How to get out of a codependent relationship

Four steps to making positive changes in a codependent relationship with an addict. 1. Take ownership. 2. Let go. 3. Change focus. 4. Reach out for help. More here on ending or getting out of a codependent relationship. Your questions are welcomed at the end.

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When to end a codependent relationship

You find yourself constantly sick to your stomach, walking on eggshells, worrying about the future, crying at red lights, binge eating, and screaming at your kids for absolutely no reason. You are scattered, forgetful, depressed, and contemplating moving out of the country where no one can find you.

The culprit?

A toxic relationship.

In fact, codependent controlling behaviors and addiction go hand in hand.  But now your boyfriend (or girlfriend), spouse, friend, parent, or adult child has an addiction, and their actions have pushed you over the edge. It is time to end the craziness.

Codependent relationships with addicts

When you are in a relationship with an addict it is difficult to avoid being mentally and physically affected. The constant ups and downs of addiction can cause you to behave in overly passive or excessively caretaking ways. Eventually, you might find that you’re placing a lower priority on your own needs, while being preoccupied with the needs of your addicted loved one. This is called codependency, and this unhealthy way of love not only harms your relationships, but your quality of life.

The good news is that you have the power to make a change. Overcoming codependent relationships is possible. And as changes occur, you offer the best possible environment to encourage positive change in the addict. Most importantly, you will no longer be in a codependent relationship. You may still choose to love a person with addiction, but your behaviors toward that love will be healthy.

Four steps toward positive change in codependency

Step #1 – Take ownership.

Addiction is often called a family disease.  This is because, typically, the entire household takes on unhealthy behaviors. In fact, how parents enable and why is similar to how spouses and partners enable.  you’ve failed to set healthy boundaries, then now is the time to take a close look and decide which of your own actions are enabling the addiction. If you don’t stop your enabling behavior, then you are only making it easier for the addict to continue in their disease.

Setting healthy boundaries is called tough love. It’s making a stand against addiction and finally saying no to the madness. But there is a reason why it’s called “tough,” and it can be just as hard on the family as it is on the addict. The addict is used to getting what he or she wants. They’ve probably learned to threaten, cry, or throw tantrums until you cave in. When you set clear boundaries, they will eventually learn that tantrums no longer work.

Step #2 – Let go.

You can detach from the problems of addiction. Yes, you are in a relationship with an addict, but in order to love him or her, you do not need to stay down in their storm. You can rise above the dark clouds and serve as an example of health and happiness. Not only is it possible, but it is the best thing you can do for yourself and the addict.

Detachment is really about doing what you can to distance yourself from the troubles of addiction. This means walking away from arguments and chaos, and looking for ways to enjoy your time. Start making healthy choices for yourself. At first it might feel like you’re faking it. You might be attempting to enjoy a movie, but you can’t get your mind off of the addict. Eventually, as you keep trying, you will begin to enjoy yourself again.

Step #3 – Change your focus.

When you are in a codependent relationship, your major focus revolves around the addict. You are no longer focusing on yourself. But the only real control you have is over your own actions and behaviors. It’s time to take the microscope off of your addicted loved one and turn in back on you. What do you want? What do you need? Have you stopped taking care of yourself? Make a plan for positive change — your own change — and then start to follow through on that plan.

Step #4 – Reach out for help.

This is the most important step of all. In your situation you need all the help and support that you can get. One of the best forms of support available, for those of us involved with an addict, is a family recovery group such as Al-Anon.

In these groups, the loved ones of addicts share their experience and hope in order to gain strength and solve their common problems. What better group of people to turn to for comfort and support than those who are living with the same struggles.

After codependency, what’s next?

As you move in this new direction, you will find yourself growing more and more confident. You may find that you are not so emotionally attached to the addict anymore. You learn to allow him or her to live their own life and face their own consequences. It can help to remember that with each mistake they make, they are one step closer to realizing their need for help.

