Co-Addiction - Characteristics

Co-addiction is a behavior that can afflict anyone who has a close relationship with an addicted person. Continue reading to find out more about its characteristics. 
Co-Addiction - Characteristics

Last update: 10 April, 2020

Co-addiction is a highly complex behavior that notably affects both the person who develops it and those in their closest circle. It can greatly impact the daily life of a person and make them unable to confront any difficulties they may encounter.

Therefore, it’s important to know what it is and how it can affect you. Not only to keep yourself from developing it but also to detect if anyone around you might be suffering from it.

A man with a bottle looking at a woman.

Defining co-addiction

Co-addiction is a dependent relationship in which at least one of its members is addicted to something. Therefore, the discord caused by the addiction leads to an alteration in the behavior of their closest members. Therefore, it generates a new way of functioning.

Some research found that women are more likely to experience it, especially those who are mothers and/or wives. One could justify it by their cultural development in society. In this case, women often assume the role of caregivers, almost to the point of forgetting themselves to try to meet the needs of their relatives.

This term originates from families of people who participated in Alcoholics Anonymous. In the various sessions, they detected very particular physical, emotional, and psychological conditions in these family nuclei.

People in this situation tend to develop a certain ineffectiveness in expressing emotions and in resolving personal and interpersonal conflicts. They devote their efforts to controlling the addictive behaviors of the addict, to the point of experiencing it all. Therefore, it creates a dynamic in which the addict controls the life of the co-addict through their manipulative behavior.

Types of co-addiction

There are two types of co-addictions. Each has its own characteristics and consequences.


The first type is codependency. In this case, the person has a dependent or interdependent and unhealthy connection with an addict. It’s important to emphasize that, in this type of co-addiction, the person isn’t addicted to a substance.

This situation arises from the stress of living and dealing with an addict. Therefore, this phenomenon increases and intensifies over time. Here are some of the descriptive principles of codependency:

  • Constant investment of their time to try to develop skills to control both themselves and the other person, especially when adverse situations arise.
  • Prioritize the knowledge and responsibilities of the addict to the point of ignoring their own.
  • Distortion and anxiety of the boundaries between separation and anxiety.
  • Bypassing their personal space and their own needs.
  • The tendency to get involved in relationships with impulsive people with personality or drug dependence disorders.


The second type of co-addiction is bio-dependence. One can define this construct as a dependency on dependency. In other words, a relational dependency implanted in a subject who’s addicted.

In this case, there’s a set of attitudes, effects, and behaviors that, apart from the specific addiction, create dependency on people or situations of sociopathic nature. This determines, in an important manner, the daily activities of the two people who are in an addictive co-addictive relationship.

Therefore, the bio-dependent person adopts a passive attitude. Likewise, they deliberately lose or noticeably reduce its autonomy.

As a result, they don’t make any kind of decision and become invalid. You could say that the relationship they have with the person they depend on is similar to the one they have with the substance they’re addicted to.

However, it’s important to specify that this lack of autonomy can’t last when taking actions to maintain an addiction. Therefore, the addict is able to create and carry out actions to find resources, acquire, and buy that which they need so badly. Here are some of the clinical characteristics of bio-dependent people:

  • Lack of awareness of the problem.
  • Delegation of decision-making and a notable decrease in autonomy.
  • A demand for sensations with the partner that resembles those sought in the addictive substance.
  • The obsessive search for a partner, highlighting that the relationship is the one that stimulates the bio-dependence.

Why does co-addiction happen?

To begin, it’s important to emphasize that co-addiction occurs when one of the family members is addicted to some type of substance. When developing this disorder, it’s easy for people in the environment to end up carrying out behaviors that serve as reinforcement for their own addiction.

However, this perverse adaptation has a set of relational dynamics that aren’t healthy. In the case of the co-addicted person, they begin to take responsibilities that aren’t theirs when they become aware of the presence of significant problems due to the addiction. Thus, they try to minimize the damage.

In other words, they begin to carry out activities and take on the roles of the addicted person. In some cases, they further help the addicted person abandon themselves even more.

As a consequence, the person begins to suffer from anxiety and stress. Similarly, they manifest feelings of shame due to the attitude of the addicted person as well as theirs.

In addition, there’s a fear of not knowing if they’re doing things right or due to helplessness for not being able to fulfill everything. Finally, feelings of guilt develop because the co-addicted believe they’re maintaining the addiction through their attitudes.

A seemingly concerned woman.


Addiction doesn’t just affect the addicted person. The perverse consequences of dependency go further. Similarly, the data shows that the greater the addiction, the greater the probability that a co-addiction will take place in the immediate environment of an addict.

The impact and consequences can be much more significant when they reach this limit. Almost to the point of being one of the things that reinforce the addiction. Therefore, in these cases, the support that generates the most desirable effect is that which is given within the framework of a psychological intervention, where the professional is always present to advise and direct.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Schonian, S. A. (2017). Development and Preliminary Validation of the Co-Addiction Scale [Thesis].
  • Sirvent, C., Moral, M., Blanco, P., & Suarez, G. (2014). Las coadicciones (estudio descriptivo y psicopatología diferencial). 1-13.
  • Vacca, R. (2003). LA CO-ADICCION Aspectos Culturales y Clínicos para su Aprendizaje. Revista Peruana de Drogodependencias, 1(1), 231-253.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.