Codependent relationships with an addict or alcoholic

Codependent relationships are actually not relationships at all. Learn more about how living in codependency with an alcoholic or addict inhibits your ability to connect intimately, and evaluate potential signs of codependent behavior here.

minute read

Codependency simulates relationship without intimacy

The paradox of codependency is that while it expresses itself in the form of a relationship with another person, it is the complete opposite of a relationship. Codependency is actually the inability to relate genuinely to another human being. Indeed, both codependents and addicts are often described as “intimacy cripples.”

I once heard a codependent laughingly describe his failed method for finding true love—“Find the most superficially desirable person who will have you, make up a personality for that person, then stick to it no matter what!” As long as we cannot accept ourselves and others for who we are, there is no true intimacy, as the saying goes, “Addicts don’t have relationships; they take hostages!” To put it simply, a codependent relationship is one which simulates intimacy, with none of its rewards but all of its dramatic intensity.

Another one of the great Chasidic masters, the Rabbi of Kotzk, once said, “If I am me because I am me, and you are you because you are you, then I am me, and you are you. However, if I am me because you are you, and you are you because I am me, then I am not me, and you are not you!” What this means is that if I have an autonomous identity, then I can be involved in a real relationship with another person. However, if I look to the relationship to gain my identity, then neither of us is connecting to the other.

Codepdendents do not relate to self

In other words, the basis for the inability to relate to others is the inability to relate to self. The codependent, as we have already mentioned, has a profound lack of self-concept, which manifests as emotional dependence on others. This desperate search for personal identity makes it impossible to experience a genuinely intimate relationship.

Ready for help?
Call us today. You don’t need to face addiction on your own.

Signs of codependent behavior

Codependents, just like addicts, are actually “emotionally unavailable” to enter into a relationship. The only difference is that whereas the antisocial aspect of addiction may be more apparent, the fact that the codependent is equally unavailable for intimate relationships can be harder to detect. The addict’s unsavory shenanigans clearly mark him or her as someone who — to borrow a phrase from kindergarten report cards — “does not play well with others,” even as the codependent may seem like a devoted or caring spouse, parent, friend, sibling, and so forth. But this ability to fool others is of no benefit to the codependent. It only serves to provide the needed cover for the codependent to persist wasting his or her life away in an unhealthy situation while appearing all the while to be the normal one.

About the author
Rabbi Shais Taub is one of today's most respected young scholars of Jewish spirituality and practice. National Public Radio called him "an expert in Jewish mysticism and the Twelve Steps." He is the author of God of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I have read and agree to the conditions outlined in the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    1. Hi John. Yes it can. Alcohol users may be co-dependent as well. Keep track of their behaviors just to be sure.

  1. I have been involved with an alcoholic for over six years now. He was so wonderful, complimentary,kind and supportive when we first met. This lasted about six months before he started blaming me for all problems, became verbally abusive and started telling me how much he hated my young adult children. We lived together the first two years while my youngest daughter was still in the home(she was 15 when this relationship began). They HATED each other immediately and I spent my time refereeing for what seemed like TWO teenage children and he actually seemed more immature than her! Six months into the relationship, I was already asking myself what was wrong with me and why didn’t I get out. He had “quit” his job to move closer to where my youngest daughter was going to high school so she could stay at same school. I supported him financially for a year until he found another job. Flash forward, six years later, he is still in my life although we no longer live together. He comes over every weekend to help me with my 19 month old grandson who now lives with me. I’ve had custody of my grandson since he was five months old, and he really really seems to love the baby. He says all the time how much he loves him and how he would do anything for him. A few weeks ago, after he had been drinking he told me that I was delusional if I thought we were in a relationship and although he felt like I was his very best friend, we would not be spending the rest of our lives together. Although I already knew that deep down, it’s just been killing me that he verbalized it. We haven’t had sex in over three years, he rarely touches me so WHY do I even care. Now I wonder if he is trying to start a relationship with someone else and that’s why he said it. He says he would never desert me and the baby because he doesn’t think I can raise baby without his help, but basically I’m doing all the child rearing on my own. When he’s here it’s that another adult presence is in the house and I don’t feel so lonely for adult companionship. But I won’t leave him alone with the baby past the afternoon because by then he’s consumed too much beer. He also does not believe he is an alcoholic although he drinks seven or eight beers during the work week and between 24-36 beers on the weekends. He also says our lack of sexual intimacy is my fault because he can’t get what assholes he thinks all my kids are out of his mind and I have made so many stupid life choices that it has killed any desire for me. I suspect that things aren’t actually working that well for him “down there” because of years and years of heavy beer drinking. It’s amazing how healthy he seems otherwise, and he can even run long distances once or twice a week and hold down a physically demanding job at 61. So WHY do I care about ending this relationship and why am I feeling so torn up about ending things that have been bad(of course there have been a few good times and he is so smart and funny and handsome) for the majority of the time.

