Codependency and Addiction: Helping the Addict and the Significant Other

December 25, 2012 Karl Shallowhorn, MS, CASAC

Addiction has often been called a “family disease.” I would expand this definition to include those who are friends as well due the fact that the affected person’s behavior usually has an impact on those around them, whether they are family or friends. As a result, a pattern of co-dependent behavior can occur. So what can significant others do to help the active addict?

Breaking Through Denial

First, it is important to remember that ultimately up to the addict to make the decision to quit using on her own. This is often a difficult step to take due to the unshakeable grip the addiction has on the individual. There any number of defense mechanisms that the addict may use to continue to the self-destructive pattern of using. Blaming, lying, intellectualization, rationalization, and the list goes on. Being able to help the addict break through this wall of denial is essential.

Recovery for the Significant Other

Another consideration is that, as a significant other, you have to take care of your own needs. Just as the addict needs to recover from the disease of addiction, significant others need to do so as well. Just as there are 12-Step programs for addicts, there are similar programs such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon for family and friends. These programs offer support for those whose loved ones are in need of a place to share their experience with others who have been through similar circumstances.

So what if the addict refuses to get help? This can be extremely frustrating for loved ones who see that the addict is destroying his life. It’s like watching a house on fire and not having any water to put out the flames. The decision to let go is not one to be taken lightly but it can be the last resort to help the addict deal with the consequences that may be able to cause them to wake up to the reality that he is facing. Some call this “hitting bottom.”

The Intervention

Another strategy to help someone addicted is the intervention. This technique has been popularized by the A&E TV show of the same name. While interventions can be found to be a helpful way to help the addict break through the wall of denial, it is important to be sure that it is done correctly. If not, it can backfire and cause more harm than good. Professional help is strongly recommended when considering this method of intercession.

Finally, if you have a loved one who is suffering with addiction, please know that there is help for those who are co-dependent as well as the addict. The process of recovery takes time for everyone involved. It takes a fair amount of patience, faith, and hard work. But in the end, it is all worth it.

APA Reference
Shallowhorn, K. (2012, December 25). Codependency and Addiction: Helping the Addict and the Significant Other, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 12 from

Author: Karl Shallowhorn, MS, CASAC

January, 12 2013 at 10:15 am

I was glad to get this and start thinking about my addiction, because my "addiction" I realized is actually EMOTIONAL co-dependency! even though I'm on SSDI and running a business with the man who happens to be my addiction (who happens to be 80 years old--and I'm barelly 35 and we have a 4yr old son we adopted out), I make it on my own without him, other than the Emotional support, as long as I have my Grandparent alive who happen to be 88 and going on 91 in April. (I met this Guy when I went in the mental health system). My Grandparents are agaists any kind of therapy or such, and raised me for 8 years of my life after being past around thru the rest of my family, so in one way they're my biggest support.

January, 6 2013 at 7:12 pm

Can someone be addicted to pot, and anger?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 7 2013 at 2:04 am

Judy - I would say that a person can be addicted to pot and the anger may be a behavior that is exhibited as a result of the addiction, or it may simply be a feeling that the individual has not learned to manage. In any event, while many think of marijuana as a calming kind of drug, the emotional side of the individual may override any sedative effects the chemical may have.

January, 4 2013 at 7:36 am

What if your so-called "significant other" that you've been depending on is your addiction you're trying to break away from, but you're work partners running a business together (just the two of you)and it's your only means of income other than SSDI, and emotional support--your family doesn't believe your mentally ill. how do you get away without having other friends to support you?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 6 2013 at 11:09 am

Marissa - That's a really tough question. There are a few variables. When you say that you're trying to break away from your partner you do realize that the relationship is harmful. On the other hand you share a business. Finally, your family does not sound as supportive as you'd like them to be. I might want to start with trying to educate them about your mental illness. There a number of on-line resources that can help debunk myths about mental illness: HealthyPlace, NAMI, and Mental Health America, to name a few.
The Ticket to Work Program sponsored by the Social Security Administration - - is a program that helps SSDI recipients pursue work and safely make the transitioin to work.
Finally, I'm not sure where you live but in some areas there are support groups for individuals who live with mental illness that can help provide the emotional support you are looking for.
I hope this helps.

January, 4 2013 at 6:26 am

My sister, after loosing her job, loosing her relationship, having that partner carry on a new relationship with someone else in front of her, and having her daughters hold there bottom line with not speaking to her till she enetered into treatment was the antecedent for a month long drinking binge that ended in her swallowing two fistfuls of muscle relaxants and anti depressants with a bottle of rum. This was her first attempt and she still hasn't enterd into treatment except for 4 days in the hospital ( two of those days on life support), 2 days in psych (baker act), and then three days in a ten day voluntary treatment facility that started her on Seroquel and then let her go home. Please tell me that psyciatric/dual diagnosis treatment is not all like this. She is in Florida.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 6 2013 at 11:21 am

Kt33 - Dual diagnosis treatment can be very challenging but from my experience it is possible to recover from addiction and mental illness. The key lies in the affected individuals willingness to see the destructive patterns and being willing to change the way they are living. In your sister's case, she has obviously had to deal with some catastrophic experiences. It sounds like she may need some type of formal treatment. There are also 12-Step programs that can help address the addiction issue. One of the more recent therapis that addresses dual diagnosis patients is Integrated Treatment which takes both the addiction and mental illness into account. Often, a technique called Motivational Interviewing is used by the clinician to help the affected person to move from the stage of pre-contemplation (denial) through the different stages of change and to a point of maintenance where the individual is able to successfully sustain a recovering lifestyle.
This process does take faith, time, and patience. Hopefully, your sister will be able to have a glimpse of what she needs to do to turn things around.
I wish you and her the best in finding a way through this difficult time.

December, 29 2012 at 10:51 am

:) Good stuff, Karl.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
December, 29 2012 at 9:22 am

Thanks for writing about the suffering of the family members. There are many things they can do short of intervention that usually have an impact on the addict over time, especially if you are living together. By not enabling, you allow the addict to suffer the consequences of his or her addiction, and this in itself starts to breakdown the addict's denial to recognize the damage that the addiction is doing. Staying cheerful and loving, while not trying to control or enable is a challenge and involves learning detachment. I lay out how to do this in my book, "Codependency for Dummies," the most comprehensive book on codependency. Changing yourself does affect the family dynamics and evokes changes in others.

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