Co-addiction recovery: Taking the first step

How do you start co-addiction recovery? Find the courage to take action here.

minute read

Does this sound familiar?

Your spouse did not come home again last night. You don’t know where they are. They didn’t answer their phone and you noticed they took the credit card from your wallet. You frantically go online to see if you can view recent purchases. You call the credit card company and spend fifteen minutes trying to get the representative to track the card since yesterday. It is 6 am and you know soon you will have to get your children ready for school, get ready for work, and put in a full day. You haven’t slept or eaten and you go for your third cup of coffee. Jittery and with a sour stomach you start your day.

How many times have you said this was the last time?

You go through the motions of your day, but until the addict walks through your door, you are unable to function. You are angry beyond belief, but, you thank your lucky stars they were not lying dead in a seedy hotel room. A mix of emotions only a co-addict can explain. You can breathe again. You pick up the pieces and move on even though you swore, “If this happens one more time, I am leaving!”

Co-addicts are used to the high drama, followed by forgiveness, and then restoration of some sense of normality.

The key to co-addiction recovery

The key to recovery can be summarized in one simple word: detachment.

Most co-addicts understand detachment but just cannot do it. They have walked through the doors of Al-anon and sat in disbelief when they were told to leave the addict alone. But what does is mean to be detached from an addict?

Detachment means separating yourself emotionally, and physically, if possible, from the addict and their behavior. The purpose of detachment is to take the focus off of the addict and put it where it belongs — on yourself.

Step 1: Detach from the addict

This first step may be the most difficult one to follow. It is crucial in restoring sanity and peace. At first, letting go feels awkward, uncomfortable. It may be unclear why doing it this way is the right way. It is normal to take some steps back, but the new way gets easier. It becomes more comfortable. With detachment, the co-addict has a chance to clear their mind and see things differently.

Learning how to detach from a loved one may take a great deal of self-convincing; the addict doesn’t need you to take care of them, or prove to them their life is in shambles. In time, the addict will learn this all on their own.

My own co-addiction recovery

As a co-addict, I would have a urine cup home drug test waiting for my husband when he walked in the door after not coming home all night. I had to “prove” he was on drugs. Then someone asked me why I did it, I came up with every reason why it was important; to prove he was an unfit parent and couldn’t be alone with our child. Or when he insisted he was not high, I would have definitive evidence. That person looked at me and said, “You already know when he is using. All you are doing is torturing yourself. You are trying to hold someone accountable for their actions whom is not accountable.”

My husband drained all our bank accounts, didn’t care about myself or my child, when he was using, and drug tests were fifty dollars a pop. The drug tests always came back positive and he would still swear up and down the tests were wrong. I was causing myself undue agony.

The next time he came home, I didn’t have a test waiting. I left him alone. This was the hardest thing I had ever done, but I let go. I felt peace when I wasn’t getting myself upset. I stopped acting out. When I took myself out of an insane situation, sanity was restored. An addict will do what they are going to do regardless of my efforts, so I had to do something else. I forced myself to leave him alone.

Co-addiction recovery is freeing

This new freedom is inspiring. It’s a fresh start that allows you to feel hopeful, not for the addict, but for yourself. You can start to see there is a life without addiction. You are able to make changes you can actually smell, and touch.

Detachment can be a frightening concept. When you detach, you fear for their life. In time, though, you will take back responsibility for yourself and your sanity. With a clear mind, a co-addict can start to break the cycle they have been caught in. With this new relief they can find ways to get their own life back on track.

The first step to a healthy recovery is to let go.

About the author
Amanda Andruzzi, MPH, AADP, CHES, is a Certified Health Coach, founder of Symptom-Free Wellness, and the author of Hope Street. Her first book, Hope Street memoir is an inspirational story of one woman's frightening journey of co-addiction that led her to uncover courage, unbelievable strength and overcome great adversity. She resides with her daughter, husband, and two sons in Florida.


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  1. Michelle,
    I apologize for this late response. You keep saying fear and the one thing we have to let go of is the fear of what will happen and worry about ourselves and getting better. After you become stronger and more stable you won’t be so afraid because you will understand you can’t control him, you never could and you will just let the chips fall where they may. You are not condoning his behavior by moving on with your life, you are just letting it go because it is not your responsibility.
    Amanda Andruzzi, MHP, CHC, AADP,published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the video book trailer:

  2. These articles are amazing and are beginning to change everything for me! With this article i have a question. It talks about just leaving the addict alone. I want to, but i fear if i do, he will think his behavior is ok, try to hide it less, get more obviously high. Mostly I’m afraid that if i start that pattern that i will be “accepting” his addiction and i will then settle for less and accept living like that bcuz im to afraid to do anything else. Could somebody shed some light?