  2. Ok, so I got custody of the child and I left him. He goes to AA regularly now and has been doing so for about 2 months. I have gone to a couple of meetings with him. I returned to work and that was the beginning of the end for him because I suddenly saw the dysfunction of my life for what it was. People at work really like me and I mt someone new and he treated me like a normal man should but to me it seemed so foreign to begin with.
    My ex wants me back and has tried everything in the book to make it happen but to be honest with you, it terrifies me to even imagine living as I did when we were with him. I do not know if he is truly not drinking and I try not to concern myself with it because if he can’t change for him then changing for me is wasted because it won’t work. I look back on the years I spent with him and I feel broken and sick if I think about it too long.
    Myself and hi daughter are doing fine and we are both recovering from the effects of having been in that situation for so long. It isn’t something you recover from overnight and my new relationship is distanced and careful…by this I mean that I do not see him every week but we talk every day. I know that it will be a long time before I can truly invest in anything relationship-wise being that the last was so bad, but getting out was the bet thing I ever did and I left no hostages behind.

  3. I began dating after two years being single. I began dating a wonderful man who has 3 teenaged children (they would visit him evry other weekend). We both had our own homes so we did not see eachother evry day so the alcohol issue he has was not prevalent. He would come visit and we would have a bottle of wine. I began to notice a change in his behavior or rather a characteristic I had never seen in him or ignored?? Well I confronted him and he agreed so he began AA right away…he earned his first coin! How great this was and things were going very well. We decided to find a bigger home together and I forgot to mention I have two of my own that are on the Autism spectrum. I have some health issues as well. In any event he relapsed and this time he was not considering continuing AA at all. It got bad enough to where I had to call the police and he was arrested for pushing me and leaving a mark on my body (which I was made aware of by the Police). After court proceedings and his order to keep away for a month was over , I agreed to have it reduced to a limited order which basically states he can live here but if anything happens within these next 2 years he will serve a sentence of sorts in jail. He has spoken about getting counseling which for me is a must but he has not done a thing. I am focused on me and have always been. I am taking ballet lessons and am in therapy and I go to Al Anon, I am a singer Songwriter and a Photographer. I have friends and a life but he does not. He is smothering me and also I think he has a distorted sense of his own identity. He has taken on my characteristics/personality and it is just too awkward. He says things I say just the way I say it and even wanted to do the things I do . He makes my facial gestures and when he is not drinking!!! If I say not a word he has absolutely nothing to say. Is there anything there? I am not going to continue making a connection to someone who is spaced otu so to speak. So I am now very frustrated because I am being told I am a codependent?!?! I am still having a life and having fun. Trying to save money to move forward. I do not see how this could ever work. He says he believes we jumped in too soon and that he believes it can work. I have spoken with him about this. I do have some experience with this sorta thing since my father was an alcoholic but then recovered. I used to tell my step mom to leave and that I would still see her but that she did not deserve that. I am done. He is lost and does not get it. Am I a codependent in denial????

    1. Hello Edan. You have a really interesting life as a singer, songwriter, and photographer. I’m really glad that after all you’ve managed to find a way to express yourself. But, have you considered joining a support group or going to family therapy?

  4. Hey Sarah. Listen, I was a practicing alcoholic for years until a few months ago. My situation until then sounds rather similar to yours. I was the drunk husband, though I suspect I was rather less douchy than your husband.

    What made me get sober? My wife gave up on me. It wasn’t a, “I’m leaving if you don’t quit drinking!” kind of thing. It was the calm readiness to transition away from our family. I saw it in her eyes. She was done, and she wasn’t going to help me drink myself to death anymore. It wouldn’t have worked anyways. Addicts only die of their addictions when they don’t want to.