In the meantime, you are making healthy choices for yourself. You are setting a good example. You are focusing on a positive future (with or without the addict). You are getting strong, and you are no longer part of a codependent relationship.

About the author
Lisa Espich is the author of the multi award-winning book, Soaring Above Co-Addiction: Helping your loved one get clean, while creating the life of your dreams. For additional articles, resources, and a free preview chapter of Soaring Above Co-Addiction visit her website. Her book is available at bookstores everywhere and at Twin Feather Publishing.


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  1. I have just left my drug addicted husband of 11yrs… I will always care about him as we have a daughter together. Though after years of me tolerating his behavior, i found since our daughter was born, my patience with him i just found began to wear thin. His constant lying, me having to play detective, then i’d find myself lecturing him and he’d be more distant anyway… he did not know responsibility, no life skills except for chasing bad crowds, no work ethic… i just resented him for not MANing up in the end. Chance after chance i’d give him but he refused to change. Even though life is easier in many ways without him now, I am sad… sad to think how much time i wasted with this man in a miserable state… I lost all close friendships and my own family because of this man… or should i say boy. As much as i try to repair the damage it has caused on my relationships toward other people, I have realised it cant be fixed. Apart of me wants to escape my hometown because all my old friends and family have learned to not care about me… I guess they detached themselves from me too when i refused to leave the toxic relationship. It doesnt matter how much i try to rebuild those relationships, they are lost… lost forever. I am ALONE and broken as a person all because i clinged on to someone who had no care for me… His lifestyle at one stage was my addiction because i had low self esteem in the beginning too, so i made him my world… The devil took my soul & i think i’ll be forever fighting for it back to hopefully oneday feel whole and connected to people again.

  2. I’m a 51 year old woman. Have been with this man for 25 years married 13 years. He was a drinker when I met him . He stopped drinking for about 5 years.then started back .now its pain pills strips and alcohol. His mother had lung cancer so I had to quit my job to take care of her.the only thing he has done is move his cousin in that drinks to and does not work. I have been told that he would never run his cousin off for nobody cause he is blood. I’m tired I want out. How do I do it

  3. Hi. I’m 22 years old and my bf is a drug addict. He’s been using drugs for almost 4 years now (on and off). He was recently fired from his work because of his weird behaviors. Actually, he always get fired because of his drug addiction. He always thinks that people are talking about him that’s why he gets paranoid around people. His mom decided to send him here in the Philippines to rest and he’s living with me and my family. Every day, he keeps on saying that his life is a mess and he wanted to end his life. He’s always thinking and saying negative things and he sounds crazy. He laughs and talks to himself. I really love him and i get so stressed everytime he go backs to drugs again. I always theaten to leave him if he doesn’t stop using drugs but he just made empty promises and I cannot keep my word of leaving him because I just can’t. I wanted to help him get clean but I don’t know where to start. We now have a baby and I really need help to deal with my bf’s drug addiction. Please. Any help would be appreaciated. Thank you.

  4. If I shared my story on here it would have everyone in tears , Maybe I’ll tell mine tomorrow.. Enough crying for one night. Lol I feel your pain everyone. Believe me I do

  5. I’m so grateful that I found this. I’m now looking into al anon too. My husband is addicted to synthetic weed. We just had our 3rd child together. We’ve been together 7yrs this October. He suffered from pot addiction when we first got together. Once I had my first baby boy I couldn’t stand it any longer and we split up. But we were back together a few months later. We began going to church and receiving counseling and he stopped. It was a blissful 2 or 3yrs. I suspected he was smoking while I was pregnant this time but I never found any evidence. However, once we had our lil man I knew something was wrong because he wasn’t involved at all, with me or our baby. I gave him several opportunities to tell me what was going on. It wasn’t until i caught him red handed that I knew he was smoking. He of course promised to stop. But I have continually been lied to for the past 4months not including however long he’s been doing it behind my back. We’ve paid 1500$ for counseling, supplements, and a 12step program. And he’s not even taking the supplements! I’ve threatened to leave and he’s done the same but I have no where to go and no one wants him staying with them. We actually live next door to his mom dad and grandma. It’s sad. I’ve noticed and been told I’m enabling him. I just don’t understand what my boundaries need to be or how to stop enabling him. We have 3children together and I don’t want them getting hurt by this. I just don’t know how to help the situation but nothing I’m doing is making a coffee here I am…looking for answers. Thanks so much for writing this blog, I really am learning something 🙂

