couple in pub drinkingWritten by Jeff Zacharias LCSW, CAADC, RDDP President & Clinical Director at New Hope Recovery Center 

Have you ever been referred to as co-dependent?  If you have, how would you know what that even means?  In a nutshell, if you are as dependent upon another person, usually an addict, as much or more than they are addicted to drugs or alcohol, then you are a co-dependent. Do you recognize any of these 7 characteristics in yourself or someone you love?

Low self worth:  At the core of co-dependency, a person bases their own self worth on what others think of them, and in this case it’s the view of the addict or alcoholic.  The co-dependent takes everything personally and has a heightened sense of anger, outrage or defensiveness when someone criticizes the addict or alcoholic or the co-dependent.  The co-dependent usually feels as if they aren’t good enough and therefore seeks external, rather than internal, validation.

Caretaking:   A co-dependent takes care of the drug addict or alcoholic - often to the point of not taking care of themselves.  While a natural response is to help the addict or alcoholic when they ask for it, a co-dependent will put the needs of the addict or alcoholic before their own needs and then feel rejected if the addict or alcoholic doesn’t accept their help.  It’s a feeling of always being responsible for the addict or alcoholic and then wondering why they don’t act the same way in return.

People-pleasing:  Very similar to being a caretaker, the co-dependent will often say “Yes” when they want to say “No” or vice versa.  They do this in the hopes of being appreciated, loved or accepted.  They often over-commit.  All of this pleasing causes the co-dependent to feel high levels of anxiety.

Obsessing:  A co-dependent spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about the addict/alcoholic’s problems.  They might abandon their own interests in favor of managing the addict or alcoholic’s life.  They feel like they can’t stop thinking and worrying about the addict or alcoholic’s problems and focus all their energy on those problems, instead of their own lives.

Controlling:  Co-dependents often lived through or with persons that were out of control, so they try to use control as a means of feeling safe.  They try to control the addict/alcoholic as a way to manage outcomes in their favor.  They try to control the addict or alcoholic as a means of protecting the addict/alcoholic from the inevitable consequences of their addiction.

Poor Boundaries:  Boundaries are the lines that people draw to protect themselves and others.  Healthy boundaries are necessary so a person can balance intimacy with others with the independence needed for a successful happy life.  Poor boundaries are common with co-dependents and usually go to two extremes: 1) weak boundaries and 2) rigid boundaries.  A co-dependent with weak boundaries will feel overly responsible for another’s feelings and problems as well as blame their own feelings and problems on others.  They often say they won’t tolerate someone’s behavior and attempt to draw a line in the sand, but they consistently change the line to maintain status quo or accommodate/please the other person.  A co-dependent with rigid boundaries will be withdrawn and distant from others so others cannot get close no matter how close the relationship.

Dysfunctional Communication:  Not being able to speak up for their wants and needs is another characteristic of a co-dependent.  Not only do they fail to speak up for their wants and needs, they often lack the ability and insight to develop or know their own values and instead follow other people’s values and needs.  Additionally, co-dependents often don’t tell the truth because they are afraid of upsetting others.  This leads to dishonest communication.  Because they do not speak up honestly, co-dependents are prone to begging, coercing, blaming, threatening and manipulating in their relationships.

Do you have an addict in your family?  Do you feel that these 7 characteristics sound familiar and perhaps you are struggling with co-dependency?  New Hope Recovery Center is able to provide treatment for both the addict and the family.  Please call 773-883-3916 and/or email us at

If you feel you may be co-dependent, it is important to realize that this is a learned coping mechanism.  By being aware of the traits, you have taken the first step toward living the life YOU want on your own terms. There are also a Co-Dependents Anonymous meetings you can attend. Click here for more information!