    At any rate, your anger is understandable. If you want to punish him for his bad behavior, stay with him. That way he’ll keep drinking, and hell be living misery everyday. The wife thinks she has it bad, and she does. But one thing that non-addicts don’t get is that we aren’t enjoying our addictions one bit. We hate life when we are using, and hate ourselves. It’s just another great part of being a practicing alcoholic. We hurt others, but know that we suffer at least as much as those around. More, really. After all, normal people get to be sober most of the time. For me, each day I continue to stay sober is absolutely astonishing, and the source of great relief and peace. Are you a self-loathing volatile drunk who knows with certainty only that he is completely worthless? No? Your husband is. I’m not saying that he deserves your sympathy, but if you think he’s worth anything at all (because he doesn’t) you’ll detach, and tell him that you are removing yourself from his addictions. This is not your choice, it’s his. Until and unless his behavior meets a certain minimum level of predictability, which it won’t until he stops drinking, then you are not choosing to separate, and you should try to make him understand that. Tell him that you cannot stay because the house is on fire and it is too dangerous to stay inside. There are too many risks – emotional, spiritual, financial, even physical. It’s not safe for you as a human being. You cannot manifest your self until you have some room to think. You cannot think if you do not have time when you are at peace. You cannot know peace until you’re out of immediate hurricane damage management mode. And you deserve peace.

  5. When an alcoholic or drug addict is blaming, complaining, denying (you get the idea) towards you – stop close your eyes and mentally see your addict dressed in his pajamas with a sign over his/her head that reads MENTAL WARD. We can’t live without the 12 steps or the slogans that are the handrails to the steps but there is something missing “DELIVERANCE”. I have 30 years recovery from drugs and 25 years from codependency and I have a difficult time saying “I am a grateful recovering drug addict” in a meeting. After going back to college and studing to get my masters for community counseling I realized every person needs the 12 steps to be healthy but there is always the person that gets away. I believe every addict/alcoholic needs to be delivered from the demon of addiction – maybe as a 13rd step. The church needs to do more than the world. The deliverence could come before the 1st step or maybe after the 3rd step when the person decides to turn his/herself over to God. I do feel strongly about the recoverying person going through a deliverance before going out to help others. The addiction demon controls the whole family. We as the body of Christ has the power to overcome this demon. Maybe this demon is a generational curse. I know when working with the son of an alcoholic there are more strongholds working in the sons life. We are the Church, God’s Kingdom. We have the power working in us through the Holy Ghost. It’s time for God’s Kingdom to come forth. Another small book that is really good for the family is “Getting Them Sober”. There are 4 different volumes. Toby Rice Drews wrote this book and it is so simply that it works. God’s church has power over this addiction/drug (Pharmakia Spirit) let’s start using the weapons HE has given us.

  6. Feeling frustrated and belittled? Feeling responsible for anothers problems and unhappiness? Accept it as ‘normal’ and you are accepting that you are less than anothers addiction. Sadly, those of us who weather it have a background that denied us the tools for developing self esteem. Simple, have people in your life who enhance it. Or else get a dog, get some exercise, sleep away the nightmares and give yourself room to breath. Get a dog and walk. Listen to music and dust off the cobwebs. Take care of yourself in baby steps. It pays off. Soon, those people will not be in your life. You are not available. You are at home, listening to music playing with your dog and cleaning out your wardrobe. Better still, feeding your goldfish and washing your hair.Hallelua

  7. I would take the child into my home with or without my partner. I am the one who does all the caregiving for the child anyway. The child also understands (scarily) that I am the only adult parent that they can rely on not to be one thing one moment and a totally other thing the next. The child knows that (even though both of her biological parents love her) the other two parents break promises and are unpredictable, yet knows that I am not like that. The child also understands that this is because I do not drink and that they are that way because they do.
    For my part, my partner wonders why I have been of late getting really angry with him. He lacks the ability to make any connection between his unpredictable behaviour with me and my inability to remain close to him or trust him very much. I tried explaining that, although he is generous, emotionally he is absent. He survives on very little sleep, but normally he will crash out on the couch at 7.30, 8.00pm and sleep until 11. Then he will go to bed, sleep until four am and then wake me to get attention then. For my part, I exist under normal hours going to bed about 11pm. Unfortunately he wakes me at 4.00am regularly and then at 6.00am when he gets u for work. He cannot understand why I am almost at the point of psychotic tiredness where I just lose the plot with him so easily. Everything is about him. Everything. He cannot cope if things begin to revolve around someone else. Everything is me me me with him and sometimes I feel like I want to beat his head in with a ratchet! Figuratively speaking of course.