  6. I recently ended my relationship with my boyfriend. I was with him over a year before I found out he was addicted to cocaine. About a month ago a guy showed up at 4am and delivered drugs to his apartment. He did Cocaine from 4am until 10pm that day. About every 30 minutes. He said he was glad to expose himself to me. It was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen. I didn’t want to leave because I was scared something bad would happen if I did. I knew he had a drug problem in the past but thought he cleaned up his life. He is also an alcholoic. We broke up once before and it was the worst breakup I’ve ever encountered. 2 months later after very minimal contact we went out to dinner. He told me he quit drinking, is going to therapy and wanted to start going to church with me. I took him back that night. I believe he was genuine at the time and was the best boyfriend for about 6 weeks. Things slowly started to get worse once he started drinking. It’s been an emotional roller coaster the last 5 months. He was very emotioally abusive. I tried everything to save my relationship. I Read books, we went to couples counseling, church and I attended Al-anon. I wanted him to change so bad but I’m just learning he has to do it himself. I’m so in love with him and wanted to marry this man. I know he loves me but he loves booze and Coke more. My heart is broken.

  7. I am married to a man addicted to crack. He is in a court mandated drug program. I was happy because I thought he would get the help he needs. He is very smart. He found a way around the system. He uses on a Thursday and then stops so he can have a clean urine on a Monday. I am heartbroken. I dont even drink alcohol and I have been dealing with this for 8 years. My hopes of him getting real help are dashed. He wont admit he is doing drugs. Even when he went to jail he denies it. All the signs are there money missing, disapearing for hour, turning his phone off so I cant call him or find him. Him being in a bad neighborhood but only when he has cash. I now realize that I am a codependant addict. He is out right now…how do I get help for myself? I am very afraid.

  8. My husband is a drug addict. He’s in jail right now, I packed my things up put them in storage moved in with my father. He wants to move to another state. I told him. You can’t run from all the people you owe money to,or you stole from,or move away,like drugs won’t be right around the corner. I’m giving our5year marriage 1more time. I hope the lord answers a lot of prayers.most importantly, I really hope he changes this time.

  9. Hello. My husband is addicted to cocaine. He works every day. Makes twice as much as I do but only puts enough money in the bank to cover bills. I feel guilty because I feel he should be spending some of his money on me. We never do anything together. We don’t sleep together. We don’t have sex. He promised me on new years that he was “done” of course it continues. I want to move out of state but I will be walking away from everything I have contributed to 15 years. We have pets but no under age children. I’m stuck and afraid I won’t be able to support myself. He acts like nothing is going on. Like I’m stupid. I find evidence all the time. I’m so confused and lost. How do I approach him. I’ve heard so many times…just give me till spring. Its been 10 years of spring! I do all the grocery shopping and up to recently had to carry them in the house by myself. He makes little promises then I feel bad and give it more time. What can I do?

  10. My husband went back to drugs we been married for 30 years and for 20 years he has been been in our of jail and offer and on drugs
    I need help for myself how to cope with this

  11. i have recently discovered that my husband uses you have helpline or group here in the Philippines? i havent told anyone yet,but i needed help.thank you!

