Addiction & Codependency

What is Addiction?

Drug Addiction

Addiction is a disease that affects your brain and behavior. When you’re addicted to drugs, you can’t resist the urge to use them, no matter how much harm the drugs may cause. The earlier you get treatment for drug addiction (also called substance use disorder), the more likely you are to avoid some of the more dire consequences of the disease.

Drug addiction isn’t about just heroin, cocaine, or other illegal drugs. You can get addicted to alcohol, nicotine, sleep and anti-anxiety medications, marijuana, and other legal substances. You can also get addicted to prescription or illegally obtained narcotic pain medications or opioids. This problem is at epidemic levels in the United States. In 2018 opioids played a role in 2/3 of all drug overdose deaths.

First, you may choose to take a drug because you like the way it makes you feel. You may think you can control how much and how often you use it. But over time, drugs change how your brain works. These physical changes can last a long time. They make you lose control and can lead to damaging behaviors.

Addiction vs. Misuse and Tolerance

Drug misuse is when you use legal or illegal substances in ways you shouldn’t. You might take more than the regular dose of pills or use someone else’s prescription. You may misuse drugs to feel good, ease stress or avoid reality. But usually, you’re able to change your unhealthy habits or stop using altogether.

Addiction is when you can’t stop. Not when it puts your health in danger. Not when it causes financial, emotional, and other problems for you or your loved ones. That urge to get and use drugs can fill up every minute of the day, even if you want to quit.

Effect on Your Brain

Your brain is wired to make you want to repeat experiences that make you feel good. So you’re motivated to do them again and again.

The drugs that may be addictive target your brain’s reward system. They flood your brain with a chemical called dopamine. This triggers a feeling of intense pleasure. You keep taking the drug to chase that high.

Over time, your brain gets used to the extra dopamine. So you might need to take more of the drug to get the same good feeling. And other things you enjoyed, like food and hanging out with family, may give you less pleasure.

Signs of Addiction

You may have one or more of these warning signs:

  • An urge to use the drug every day, or many times a day
  • Taking more drugs than you want to, and for longer than you thought you would
  • Always having the drug with you, and buying it even if you can’t afford it
  • Using drugs even if they cause you trouble at work or make you lash out at family and friends
  • Spending more time alone.
  • Not taking care of yourself or caring how you look
  • Stealing, lying, or doing dangerous things, like driving while high or having unsafe sex
  • Spending most of your time getting, using, or recovering from the effects of the drug
  • Feeling sick when you try to quit


Dumain, Teresa. What is Drug Addiction? WebMD 2005-2023. WebMD cited 2023 May 3. Available in text: What is addiction; addiction vs misuse and tolerance; effect on your brain; signs of addiction. Added: Marijuana.

What is Codependency?

In healthy relationships, it’s natural to rely on each other for support. However, there’s a difference between depending on someone for emotional, financial, or physical support and being codependent.

Codependency or relationship addiction, is an excessive, all-consuming dependency on a specific relationship. Most codependent relationships involve some form of underlying dysfunction, such as addiction, abuse, or mental illness.

Any relationship can be codependent, including romantic relationships, familial relationships, or friendships. In general, the codependent person wants to avoid making others unhappy, particularly the other member of the codependent relationship.

They often support the other person in some way, such as financially or emotionally. They also feel like they are unable to end the codependent aspect of the relationship because they fear what would happen to the other person.

People who are codependent on someone often have a number of traits in common. These include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Trouble identifying their own emotions
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Desire to care for others
  • Desire to feel important to someone

Signs of Codependency

Codependency leaves one person’s sense of self-worth and emotions entirely dependent on someone else. There are several signs that you or someone you know may be falling into a codependent relationship. Here are the signs and symptoms to watch for:

  • Compulsive Attention to Someone: One of the primary signs of potential codependency is feeling like you can’t live without the other person.
  • Fear of Abandonment: When you are codependent, you may have a deep-seated fear that the other person is going to leave you.
  • Lack of External Support Systems: Another potential risk factor for codependency is relying entirely on one person for your emotional needs. You may not have a large social circle or have others you feel comfortable spending time with.
  • Self-Doubt: Spending long enough supporting or relying on one person can wear down your sense of self. You also may feel like your own preferences aren’t important enough to consider.
  • Resentment: After a while in a codependent relationship, you may start to resent the other person. More importantly, you’ll resent them while feeling like you can’t live without them or like they can’t live without you.

Dealing with a Codependent Relationship

The first thing to consider is whether this is a relationship you want to try to continue.

  • If it’s not a safe relationship for you, you may need help to leave.
  • If the relationship is one that’s safe for you to be in, removing codependency from a relationship usually requires one or both people involved to realize what’s going on.
  • If you or a loved one is codependent, it’s important for the codependent person to prioritize themselves. This can help build self-esteem and also help them separate their sense of self from the other person. It’s also important for their partner to take good care of themselves.
  • You can also consider attending therapy.
  • In many cases, personal or relationship therapy can help people in codependent relationships understand what parts of their relationship are causing them pain. In the long run, this can help some codependent relationships become healthier for everyone involved.


WebMD Editorial Contributors. Signs of Codependency. Medically Reviewed 12 Dec 2022.WebMD 2005-2023. Available http/ in text: What is Codependency; Signs of Codependency; Dealing with a Codependent Relationship.

What is Enabling?

Sometimes, trying to help a family member who is addicted to alcohol or drugs actually wind up doing the opposite.

If someone who means the world to you – such as your child, partner, parent, or friend – is addicted to alcohol or other drugs, you may feel you’ll do anything to help them. And that can be useful if you’re doing things like looking for a recovery program, or caring for their children or pets when they can’t.

But other behaviors that may feel helpful, such as giving them money or making excuses for them when they miss work or school, can actually make the situation worse by keeping them from hitting rock bottom and seeking help, says Matt Glowiak, PhD, LCPC, an addiction counselor in Bolingbrook, IL.

“Enabling is an act in which one’s behavior, though generally well-intended, further contributes to their addiction to alcohol or drugs,” Glowiak says.

Often the family member or friend doesn’t realize they are enabling. “They believe they are helping their loved one meet basic needs,” Glowiak says, “ but rather, they are providing a means by which a loved one may continue using.”

Put simply, anything you do that allows the addicted person to keep using alcohol or other drugs without consequences is enabling.

What does enabling look like?

Typical ways and signs that you may unintentionally enable a loved one’s addiction include:

  • Letting them live in your home rent-free, without making any meaningful contributions or doing housework
  • Paying for their expenses while they remain unemployed or spend their money on frivolous items
  • Bailing them out of jail, or paying for their fines or legal fees
  • Denying to others that there is a problem.
  • Your primary focus is on the person struggling with addiction.
  • You spend too much money on the addicted person, even maxing out credit cards or mortgaging your home.
  • You feel helpless about the situation.
  • You become isolated from other friends and family members.
  • You put your own goals on hold while you help the addicted person.
  • You don’t keep up with your own health needs.


Cohen, Marisa. Are You Enabling a Loved One’s Addiction? Medically Reviewed 11 July 2022. WebMD 2005-2023. Available http/ in text: Are You Enabling a Loved One’s Addiction; What Enabling Looks Like; How to Tell if You’re Enabling Someone’s Addiction.