  3. I have been living with a alcoholic husband for 36 yrs. I am at a point in my life and age that I want peace. I have never lived alone but I know that I am so tired of the verbal abuse from my husband. When he drinks, he is either a happy alcoholic or he goes into a rage about things that has been on his mind for who knows how long? He unleashes his wrath by verbally abusing me, name calling and other degrading comments. I do love him and I want him to be well, but I am tired and want some peace in my life. I have stopped reacting to his verbal abuse. I am so numb to it all. I just do not know how to leave. I have asked him to leave but he will not. He can be loving and a great provider. But him and alcohol does not mix. His father was an alcoholic and physically and verbally abused his mother and the children. Our children are grown and have left the home. It is just him and I. I hoped that when the children left the nest, we would enjoy our latter years together, but it has not been so. When he gets home from work, he isolates himself and drinks alcohol. I feel lonely and alone even thought my husband is at home.

  4. Veronica,
    That is what co-addiction is. It is when you take care and want to help the addict more than you want to help yourself. What you have described is the exact definition of co-addiction; not taking care of you and living your life according to an addict. I hope you make better choices for yourself because self-love, confidence and healing are the key to moving on and making a change for the better.
    Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video BOOK Trailer:

  5. To Natasha – Picture a future where you have separated apart, and maybe on a dating website you have found someone who is funny, successful, and lovable – a man who would be a kind father and charming husband, who would not create a storm of misery for his family. You are a smart person, and making a smart decision will be much easier before there are children and financial ties. I think you will get what you really want if you go for it.

  6. Thank you. Ive done this dance so many times. With my husband (of 25 yrs, four kids)and then with a subsequent BF( who wasn’t using when we met.)
    and yes Im educated, husband was a physician etc etc…. co addiction has nothing to do with that
    I don’t know why I have to wait until Im practically bleeding from the eyeballs before I take care of myself, set healthy boundaries and follow through……

  7. Trisha, Ana, Tammy and Natasha,
    Thank you for all of your comments and sharing on this page. Enabling is a common problem when living with an addict and just the an addict, the enabler must change and admit what they are doing to contribute to the situation. Usually leaving is the only way to free yourself from a toxic situation and for most people staying with an addict does not make them want to change, it only solidifies the fact that they can keep using because they know you are not going to actually leave them. Why put up with this, it is their problem right? Yes, it is, but you need to make changes too. You need to get strong and move on and that may not be easy but it can be done. I have done it and many others and we live to tell about the happiness there is on the other side.
    Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict
    View the Video BOOK Trailer:

  8. Hi,
    I’m leaving in Moscow, Russia and my husband is an alcoholic. We just married less than a year ago, in November, 2014 and before marriage I noticed he is drinking beer or wine in the morning, but he explained it as a stress before marriage.
    I really don’t want to detach from him because I like him, I think he is smart and handsome. From the finance side I can easily apart from him beacuse we live in my appartment, I have my own earnings and I have a car.
    I just told my parents about his addiction they advise me to brake up with him and get divorced. My husband mom said that she doesn’t have time or wish to help with this and whem her son comes to her he never drinks or smokes. Near me my husband drinks and smokes a lot which is strongly irritating me.
    I just can’t brake up beacuse I’m already 32 years old, I feel I will never find a new boyfriend and he is my last chance. I think by that way beacuse I was a long time alone without any relationship …was busy with other things and career.
    Logically I understand that I’m co-dependant and should leave him. But I hope that may be he will change. He is well educated, has 2 higher education. He assures me that he is not an alcoholic and he is drinking beacuse he has a home-based free lance job and because I don’t love him.
    So, I really fed up with what I find in the evening after I came home – he is drunk and sleeping. On the other side I trust him that it will change after he finds an office job, he is looking for such job more than 6 months already….

    How to understand that it’s right time to apart? Now I feel me extremely upset when thinking about separation. I start imaging that he will find a new wife, will stop drinking, will be happy and I will be on dating websites searching for a new partner…

  9. Hi Tammy. Have you tried Al-Anon or sought help from a marriage counselor? It is possible to leave an alcoholic who is drinking…or to live with it. But you’ll need to figure out how and where to set your boundaries.

  10. He’s not taking recovery seriously sneaking drinks behavior changes rapidly it’s been only six months since you left recovery

  11. My husband progressed very quickly with his functioning alcoholicism.
    became very abusive to me. Verbal of course in the beginning then to the point he couldn’t even remember what he did. After 6 months of Hell last year he went into treatment now it’s barely six months later he sneaking drinks not taking recovery seriously saying he can drink once in awhile… I knew better I told him it would just be a matter of time… it turns him from a nice wonderful man into a resentful name calling so and so so the cycle starting over very minimal argument last night but I got that knot in my stomach followed by fear and I left he tells me to leave then his own name only.

  12. These articles have explained exactly what has been happening to me. Been with the heroin addict for 15 years, no children, and it has come to the stage of weekends no shows and constant lies. We have no intimacy as he has no desire but somehow I still am paranoid that he is cheating as he has never been staying out for this long. Actually, we were almost unseparable until last year when we got married. I certainly recognise myself as an enabler now and in a process now of trying to get back to myself. As everyone else said it feels like I will never recover but I have to believe otherwise. What was never mentioned though in any posts is whether anyone managed to help their addict partners by changing those crucial behaviours. Has anyone managed to stay together and beat this evil?

  13. thank you for this page, it is beautifully written and for the first time in 2 years i have an answer for my behavior and realize what i can fix in myself

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