What is co-dependent?

We have heard that addiction is a “family disease”. But what is a codependent? And what does it mean to be co-dependent? We present introductory ideas of what is means to be addicted to an addict here, and why it is important to seek recovery for co-dependency.

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What does it mean to be co-dependent?

There’s an old joke. Anyone can be an addict, but to be a codependent, you’ve gotta know somebody!

Most of us have probably heard at some time that addiction is a “family disease.” The addict is the most obvious symptom bearer—what psycholo-gists call the “identified patient” — but anyone caught in the addict’s chaotic existence is just as sick. This is not meant to spread blame. It’s just a fact. And just as the addict is not at fault for being an addict, so, too, people who find themselves enmeshed in the addict’s drama are not bad or weak either. Like the addict, they suffer from a malady of the mind, heart, and spirit. And just as the addict can recover, they, too, can recover.

People join ANON groups for self help

Thus, contrary to popular misconception, those who join “Anon” groups, such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and the like, are not there to learn how to cope better with the addict’s problems. They are actually there to learn how to stop dealing with the addict’s problems and start living their own lives — whether the addict chooses to recover or not. In other words, the addict is not the codependent’s problem; the codependent is the codependent’s problem. This explains what both statistics and experience have shown — that those who have been brought up in homes with addiction or who have been married to addicts and do not seek their own recovery almost invariably find themselves returning to relationships with still other addicts despite their most prodigious efforts to avoid it.

Co dependents are addicts, too

When we say that the codependent suffers from the disease of addiction just as much as the addict, we are not stating the obvious — that friends and family suffer from the consequences of the addict’s behavior. We are talking about something that often goes unrecognized and hence untreated—that friends and family of the addict are addicts themselves. They may not be addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, and so forth — although codependents can be addicts as well.

The codependent is addicted to the addict.

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.


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  1. I couldn’t agree more. Let the world go around a couple of more times and it is surprising how many wrinkles are smoothed out.


  2. Excellent point, Dr. G.!

    In a forthcoming post here on addictionblog entitled Codependence and Addiction, I will be addressing that codependence is essentially a struggle for control — what we call “playing G-d.” I compare the codependent to the addict and observe how they are really playing the same game which is that both codependent and addict are trying to make reality the way they feel it ought to be.

    That’s why it makes sense to me that both codependency and addiction respond to the same 12 Steps which enable one to let G-d run reality so that we can live life.

  3. Hello Rabbi,

    Nice summary of addiction to a person. I think sometimes an additional element is the pursuit of control. The illusion of control, really. Most of my codependent patients seem to be repeating the internal mantra, “if I do a good enough job then I will be worthy of love.”

    Tragically the codependent usually picks a person who is in endless need of some hard work and help from the codependent. One of the most challenging times for the codependent is when the addict in her or his life gets sober. The codependent is fresh out of a job and when the addict “grows up” and practices good self care things can become awful for the codependent.

    All of this you know, I’m just hoping to spark the discussion further here.

    Keep up the good work. I enjoy your perspective.

    Dr. G.

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