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.


Addiction is a family disease that affects everyone connected to the addict. So what should family and friends do (and not do) when someone they love is addicted? 

Addiction is a disease of the body, mind and spirit from which people can and do recover. Like any other disease, no one intends to get sick or wishes it upon someone. Addiction recovery is a process of healing from the different layers of pain, disappointment, shame and guilt that come with addiction.

What not to do:

  • Do not think you can control the addict or the addiction.  Understand that the addict and the addiction are beyond your control.  You can only control yourself.
  • Do not enable the addict or alcoholic. There is a difference between helping and enabling someone.  Helping someone is doing something for someone which they are not capable of doing themselves. Enabling someone is doing for someone something they can do and should do for themselves.  Helping looks at the long term benefits and consequences, whereas enabling only looks at the immediate situation or drama.
  • Do not make threats you won’t be able to follow through on. Addicts/alcoholics will continue to push any boundaries to the limits and weaken your resolve. Set limits you can keep and then keep them.
  • Do not shame or scorn the addict/alcoholic. Addiction is a shame based disease and does not need any more shaming to fuel itself. The addict/alcoholic often suffers from chronic shame which includes different levels of low self-worth, low self-esteem, self-hatred, and a distorted self-image.
  • Do not make excuses or cover up for the addict/alcoholic.  Allow them to experience the full consequences of their addiction. Do not deny or minimize the addiction or its severity. Trying to fix their problems, manage their lives or control the addict’s behaviors only prolongs the addict from learning to be accountable and responsible for their actions. They are kept from learning the valuable lessons they need in order to grow and change.
  • Do not allow your emotions to get the best of you. You have ridden a roller coaster of emotions long enough; it is now time for you to get off the ride. If you find yourself getting overly emotional in dealing with the addict/alcoholic, step away until you can be calm.  Addiction creates drama, so be prepared for how you will act before the drama begins.

What to do:

  • Be patient while the addict/alcoholic is in recovery. Recovery is a journey not a destination.  Recovery will happen in several stages and may not happen in a neat line.
  • Do what you can at the moment. There will be situations where you will be hesitant or confused about what to do. Make the best decision you can at the time and move one.  Learn what works and doesn’t work and act accordingly.  Remember to fully accept that you made the best decision at the time with the information you had available.
  • Do focus on yourself not on the addict/alcoholic. Loved ones need to focus their efforts on staying healthy. You can’t help the addict if you are not healthy and cannot help yourself. You and your families’ well-being depends on it.
  • Set boundaries for your long-term health and sanity. Lovingly (and frequently, if necessary) insist that your boundaries be respected and state the consequences for any violation of your boundaries.  Follow through on these consequences. See your follow-through as an act of love that builds trust for yourself and the addict/alcoholic.
  • Do identify and recognize the different areas of life that have been neglected as a result of your preoccupation with the addict/alcoholic and begin to rectify any damage done.
  • Do practice letting go of your need to fix, manage or control the addict/alcohol or situations and circumstances that arise from the addiction. This is sometimes called "release with love”.
  • Do seek help for yourself and other family members. Getting outside help is often critical for complete healing and growth. It can also provide a healthy perspective on your situation and interactions.  Seek out a therapist, counselor, Al-AnonNar-anon, Smart Recovery, Co-Dependents Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics or some other group that focuses on those who are affected by an addict/alcoholic.

Change will take time but will be a beautiful journey of uncovering, discovering, and recovering your lives. You will not only survive, but thrive.

Remember: Progress, not Perfection

New Hope Recovery Center provides individualized treatment for all clients.  We understand that each client is unique.  If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you can reach us at 888-707-4673 (HOPE) or info@new-hope-recovery.com.

Written By: New Hope Recovery Center



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 info@new-hope-recovery.com.

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!