Is Codependency A Progressive Illness Like Alcoholism

In this video,  I share a question about codependency that one of our readers submitted. Is codependency an illness that has attributes similar to alcoholism,  in that it might be a progressive illness? All I know is the longer I stayed in a close relationship with the alcoholic, the more tangled in their messes my life became.  I do think that we have control over how much we allow another persons behaviors to affect us.  Melody Beattie is an authority on this subject.



Please take a couple of minutes to review this video or read through the transcription. As always you are invited to share your experience and wisdom with us in the comments section at the bottom of  this page.

Video Transcription:
I received an email recently from someone asking if codependency is a terminal, progressive illness like alcoholism. They have other questions about codependency. I need your help because I don’t know a lot about codependent relationships; I do know a lot about alcoholism. Let me read to you the email and let’s get a conversation going on our website.

Here’s the email: 
“I have heard that co-dependency is a progressive, terminal illness, Just like alcoholism. My life experience bears witness to this. Both of my parents grew up in alcoholic homes as did my grandparents. My mother made my life a living hell. I married an alcoholic, that darn near killed me. Every man I ever dated has had the addiction, and in fact I seem to date more unwell chaps as life goes on. This may be because I am getting older, as are they and the illness is more obvious. I moved to a gorgeous country town, I love it, I feel like I am in Heaven at last after a life-time of hell. For some inexplicable reason, I find myself in love with a man who is, well let’s face it, without treatment he will be dead within five years. I understand that I have to Let him go and Let God look after him. I feel at peace with my interactions with him, and I am detached. He is good and kind to me, a gentleman, I have no complaints, except that it will break my heart to lose him to the disease. My question is, do I resign myself to the fact that I am and will forever be a co-dependant? That there is no hope for a different life for me? Thank you for your web site, you give me hope.”

Here’s My Response:
Well, you know what, in my response here, let me just say what my experiences’ been.

First of all, I do want to say that it’s important that we live one day at a time as you’ve reference here. In my life, my mom, for years, she worried about my father about if he died before her, what is it that she was going to do? I remember her just being worried sick about that and the interesting thing is that my father actually lived about 10 years longer than she did. So, we never know what life will going to be like. So that’s why we try to live one day at a time.

Now, the other thing is that, I’ve heard that people like you and me are attracted to alcoholics because they’re lots of fun to be with. I can certainly identify that alcoholics kind of have a wild side.

The other thing I wanted to say is that it appears that you’re contented in this relationship. I know a lot of people would’ve been contented in relationships with alcoholics that you know how to detach (let go), and then know how to love themselves apart from the alcoholic. I believe that we can have a healthy relationship being with an alcoholic, but a lot of that depends on the personality of the alcoholic and the progression of the disease, obviously.

You asked some specific questions, my question is, “Do I resign myself to the fact that I am and will forever be a codependent and that there is no hope for a different life for me?”

Well, my view on this is that, I think we’re all codependent and, in some respect, what you’re saying is that your codependency is always in relationships with people who are alcoholics. So, anyhow, I always say that there’s hope for change. It’s just a matter of changing our daily routines and really putting the effort for making changes. Now, if you’ll attend Al-Anon, you’ll find that there are a lot of tools, techniques, methods and tips that can help us be more independent and separate ourselves from becoming enmesh in another person’s life, especially with an alcoholic.


5 comments to Is Codependency A Progressive Illness Like Alcoholism

  • Gabby

    I believe that to be a co-dependent does not depend on whether you are in a relationship with an addict or not, in an intimate relationship or not. Being a co-dependent is being in any type of relationship where you define yourself through the other person, forget to take care of your needs and concerns. So if you are able to be in any relationship and keep your needs, concerns, goals and boundaries good then you are not dependent on another. Since everyone is different, some might need more independence than another and when they would give up just a little, they become co-dependent but another person may not need as much independence and therefore would not be co-dependent within that same environment. It depends on the person and the relationship they are in. I do draw the line on abuse though, if you are in any relationshp that is abusive and you do not do anything to change it or remove yourself from it, it definitely points to the person being co-dependent because this is allowing a basic human right to be violated.

