“He Is Like A Drug” Codependency: Truly An Addiction?

Drug-Addiction-or-Drug-Dependency-Is-There-a-CureCan we really place Codependency in the same category as drug and alcohol addiction? Does it really compare in any sense to the misery of substance abuse, gambling or shopping addiction? Codependency has been called the “love addiction” and anyone who is “enmeshed” with another might well feel that they are addicted. The quote in the headline is one that I have heard many times in my daily practice. This would strongly suggest that a “fix” is needed to feel better and the evidence is that this is not far from the truth.

I would like first to discuss the term “love” in relation to codependency. Codependency is not love. It is an attachment based on control and insecurity. It is a behavioral and emotional issue borne out of a dysfunctional connection with caregivers. Codependents were taught at an early age that their world was insecure (or had the perception of) and to feel secure, they had to do more and give more on a constant quest for approval. They taught themselves to “fix” their environment to feel safe. The defense mechanisms that were formed during this time created the basis for codependent thinking.

We are living in a codependent age. Parenting styles that were developed over generations have caused this. Even though codependency was previously associated with the children and spouses of addicts (and rightly so), many now see that the traditional parenting styles associated with an emotionally distant “breadwinner” parent coupled with an emotionally overwhelmed “homemaker” might well have fueled codependent thinking as we now accept it. This particular scenario is the breeding ground of codependency, in my opinion. These experiences are taken into adulthood and played out in other relationships. Based on my work with codependents, the term “addiction” is very relevant.

I firmly believe this love or relationship addiction is just as destructive at its core as any drug or bottle can be. In my experience treating codependents, the same factors drive the process. The relationship, usually with an elusive partner is their drug of choice…the fix being their never ending mission to change said partner. Let’s look at the addiction cycle that drives typical addictive behavior and see how this fits with codependency.


As a {former} codependent myself, I can recognise the set stages in the diagram very well but I want to use a case study to example them. I am certain this will resonate with many people out there. Breaking this cycle is part of the work done in therapy.

The Case Of W

W has just finished a 3 year relationship with a man with clear narcissist tendencies. He took advantage of her emotionally, financially and sexually. She finished the relationship only after starting therapy and being made aware of her situation. Despite her attempts to block him and go no contact, she is still vulnerable to his attempts to tap into her as a source of supply. One recent incident highlights the Cycle of Addiction perfectly in terms of codependency.

W ended the relationship but was never really sure that it was what she really wanted. Her obsession with R was dysfunctional and drove her behavior. She had a similar relationship with her father who was also emotionally distant and was not easy to please. Despite her constant attempts to connect with her father, it never really worked. Logically, she can see this but emotionally, it is difficult. The same forces are at play with R. For one week, she had held no contact well, mainly because of distraction and there had been no attempt by R to break it. That was all about to change. One Saturday night, W was home alone watching tv when a text arrived. The cycle was about to start….

Emotional Trigger : The text arriving cut W to the bone. It expressed regret about the break up, that R had changed and was ready to be the partner W wanted. Even worse, it suggested that they meet up “soon” to discuss getting back together. For a codependent like W in a vulnerable state, the worst possible message.(she was later to find that R was bored and had been turned down by other women on that night). W was going crazy in her mind…logic and emotion clashing…rumination and total focus on the text.

Craving : W started to romanticise her relationship with R, remembering the few good times they had. Her mental filter is set on this and she she cannot see that the relationship was mostly very negative for her. She is craving being with him, wants him to come to her and is starting to think that she cannot survive without him. This is a very dangerous phase for W, she is likely to leave herself open to abuse yet again.

Rituals: W is entering the preparation phase to allow R back into her life. Rituals are constant patterns of behaviors performed prior to acting out , driven by preoccupation.  Rituals allow one to control the environment before acting out. Examples of rituals might be obsessive behavior that might have been associated with the relationship, choosing a specific time of day to do things or preparing one’s physical appearance before acting out. W is entering into a phase that she always did before she met R, obsessing about her hair and how it looked. It was always a source of self-esteem for her and now it was important for her to get it right….

Using: After much deliberation, W decides to answer the text, giving in to her impulses and against her better judgement. She writes back telling R she misses him and wished that everything could have worked out better for them. She blissfully tells him that she would like to try again even though she knows logically that it would never work. Emotionally, she has been hooked in again to the narcissist illusion. The message fell on deaf ears. R rejected her suggestion saying he needed her on the Saturday but is now ok.

Guilt: After rejection comes the emotional fall and guilt. W cannot believe that she fell for R’s overtures again and realises what she was about to do. This brings guilt, shame and self-loathing. How could she do this? She wakes every morning with mixed thoughts….trepidation and anxiety. Half of her hopes R will make contact again and the other is terrified he will. The chances are that the cycle will start again.

Feel free to contact me if this is you.



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