    1. Hi, Rica. You may call on the helpline displayed on our site to get in touch with our trusted treatment providers.

  12. Thank you so much….
    I did those remedies…
    I thought its wrong…
    for the priest said.. forgive.. forgive…
    thank you much for this article… no doubts….no more whisper of doubts…-they should take the consequences of their actions-. wont listen.. even if I showed care.. love…

  13. Im recovering alcoholic, spouse chronic relapse,meth head. relocated 12mo ago for retirement living, married in 3/15,spouse full blown meth relapse for 6mo. The worst one.I’ve known her for 6yr. Now im not willing to give her “HER” money and don’t want the car used for a 200mile round trip dope run, her driving amped up back. She is out now for shopping, I told her to stay in the county. Tired of the uneasy feeling and checking the odometer! She has a decades old history of drugs jails and prison like I do with liquor. So she refuses treatment, shes “done it all before” total defiance of course she has been 2 weeks without drugs and irritable of course. I know… shes not ready” but her bottom is not clear because I pay everything. Divorce maybe , Im scared of her legal attraction and I don’t want to be responsible financially or any other way for the outcomes of her use.

  14. Thank you so much i was a great boyfriend but all the lies cheating stealing and different broke my heart sober this was the most incredible woman in my life i did lose her to another i lost her to addiction it hard i pray every day for her thank you so much for waking me up

  15. I left an abusive, very toxic relationship , but am having a hard time staying away cause im so used to him doing things for me. What do i do?

  16. These are great post . It’s so true it makes me sad to watch my mother be taking advantage of by my two 30 year old older brothers one of whom has a child in which my mother also cares for and it sucks bc I’ve tried many many many times to talk to her but she refuses to take any action I think bc she is afraid they will die or she won’t see her grand daughter and although iv been out of the home for many years it still kills me to watch each day play out where they call her a count for not giving them money or threaten her or myself I found I needed my own help and have been seeing someone for three years trying to remove myself from that situation any thoughts on how I can get my mother to see the light

  17. It’s like reading about myself! Scary, I know what I need to do but actually being brave enough to do it is the hardest part. I think things are drawing to a close for us after 27 years together 19 years married, I’m just hanging on until the time is right for my son as he is in his important years at school. We split up 6 years ago for 3 months but he got help and was off everything up until the last few months- how I wish I hadn’t taken him back then.

  18. All of your passages seem to fit what im going through. You wrote about setting boundaries and sticking to them even through the tantrums etc. That is so hard for me because he will keep on and on to try and make me cave. If I walk away he will follow. I truly need help in coping and staying strong

  19. I was on drugs and was trying control someone jealousy i got help and realize what i was doing was wrong until someone told me i thought i was ok im very grateful to understand this in way its makng easier to leave hat alone knowing it wasnt love but tfying control and change them

  20. I found out a few months ago that my husband has been lying to me our entire marriage (almost 26 years)!
    I (foolishly thought) that I had no reason not to trust him but come to find out everyone else knew and never bothered to tell me!
    He’s an addict and it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s something.
    I feel so betrayed, hurt, mad, frustrated, sad, lonely…you name it!
    This talks about leaving but I can’t….I’ve been a homemaker for our entire marriage, I have no work experience. I’ve been trying to find a job, but not even McDonald’s will hire me.
    There’s no place for me to go.
    Now what?

  21. I to have just left a relationship with a wonderful man who loves alcohol and most of all Pot.
    I caught him late October when I forgot my wallet and had to return home five minutes later.
    What I found was a man I barely knew groggy from the first joint of the day.
    Betrayed and furious would be an understatement! Left that day. Hurt that he would do the one thing that I hated the most.
    Went back 5 days later with the promise that he would never ever do it again, and the reason he did was because he was getting to fat drinking too much.
    Foolishly I believed him and yes he was good. But the lifestyle was always lurking in the.
    Friends that needed him to supply etc etc.
    So I relented and said if he wanted to smoke I would do my best to accommodate that and see how I would go.
    Big mistake. He went from nothing to 5 times a day. I went from a carrying nice tolerant man into a nervous wreck. And he didn’t care. Finally I left. He turned into the typical sooner day in day out.
    Things like” stop analyzing me while i’m stone” and,I NEED to watch this movie stoned.
    Went back of course, told him he could smoke only if he stopped drinking as well.
    Was I on Planet Stupid?
    Both got worse.
    And the lies. Lies top of lies. Stoners always love to tell you what you want to hear.
    IfI knew he was a cronic Stoner in the beginning,I would have stayed well away.
    But now the anxiety has gone, with the drama.
    As my parents pointed out, what a sordid lifestyle for someone that’s never been there.
    That simple remark made me head for the hills.
    Cannabis is bad, pure and simple. And no Stoner can convince me otherwise. It kills relationships.

