Trusted Content

How Co-Dependency Affects Recovery

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

Medically reviewed by

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

March 12, 2019

Sometimes a person develops a codependent relationship, chasing feelings of euphoria associated with infatuation. In these circumstances, they have carefully crafted a new addiction to replace the one they’ve recovered from. These types of relationships are damaging to both parties and can quickly lead to relapse for someone in recovery.

A codependent relationship can represent a huge barrier to a successful recovery. Sharing many of the same symptoms of addiction, a codependent relationship is based on insecurity, denial, control, and manipulation. Someone in a codependent relationship might threaten self-harm if their partner suggests ending the relationship, or use other emotional blackmail to control their partner.

Someone in the passive role of a codependent relationship is apt to put more effort into pleasing their partner, than in looking after their own needs. They often feel undervalued, unworthy of love, or deserving of frequent outbursts and attacks designed to humiliate or undermine.

The Dopamine Connection: Trading One Addiction For Another.

If you are in a relationship that you rely on to feel better, or happy, or giddy, you may be chasing feelings associated with infatuation, rather than love. Infatuation is an intense feeling of, what is often confused with love, but is more likely to be associated with a chemical imbalance in the brain.

A person experiencing infatuation will feel stronger than normal feelings associated with seeing or hearing from another person. They will also experience a high level of euphoria. This euphoria is generated by a flood of dopamine out of the reward centers of the brain. For a newly recovered drug or alcohol addicted person, it can lead to obsessive behaviors as they seek to achieve the euphoria. At this point, they are not interested in the person as much as they are in the high or rush associated with spending time with this person.

As with any addiction, they quickly learn to manipulate in order to gain the pleasing euphoria associated with attention from their significant other. Someone who is feeling codependent might, with some regularity, say, “You don’t think I’m pretty,” in order to elicit a remark to the contrary, or become jealous and suspicious if unrealistic adoration isn’t maintained.

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How Do I Know If My Relationship Is Codependent?

It’s hard to know when you’re in a codependent relationship. Often, it feels like you’re in love when really, you’re experiencing infatuation related to feelings of low self-worth or other insecurities. In many ways, a codependent relationship is like an addiction. It’s seductive and can take hold without you realizing what has happened.

To know whether you might be in a codependent relationship, consider the following:

  • Do you find yourself apologizing or making excuses for your partner’s behaviors?
  • Do you fear to voice your opinions or concerns?
  • Do you feel low self-worth when around your partner?
  • Does your partner treat you disrespectfully?
  • Does your partner deflate your accomplishment, frequently criticize, or make you feel bad about yourself?
  • Do you feel like your partner cannot function without you?
  • Does your partner threaten self-harm if you try to leave the relationship?
  • Do you interpret sexual attention as love or affection?

If you find yourself answering yes to any one of these questions, you may be in a codependent relationship. However, codependency is quite often a two-way street. You may find that you are able to answer yes to the above questions when you think of a relationship you have with a parent or other loved one, but not within your own relationship. In that case, you may be the perpetrator of codependent behaviors.

What If I’m Codependent?

Someone who is codependent will likely suffer from underlying low-self esteem that results in passive-aggressive or controlling behaviors. For example, rather than telling someone how you feel about something, you might react to them by ignoring them or lashing out about unrelated issues. You might also overreact to little issues, or use abusive language to assert dominance.

Some codependent individuals use sex to control their partners or prey upon weakness or insecurity. For example, they might tell their partner they look like they’ve gained weight, to make them insecure about their appearance. This “No one else will love you as I do,” manipulation is based on the insecurities and fears a person has about their partner leaving.

Mental disorders associated with codependent behaviors include bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Addiction is also closely linked to codependency. Addiction and mental disorders all have one thing in common; they can make you feel out of control of your own behaviors, leading you to assert your authority over others in order to regain some sense of control.

Healthy Relationship

  • Celebrate accomplishments
  • Show respect, even when
  • opinions differ
  • Feel comfortable expressing thoughts or sharing your feelings
  • Feel good about being in public with your partners
  • You feel loved and appreciated
  • You respect your partner’s privacy and trust your partner
  • You encourage new endeavors

Codependent Relationship

  • Belittle accomplishments or feel and react out of jealousy
  • Must always be right
  • Hide feelings out of fear for your partner’s reaction
  • Feel like you need to apologize for your partner’s rudeness or inappropriate behaviors
  • You feel like you have to chase after affection, or you withhold affection as punishment
  • You feel regularly suspicious and jealous and will spy or read private messages
  • You jealously guard your partner and deter outside interactions and new experiences out of fear they will leave you

Why Codependent Relationships Are Bad For Someone In Recovery

If you’re in recovery and find yourself in a relationship in which you are belittled or forced to adhere to a rigid set of rules dictated by your partner’s moods; or you find yourself as the perpetrator, belittling and asserting your authority, these are significant indicators for relapse.

Due to the similarities of codependent behaviors in chasing the euphoria, or attempting to control others despite the negative impacts on both parties in a relationship, codependent behaviors may be a sign someone has traded one addiction for another, or that they have not yet addressed underlying issues relating to their addiction. In some ways, many struggling with the disease of addiction unknowingly trades one addiction for another; this being one such way.

Symptoms of codependency share those associated with addiction in common. These include feelings of denial, low self-esteem, re-activity, control, inability to adhere to or set boundaries, dysfunctional communication, and isolation. A codependent relationship can act as a strong drug trigger for those recently out of treatment.

Healthy Relationships And Your Recovery

Codependent relationships can quickly foster an environment in which insecurities and anxiety reins, inviting the possibility of relapse. A healthy relationship supports your recovery. For someone in recovery, a relationship must foster an environment of appreciation, honesty, openness, and trust, in addition to love and admiration for both parties.

Avoiding a codependent relationship means starting with your own thought patterns and insecurities. A secure person will quickly recognize unhealthy patterns of behavior and will quickly remove themselves from a situation in which they are being controlled or manipulated. Likewise, someone who is secure and trusting of others will behave accordingly, treating their partner with the respect and showing appreciation.

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