takes on the emotional responsibility for another’s happiness and fulfillment. When they inevitably fail, they feel responsible for the outcome and are plagued with guilt, shame, and self-condemnation.


What Is The Motivation or Appeal of a Codependent?

There are reasons people get drawn into codependent or addictive relationships. The motive may be the desire to feel needed. It may be a desire to feel strong, smart, and capable.


Related: What Is… Alcohol Use Disorder?


Often, codependent or addictive relationships develop when one identifies with the other’s hardships they’ve suffered. Or, as often the case, the motive is simply the belief that the person thought they could help the other and change their life.


What Are The Signs (or Consequences) of a Codependent Relationship?

However, in codependent relationships, people often use each other to try to feel the way they want to feel, just as they would use drugs. The signs of an addictive or co-dependent relationship often mirror symptoms of chemical dependency.

In codependent relationships, manipulation and mind games take up a lot of time and energy. One person often spends significant time rescuing the other from problems, again and again. They try to fix the other person, or at the very least, solve the other person’s problems.

It’s common for the relationship to have heated arguments that often don’t make sense to either person. The relationship is never boring, but it’s usually stressful. Finally, in codependent or addictive relationships, the individuals go back and forth between feeling abandoned and feeling smothered.


Common Codependent Characteristics:

  • I blame myself for things out of my control.
    • “I should be able to fix or solve any problem.”


  • I feel guilty doing something for myself – I often feel selfish.
    • “When I do something good for myself, I don’t feel good about it.”
    • “Things that are supposedly good for me don’t have that effect.”


  • I have difficulty knowing what it is I need or want.
    • “I’m too busy with other things to slow down and reflect.”
    • “My own personal care has never been a priority to others or me.”


  • I have a difficult time asking for things I want or need. I just react to what others want.
    • “I’m a pushover.”
    • “I lack assertive and assured communication.”


  • I have difficulty enforcing consequences when others break rules.
    • “I don’t like conflict; I hate being the bad guy.”
    • “I talk a good talk, but have trouble backing it.”
    • “I tend to make threats or ultimatums that I know I can’t/won’t enforce.”


  • I am afraid of other people’s anger.
    • “I hate conflict or confrontation.”
    • “People being upset or disappointed in me is devastating.”


  • I allow others to be rigid and controlling with me.
    • “In order to feel wanted or needed, I am a doormat.”
    • “What I want or need is not as important as what others want or need.”


  • I feel like a victim.
    • “I am helpless, powerless, or worthless.”
    • “Nothing ever goes the right way for me.”
    • “I tend to focus or dwell on what I can’t control.”


  • I tolerate inappropriate behavior.
    • I tend to avoid confrontation or conflict.”
    • “I don’t have a right to make others adhere to my standards.”


Click here for more content by Jonathan Hetterly, LPC!

Jonathan Hetterly, LPC
Jonathan Hetterly is a licensed professional counselor. He specializes in helping teen and young adult men navigate the challenges they face in life. Jonathan is also a writer and his articles are regularly featured on and He has contributed material to several books that explore the intersection of pop culture and psychology, including The Walking Dead Psychology, Star Wars Psychology, and Game of Thrones Psychology.


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