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As enabling is a form of behavior that seeks to protect, fix, though not helpful as a response to problem drinking, it is the extending of this behavior over time that may lead to codependency.

"Codependency is an unconscious addiction to another person's abnormal behavior."

It is a condition of a dysfunctional relationship the codependent has with others. The codependent may see themselves as the only one who can fix the other's problems. This is known as a "Messiah Complex", "only they can change or fix the problem by protecting the person at all costs". Due to many factors mostly low self esteem, the codependent needs to be needed. The other person may become needy as a result of this relationship.           

The codependent family members do everything possible to hide the problem, preserve the family's prestige and project the image of a "perfect family". The spouse and children may avoid making friends and bringing other people home, in order to hide problems caused by alcoholism. Codependent members often forget about their own needs and desires. They devote their lives to attempt to control or cure the drinker."1 (p.168)            

As stated they become addicted to the alcohol-dependent persons's behavior as though they are under the influence of a substance. The codependent may become an impediment to the other getting effective care for their addiction The codependent may be in need of  some form of intervention as serious as the alcohol abuser, though they may have never taken a drink.

One can begin to identify any codependent tendencies in a particular relationship by looking  at certain consistent patterns, much the same as with enabling.2,3

Cermak (1986) proposed criteria for diagnosing codependency as follows:

  1. the investment of self-esteem in controlling oneself and others, particularly during adverse situations;
  2. taking responsibility for meeting the needs of others before one's own;
  3. experiencing anxiety and distortions of boundaries around issues of intimacy and separation;
  4. being enmeshed in relationships with persons with personality disorders or alcohol or drug problems;
  5. having at least 3 from a list of 10 other signs and symptoms including:
    1. denial as the primary coping strategy;
    2. constricted emotions;
    3. depression;
    4. hypervigilance;
    5. compulsive behavior;
    6. anxiety;
    7. substance abuse;
    8. victim of sexual or physical abuse;
    9. stress-related illness;
    10. in a relationship with a substance abuser for more than two years without seeking help.4

Once recognized, the codependent person can receive psychotherapy to learn the process of detachment. Detachment is the process by which family members are able to live meaningful, enjoyable and satisfying lives, regardless of the alcoholic behavior.5 This process is an important part to overcoming  codependency and thus allows the codpedent person to  be responsible for their own life. It can be difficult because emotional detachment from the alcohol-dependent's behavior is similar to the alcohol-dependent person becoming abstinent. At first the codependent may have difficulty with this process, confusing it with abandoment so it is important that through therapy, they are reminded that it is, in actuality, a reaffirmation of one's self.6

More detailed information on Codependency

Related Articles:

What can I do to help?
The 'Window of Opportunity'
What can I do if someone is not willing to get help?
About enabling.
About denial.


  1. Wekesser, C. (1994), Alcoholism. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc.
  4. Cermak, T. (1986). Diagnosing and treating codependence. Minneapolis, MN: Johnson Institute.
  5. McKay, J.R. (1996). Family therapy techniques. In F. Rotgers, D.S. Keller, & J. Morgenstern (Eds.), Treating substance abuse: theory and technique (pp. 143-173). New York: Guilford Press.
  6. Errol O. Rodriguez, MA, CRC, Revisiting the Alcoholic Family: An Integration of Psychodynamic and 12-Step Oriented Theory. Counselor. The Magazine for Addiction Professionals. Vol. 6, No. 3, pages 14-19, June, 2005.

This page was last modified on : 10/28/2013

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