  • Karyn

    Me = both parents alcoholics, stepfather abusive alcoholic, husband abusive drug addict, one boyfriend was child of an alcoholic so had his issues around that, now the father of my child is starting to show his true colours as an abusive alcoholic. He’s only verbally abusive when drunk, otherwise very lovely & charming. I’m 33 weeks pregnant and really want to sort this out so that my daughter doesn’t end up in the same cycle :/

  • Nellie

    Hello JC!
    Thank you so very much for your courage and dedication! Your insight into our situations is greatly appreciated. I read somewhere that being a Co-dependant is also a progressive, chronic and at the end-stages, terminal condition. Yes, I have grown up with alcoholics. Yes, every man I ever dated was alcoholic. Yes, I married an alcoholic, and divorced him. Yes I am dating a severely debilitated man with alcohol dependency now. Yes, I am trying to be supportive of his recovery while maintaining detachment. I guess what I am trying to say, JC, is…… is this all there is to life? Will I never be “free”? Will my children, grandchildren be destined to carry the Family Cross of dependency/co-dependency? Am I truly Terminally Co-dependant? Thank you very much for your time, your guidance and compassion.

  • JC

    Hi Nellie, as I’ve stated, I don’t know much about this subject. From my own experience, I believe that being vigilant in learning more about being co-dependent has helped me to become more of an individual. I attribute my ability to not be so enmeshed with, and dependent on another individual for my happiness, to loving myself and having a close relationship with God.

  • Chloe

    I can only speak based on my own experience on why I used to be much more codependent than I am now. In my teens and twenties, I was VERY codependent on my boyfriend turned husband. He was a narcissist, and much the opposite of me at the time…..confident, outspoken, charismatic, a leader, and very extroverted. I was shy, timid, soft spoken, some social anxiety, and lacked confidence. These weaknesses in me were rooted in fears that I was not enough….not smart enough, pretty enough, accomplished enough, interesting enough etc. I had a tremendous fear of rejection from other people, and so others had a lot of power over me because I NEEDED approval from them. I tried all sorts of ways to add to myself to make myself better to garner this outside approval and love that I needed to soothe all the fears inside…..so I worked out a lot, wrote screenplays, started a business, obsessed over my looks. I did some of these things because I enjoyed doing them, but also there was a neurotic element to add more value to who I was to garner love and approval from others. Without these add-ons, I felt unworthy and ashamed. So that is the deep dynamic that was going on inside of me that was causing me to be codependent on others. I was not able to give value and love to myself so I sought it outside of myself but had to add value to myself on the outside to feel worthy of love and acceptance.

    It was in my late 20’s and having had my 2 kids that these fears began to surface with a vengeance. I had some level of a social anxiety disorder and would blush, get choked up, and panic when talking with people. It was at this time that I began meditating/praying, and soon discovered a very real aspect to my being called my spiritual self. Over time, a natural cleansing and healing process unfolded as I connected with Spirit/God and these deep wounds and fears in me began to dissolve. I gained a greater understanding of all beings originating from one spirit though the illusion is that we are all separate. The greatest most powerful change was that I began to have great compassion and love for myself for both my strengths and my frailties. I learned how to forgive myself for weaknesses and past mistakes. I learned how to love myself for just being human, and putting one foot in front of another in a very harsh and challenging world. I basically tapped into my spiritual core self and learned over time how to be the loving, compassionate, and powerful parent to my wounded fearful human self (or inner child or inner spiritual unknowings …whatever one chooses as a label). This process of transformation broke the cycle of codependency …the need for something outside of myself to make me complete. By the way, our alcoholics are dependent on their drink due to this very need as well. Or it could be sex, or gambling, or shopping, or money and success, fame, or food, or the structures of religion, or power, or vanity, or even claiming an identity as the perpetual victim. All addiction in all forms arises from the need to grasp onto something outside of oneself due to one’s UNKNOWINGS of the other aspect of who we are….spiritual beings having a physical experience in a physical world. When one embarks on a spiritual journey WITHIN ONESELF, one discovers the eternal, creative, powerful, and healing aspect of Spirit/God within. It is profound as one proceeds further down the path of discovery. The need for stuff from the outside world diminishes more and more over time as one gains deep awareness that the outer world is ever changing and temporal, nothing lasts, and the inner realm of Spirit/God in all of us is eternal and infinite. This is how one can break the cycle of codependency on another human being, or anything else for that matter, and fill the void that each individual human is able to fill for her own self by discovering one’s spiritual eternal self within. You’ll discover other worldly peace, joy, and compassionate love as Jesus embodied. Most of the world is in spiritual unknowings or darkness, and that is why there is so much individual and collective dysfunctional conditions and insanity.

    So this entire process is one of spiritual transformation. One is able to show deep love and compassion
    for one’s self which enables him or her to extend the same love and compassion out to others who are also born of Spirit but struggle in their varying levels of spiritual unknowings or spiritual darkness or
    sin or whatever word one uses to label it.

    Whew….that’s just been my own experience in dealing with codependency and addictions and getting to the root or core of the problem and deeply transforming and healing it. It may not make a bit of sense to you guys, but I just wanted to share my experience if it can help someone else out there!

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