Dependence versus Codependence

“Codependency can be defined as any relationship in which two people become so invested in each other that they can’t function independently anymore. Your mood, happiness, and identity are defined by the other person.”

~  Dr. Jonathon Becker, DO, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University

Are dependence and codependence the same thing?

The short answer is “Not at all” and knowing the distinction between the two types of relationships can make all the difference in the world. Of special relevance, one supports successful recovery and the other, continued addiction.

It’s OKAY to Depend on Others

Human beings have a biological need for other people. Our bodies and our brains function better when we have a connection with other people.

In relationships that are healthy, both people can rely on the other for help, understanding, and support. Each person brings something positive to their shared life. This could be more accurately called “interdependency”, and it’s a GOOD thing.

We all need what only close, positive relationships can provide—love, companionship, and validation.

Codependency = Warped Relationships

“A bad relationship is worse than no relationship when it comes to health.”

~ Dr. Debra Umberson, PhD, Professor of Sociology, the University of Texas at Austin

But codependency signals that the relationship is unhealthy and dysfunctional.

Codependent people are completely off balance—their wants and needs are always secondary to those of the other person, because they define themselves by how much they do for the other person. Carried to the extreme, they have a compulsive and overdeveloped “need to be needed”.

This distorts the dynamic of the relationship, and codependents start to suffer because of the other person’s disease – socially, professionally, economically, and especially, emotionally. They “sacrifice” all of their resources for the sake of the substance abuser:

  • Time
  • Energy
  • Attention
  • Money

But these actions don’t actually come from a positive place of wanting to help the other person succeed. On the contrary, they arise from unhealthy emotions:

  • Anxiety
  • A need to control
  • Low self-esteem
  • An excessive need to please others
  • Loneliness

Codependence Causes Even MORE Problems

Codependency can be described as being compulsively dependent for love on a dependent person who is in turn unable to love healthily or consistently.”

~Dr. J. Richard Cookerly, Recovering Love: Codependency to Corecovery

Codependency frequently manifests in relationships impacted by alcoholism or drug addiction, when one partner becomes the “caretaker”. In this role, they constantly try to clean up after and protect the substance abuser from the consequences of their illness.

But codependent behaviors do NOT help.  Instead, they enable the addiction to continue and even get worse. Because if the addict/alcoholic never has to face the natural consequences of their substance-driven actions, they have no reason or motivation to change.

And as the addiction progresses, so does the untreated codependency. The relationship becomes a self-perpetuating downward spiral into dysfunction.

Beating Codependency

But…there IS hope. It IS possible to break out of this cycle.

What most people in relationships affected by substance abuse don’t realize that they ALSO need professional help. In a very real way, they are just as sick as the addict.

With counseling, peer support from 12-Step groups like Al-Anon, and lifestyle changes, anyone struggling with codependence can regain their peace of mind whether their loved one recovers or not.

Since 1978, Chapman House has been one of the most-trusted addiction recovery centers Southern California has to offer. Located conveniently in Orange County, Chapman House offers treatment services to individuals AND families in crisis due to addictive or behavioral disorders.

If you or someone you care about needs help, contact Chapman House TODAY.

by Albert Fontenot