  22. i too am struggling with co dependancy. i didnt realize, until i read the information on this website. thankyou. it makes things make sence, and things seem alot clearer to me now. here is my situation… my husband is a drug addict. marijuana, cocaine, meth, crack, pain pills… pretty much anything. i lived with him for years, and i had my suspicions, but he would always lie to me and sneak around behind my back. i caught him and found his drug paraphielina many times. i now realize i was only helping to enable him. i used to cry all the time, and i felt helpless and worthless. he was mentally and emotionally abusive, even though i believe it to be unintentional. our daughter was born in april 2012. he promised he was clean. then in november, he got into trouble. the cops found pot, pipes, a scale, meth pipes, xctasy, mushrooms, and they took all his guns too. i left him that same night for the sake of our daughter. it was the hardest decision i have ever made. i have been staying at my mothers house. it took awhile, but now i feel stronger and happier. i dont cry anymore, and i dont feel so depressed either. looking back i cannot believe everything i put up with, but now that i have a different perspective, i know i could never go back to that lifestyle. i was the text book girl of codependancy, and i didnt even know it. to everyone else out there, i know it hurts seeing a loved one struggle with addiction, but there is hope.

  23. I’m in the process of ending a long term relationship with a “functioning” cannabis addict.
    There is also abusive behaviour, particularly when alcohol is thrown into the mix.

    I’m familiar with the term co-dependent, but I hadn’t realized what a strong link there was with addicts until reading this post.

    I’ve attempted many things over the many years in this repetitive cycle…only to come to the point where I’ve exhausted myself as well as any other options to “fix us”.

    I do wonder now though, if when he sees that I actually leave..will that be the push he needs to turn things around and pursue the future I always thought we’d have together?
    Or will his next relationship reap the rewards?

    Sounds selfish, but I’m finding it hard to deal with investing so much and getting nothing in return.

  24. Dear M,

    Detachment is a confusing concept, and tough to follow through on as well. When I first began to practice setting boundaries and detaching with love, I found myself putting a wall up between the addict and myself. But I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be that way. For me, detaching with love means being there for the addict when they are not using — offering support toward healthy choices and listening with kindness. This also means not berating and laying on guilt trips about their mistakes, which can further cause the addict to crave using drugs or alcohol in order to cover up their bad feelings. Setting healthy boundaries is about being clear on what you will and won’t put up with. The problem comes when you state a boundary to the addict, but then fail to follow through on the consequences you’ve set. In my book, “Soaring Above Co-Addiction” I discuss specific examples of how I detached with love and learned to set healthy boundaries. If you’d like to read the first chapter for free you can visit my website at Warm wishes

  25. I would love to hear some examples of what detachment looks like and counsequences to crossed boundaries. That’s where I am stuck. I get the theory, not the practice.

  26. All of this is easier said than done, but still very helpful. In my experience, the mental health profession was more harmful than helpful. It can really be near impossible to find honest help. The shrinks want to medicate the problem and the preachers want to save your soul. Neither one is the answer.

  27. This post makes great suggestions about codependency and addictive relationships. It’s not easy to leave, even when there’s no drug or alcohol use. To read in more depth about recovery and changing your patterns, see “Codependency for Dummies.”

    Darlene Lancer, MFT

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