What is co-addiction?

Co-addiction is much like co-dependency. Learn how to define and identify co-addiction here.

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Defining co-addiction

The textbook definition of being addicted to codependency is similar to that of co-addiction. However, co-addiction is a very specific definition that refers to the relationship between an individual and an addict. Specifically, co-addiction is the dependence on the needs of, or control of, another, and placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. In fact, for an active co-addict, the decision to let go of an addict is not possible.

There are many layers to unravel before you can understand co-addiction. Several factors may contribute to this type of behavior. A co-addict will put all of their energies into an addict (in addition to not setting boundaries with an addict). The addict is contributing to life in a negative way so a co-addict can comfortably place blame where blame is rightfully due, and declare that the addict is the source of their problems. As a recovering co-addict myself, I find we have the tendency to create a little niche for ourselves, a place to hide. It is in this tiny, camouflaged, corner of the room where we can take cover and get the attention off of ourselves. But how does co-addiction manifest?

Types of co-addict behavior

A co-addict truly believes that if they can control their own behavior and the behavior of their loved one, they have the power to change the addict. What ends up happening is the very opposite.

Some co-addicts will cover up for an addict’s behavior, lies, and unmanageable lifestyle. They live life on their best behavior in hopes that focusing their love and attention on the addict will make this person see the error of their ways. Others will scream and yell, make threats, and try to control the addict’s behavior. They will threaten drug dealers, call the police on their loved one, ignore, plead, beg, and cry. They will try to bring the addict to their knees any way they can. Some may become obsessed with the addict’s behavior; they track emails, intercept calls, follow the addict around. There are many variations on how a co-addict may deal with his or her situation, but having the illusion of control is usually the theme.

Additionally, a co-addict is normally a giver, a person who thrives on picking up the pieces for someone else. A co-addict may need to feel needed. A co-addict is an individual whose life is turned upside down, is filled with chaos, emotional turmoil, fear, denial, obsession, and compulsion, because of the life of an addicted loved one.

Underlying issues which drive co-addiction

As a co-addict in recovery, I find that (subconsciously) we choose loved ones that “enable” us to hide from ourselves. Co-addiction, much like addiction, may be a symptom of an underlying issue. We know that addicts use alcohol or drugs to fill a void or escape. If a co-addict is addicted to a person, or their behavior, they may also be trying to deflect their own issues or perhaps fill a void. These voids or underlying issues may stem from childhood scars, traumatic incidents, low self-esteem and/or growing up with an addicted parent.

Co-addiction is cyclical

We are what we know.

And history repeats itself. If a co-addict has not dealt with his or her own issues and worked through emotional scars, then therelationships they pick may be a way to relive that past. If a co-addict knows pain and suffering, they may chose a person who recreates this feeling for them. Until this unhealthy pattern is recognized, and dealt with, a co-addict may continue to recreate a particular situation or feeling, in an unconscious way, to try and fix it.

For example, if a woman was raised by an addicted parent, and grew up with feelings of anger, shame, sadness, and fear, she may choose a similar life partner. She may choose a man who brings up the same feelings that are comfortable for her. If she never forgave or came to some resolution with the addicted parent, this woman may chose a man that is familiar to her, and hope, possibly on some unconscious level, that he can make things right.

Co-addictive behavior is just as much an issue for the co-addict as addiction is for the addict. Until this pattern is broken, co-addictive behaviors could last a lifetime.

Questions about co-addiction

Do you have questions about co-addiction or its treatment? Please leave your questions or feedback in the comments section below. We try our best to respond to all comments with a personal and prompt reply.

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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