Overcoming Co-Addiction

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9 Paths to Co-Addiction


Addiction isn’t just an addict problem. It is a disease that affects everyone involved. From friends, to family, to co-workers, active addiction disrupts and mangles the health and fluidity of every home and workplace activity that it interacts with. While addicts learn to distance themselves from the expendable people, places, and things, that don’t support their recovery goals, it is commonly within the non-expendable family relationships that there is the most work to done. Sober family members and friends have a role to play in recovery, to help heal the dysfunctional roles that they likely wound up playing during a loved one’s active addiction cycle.


It’s a Hard Truth that Can't Be Ignored.

disappearcrowdSimply having someone detox off of drugs alone does not support long-term recovery goals. Even having a loved one complete treatment isn’t a guarantee that you, and they, will experience a complete restoration of of happiness. It is the first real stride towards recovery that allows overall healing to begin taking place, but as one person adjusts their sails, their companions must do the same if they wish for the relationships to continue. The addict and her family need to work toward healing together by changing existing thoughts and behaviors into healthy, supportive relationship interactions. It is this process of changing habits of self, and strengthening relationships that supports long-term change, healing, and prosperity for everyone.


Let's take a look at 9 Paths to Co-Addiction:



1. Collusion

In active addiction, collusion is how we describe the interplay between codependent and enabling relationships that work together to hide the addiction and it’s negative effects from the outside world. For example, a spouse that is helping to conceal the true difficulties their partner is having may make help make excuses to friends, family, and employers by validating that their spouse was sick, busy, or upset at any particular time and therefore failed to uphold responsibilities and engagements. Collusion is a lens of dysfunctional protection that is inappropriately used to shield an addict from the realities of cause and effect and actually enables continued use. In cases of severe financial strain, family members may begin to sell personal assets and/or increase their own workload in order to compensate for the effects of a loved one’s cost of addiction. Overlooking problems that you know are there, blaming external factors, and minimizing the seriousness of what is happening around you are all examples of collusion.


In Recovery, you learn how to “help” without enabling.



2. Obsessive Preoccupation

When someone you love is on a dangerous path it is common that people become desperate in their efforts to steer them in an opposite direction. While intentions start out good, this preoccupation with “helping” or “saving” the other individual becomes increasingly damaging to both parties. Out of love and the fear of something horrific happening, many loved ones end up becoming consumed with their plight to so wholly that they end up forgoing all personal care and attention to their own lives as they delve into the abyss that their loved one is sinking into. Anxiety, depression, and even increased substance use by the family members is likely to escalate as they become so locked in fear, worry, and resentment that they too start to experience and extreme sense of loss of control and despair. As anger and other emotions increase, there is little room for peace and serenity to exist.


In Recovery, you learn how to love without letting yourself go.



3. Denial

The most abundant theme in addiction that has no home in recovery. It can be very hard for an addict to admit that they do in fact have a problem. It can be really hard for others to admit that their loved one does in fact, have an addiction. It can be strenuously hard for loved ones to admit that they have inadvertently played a role in how that addiction developed and continued for such a long period of time. Denial is a wall that must be knocked down as everyone realizes that there is no blame to be placed. Healing requires the humble acceptance of truths, and opens up a new path of tasks to be taken so that your family can move into a healthier state of being.


In recovery, you learn that living life on life’s terms requires consistent honesty and self-awareness from everyone, including yourself.



4. Emotional Turmoil

Chaos is the state of active addiction. As feeling of shame, guilt, isolation, and despair grow, both addicts and their loved ones coming begin lashing out as a way of blowing off steam. When daily crises become the norm, everyone begins operating off of their primal fight or flight instinct as a means of automatic self-preservation. The main problem with prolonged states of emotional turmoil is that it is impossible to address root causes and/or escape from the cycle of chaos because as everyone’s emotions are up, the ability for anyone to think or see the situation logically substantially decreases.


In Recovery, you learn how to move through emotions with healthy expression and progression.



5. Manipulation

The sneakiest behaviors that exist during active addiction are the threads of manipulation that emerge as relationships sway and participants vie for control amidst the instability. While addicts frequently manipulate for time and financial resources to use, family members often leverage assets and emotions in a desperate attempt to stop the use and take care of everything that it slipping through the cracks. It’s important to keep in mind that most manipulation starts out inadvertently as both parties work towards achieving their respective goals. Blaming, bullying, minimizing, withholding finances or affection, and levying ultimatums are all examples of manipulative tactics.


In Recovery, you learn how to untangle the gentle nuances of manipulation that have crept into your thoughts and speech.



6. Excessive Responsibility

When someone in your life starts to struggle, for whatever reason, it is common that someone else steps in to pick up the slack, and that’s okay…for a while. It’s often the little hiccup situations in life that become the catalyst, or tipping point for a decent into dysfunction or addiction. While everyone deserves a helping hand in times of struggle, it is long periods of excessive responsibility that send you over the edge. Excessive responsibility leads to increased stress for the person towing the line, and allows the other to escape accountability all together.


In Recovery, you learn about the boundaries and accountability that give your life balance.



7. Compromise or Loss of Self

If you’re primarily focusing on what is happening with someone else, you eventually lose yourself in that endeavor. This is a sticking point, and the main reason that the saying goes, “Codependency lives with addiction”. Addicts can be codependents, and codependents don’t have to be addicts, but the problems are all the same. It doesn’t matter if it happens before, after, or during the active addiction but codependency is a theme that you will need to tackle if you truly want to recover and reduce the opportunity of backsliding into dysfunctional behaviors.


In Recovery, you learn that unless you have an “I”, there can be no “Us”.



8. Blame and Punishment

There is no better way to free yourself from the dysfunction of blame and punishment than taking a stand in you’re own accountability for your life and everything that happens in it.


In Recovery, you learn that you alone are accountable for your life experience.



9. Reactivity

Co-addictive relationships cause dishonesty, loss of self-esteem, & betrayal, among other things. This, combined with the chaos of active addiction, often leaves everyone RADIOACTIVE. Every thought, word, and emotion becomes a ticking time-bomb ready to explode at the top of a hat. Maintaining this level of emotional turmoil only compounds the problems at hand through emotion driven reactions instead of logical actions and solutions. Remember, love is not a feeling - it is actions and commitments in relationships that bring you fulfillment.


In Recovery, you learn how to operate logically, not instinctually, to achieve different results.



Co-addiction, like addiction itself, is not a death sentence. It doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible person or that you’ve intentionally set out to hurt yourself or others. It simply means that there is still amazing growth, grace, and healing to be experienced with-in yourself, your relationships, and with the world around you. In recovery, you keep learning new ways to take your life a step up into a greater sense of serenity.



Recovery Is Possible!

Meg Glidden, MS, NCC

One thought on “Overcoming Co-Addiction

  1. Many people stay in self-defeating relationships too long because they are fearful of being alone or feel responsible for their partner’s happiness. They may say they want out — but they end up staying. Others may leave but repeat the same or a similar self-destructive pattern in a new relationship. The adrenaline rush that they experience when they feel passionate toward someone can be addictive. For many people, the reason behind excessive emotional reliance on a partner is co-dependency — a tendency to put other’s needs before their own.

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