    He speaks to his mother terribly, like a spoilt child and she is such a lovely lady. He does the same to me sometimes and everything gets blown out of proportion. He also attempts to control me, to the point of complaining if I go onto my laptop to play a game while he’s falling alseep on the couch. It’s crazy!
    I know that this is an insane way to live. it is so insane and he is so selfish and I am such a doormat! People can only do to us what we allow them to do, I tell myself this over and over again.

  8. Hi Sarah. Thank you so much for sharing more about your life. It shows a great courage and willingness to get help.

    If I can be honest with you, it sounds like you could use the help of a licensed clinical social worker who has experience with family addiction issues. I totally see your concern and care for your partner’s child as a loving response to the child’s needs.

    I might ask you if you are willing to take the child into your own home, even if that means leaving your partner? I do know that there are specific legal conditions for cases like these and that a social worker can help you make a decision and get you the help that you need.

    Email me with some more information (like your zip code) if you’d like me to look into local resources and social workers in your area.

  9. He blames me for his drinking now, although I am very aware that it is not my fault and has nothing to do with me at all. He has a child. The child was taken from his ex-partner because she has the same issues as him, although his issue has remained under the radar. I didn’t even find out about it until a year into it. He is a functioning alcoholic, goes to work every day etc, but for how much longer, who knows. It is like a house of cards, one thing goes wrong and all hell will break loose I guess. I feel a responsibility for the child because if I go, the child will end up in foster care. It is not about needing to be someone’s saviour or liking being on a merry go round, it has to do with being a decent human being. But to an extent, every person around the alcoholic becomes a co-dependent to one degree or another
    I do wonder about some things though and wonder also if other people go through this. For example, I do all the driving. The reason is because I won’t let him drive with kids in the car, and also worry that he will get done for drink driving, however every day when he goes to work in the city (he drives) he is on his own. I used to drive him but then I refused to do it any more. He carries around a pump bottle. Everyone thinks it is full of water, it isn’t, it is three quarters gin and one quarter tonic water. Am I just retelling a story you’ve all heard 100 times? I guess I am. I have never been in a relationship with an alcoholic or any other dependent in my life, this is a first and the relationship is three years old.

  10. Hi Sarah. I hear you – it’s a difficult pill to swallow. Co-dependency is very difficult to come to terms with.

    As you can only control your own actions, you may want to ask yourself why you are in a relationship with someone drinking themselves to death? And what you are willing to accept? There are lots of certified counselors and psychologists who can help you get to the answer that is already in your heart. But ultimately, if you are willing to start to look for the answer, you will find it.

  11. Easier said than done, when the alcohol addict, also a co-dependent, as well as me, a co-dependent,non drinker, has been in my life for over 30 years, as we share similar backgrounds of family dysfuntion, school dysfunction, so we can relate to one another as best friends, especially being Adult Children.. However, following my hysterectomy, I have no desire any longer, so at least I am not being used in that categoty, since I always felt it was a sin. There is more to contend with, as I have social phobia, so Al-Anon is out, as well as other personality problems, as does my boy friend. Healthy relationships can wither as well, but at least I have someone who I can call a friend, whom is messed up as well, and we both share mood problems a healthy relationship would not tolerate. We as God’s children have to learn humility, and self esteem is over rated. It is just another example of pride, one of the 7 deadly sins. Religion can help in all manners of life’s pit falls..

  12. I was in a number of codependent relationships until I got into recovery for my own alcohol and marijuana addiction. I find that it is so true that codependency simulates relationships without the intimacy. I always knew that I was being used, I just never had the strength (or wasn’t ready) to be alone. But, it was actually liberating…and I suggest that anyone who is co-dependent and interested in recovery STAY OUT OF A RELATIONSHIP for at least a year while working on yourself. It worked for me!

I am ready to call
i Who Answers?