What Codependency Is, and Why it Doesn’t Work

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About Steve Murray

Steve Murray is a 43 year old computer scientist, a father of two boys aged 11 and 9, and a recovering alcoholic. He's also an unapologetic geek, with an unabashed love of comic books, anything by Joss Whedon, Game of Thrones, and anything else dorky you've probably ever heard of. I can be found online in various places:


  1. The best thing anyone can do for an addict is cut them off. No one but the addict can decide to get sober. To get sober the addict has to admit defeat – the substance has made life totally unmanageable. You have to be broken to be put back together. Trying to duct tape an addict together is part of the addiction cycle from which no one is immune and where all near the addict will be hurt. The person you may have married or befriended is no longer that person, but someone transformed by the drug of choice.

  2. Being both a recovering addict and, in the past, a codependent, I really enjoyed this post. Your first suggestion for anyone dealing with a loved one’s addiction is great, but I wonder how futile the 2nd one is. In my experience, it takes an addict many slips and turns before they can get clean. More often than not, those boundaries are set to fail.

    • Steve Murray says:

      Hi Cat:

      As I wrote, those boundaries are there to protect the person dealing with an addict, not the addict themselves. If you set a definite boundary, and stick to it, then you never find yourself in a situation where you have to decide for yourself: “Okay, is this finally the last straw?” Draw the line, stick to it – it keeps your life much simpler. If it hurts the addict, then he/she should have never crossed that boundary in the first place, they will know (eventually) that they did this to themselves.

  3. I am an alcoholic, sober for 10 months.

    I’ve never needed to hide alcohol, unless you count my hip flask. So I am always impressed with the resourcefulness of alcoholics. My favourite is to bury the alcohol in the flower bed, then drink it through a long straw while sunbathing. Genius.

    If only we put that much thought into how to stay sober.

    • Steve Murray says:

      Hi Mike:

      I once met a guy in rehab that a figured out a way to fill the windshield washer fluid container in his car with alcohol, and then ran a straw from that, to just under his dashboard. That way, he could drive his wife somewhere she wanted to go shopping, stay in the car, and get drunk while she was in the store. It took her a long time to figure out how he was sober when they left the house, but he’d be wrecked by the time they got home, even though she knew he never took the car anywhere.

  4. Being the daughter of an alcoholic and the ex wife of a chronic alcoholic I dealt with his alcoholism and abuse with the only healthy option left to me… I divorced his sorry ass. I feel for you and your addiction, and that you were with a woman who thought she could “fix” you. Yes you’re right, no-one can fix you but YOU. I did not appreciate the comment at the end of the article “They are meant to help you deal with the situation life has handed to you.” Life only deals to you what you ALLOW it to. We always have a choice. All of us, addict or not.

    • Steve Murray says:

      Hi Anne:

      That last comment had two intentions:

      1) Life does not let you choose if your parent or child is an alcoholic.

      2) Sometimes, people find themselves in situations that they never expected, and they certainly never chose. My ex-wife was that way: I was a significantly different person at 25 than I was at 40, and while I may have drunk to excess on occasion, I don’t think there were obvious “This person is going to turn into a late-stage alcoholic” signs.

      So, sometimes, life hands you a situation, and you then have to determine how to handle it.

  5. My group of friends recently broke our “intervention cherry”. That was the easy part. The hard part was giving this person absolutely positively no choice but to get help after he walked out of the first facility we put him in. We refused to take him in after he got kicked out of his living situation, and made it abundantly clear that he had no choice but to admit himself to rehab. One of his brothers caved at one point, putting him up in a hotel, which put us more or less back into square one. My partner and I questioned whether we were just being heartless by not taking him in, but two months into rehab (after realizing that no one else was going to cave) and our friend is feeling more himself than he has in 10 years. There are still struggles and we all know that they will continue, but we all (including our recovering friend) believe that the boundaries we set once things got serious may have saved his life.

  6. david william frederick says:

    my “little friend” had a terrible heroin and cocaine habit, brought on by years of physical and emotional abuse by her family. all 5 children ended up with habits. I worked with her for four years, clearly understanding codependency. did I enable at first? there would have been no other way to get in the door. did it take more than the first year for her to come to understand my intentions and to gain her trust? yes. a nurturing, caring environment DOES make a difference. it takes incredible strength and understanding, and I would agree most people don’t have the intestinal fortitude to DO WHAT IT TAKES. she wanted to get straight and hated what she did, and came to understand that she needed to get the drugs out of the way before she could start to deal with the underlying issues that caused the drug abuse in the first place. she had signed in a few times her self before I ever met her, she clearly wanted to stop. maybe I was just lucky to get there as she hit rock bottom, but before we were done she was well enough to get her father to stop drinking (a MAJOR cause of the family’s dysfunction). it isn’t for everyone, but with the right tools and the strength of character it takes, caring people can and do make a difference.

  7. Three years ago I found out my ex-wife was a sex addict and that conversely I was codependent. As good as my marriage was on any given day, I was. As difficult and rough my marriage was on another day, I wore it. Needless to say, I was destroyed when I found out about it all.

    Both the codependent (sometimes referred to as the “co-addict”) and the addict are engaged in a cycle. It’s a dance between both sides and both behaviors enable and influence each other. The best course of action for me, as prescribed by those I sought for support, was to admit powerlessness over both conditions, work on what I could control (myself) and grow in independence. Only through healthy independence can we learn healthy thought processes, which lead to healthy boundaries, and healthy decisions resulting in a relationship that is as healthy as possible.

    Both the codependent and the addict will struggle with their respective conditions for the rest of their lives. Relapses are sure to always be waiting around the corner. We learn these unhealthy behaviors to meet unsatisfied needs. Respect codependence. Respect the addiction. Try to understand the power both conditions have over those who struggle with them. Above all else, make loving decisions for yourself and your partner and understand that sometimes the healthiest decision may be the one that hurts the most.

    • Steve Murray says:


      Thank you for that comment. I can’t write directly from the viewpoint of the codependent, I can only relate my experiences on my side of the relationship. Reading your comment really touched me, and reminded me what it’s like to be on the other side of this insane emotional roller coaster.

      I wish you all the luck in the world in your recovery. Stay strong. Keep faith.

  8. Really insightful article—

    A former S.O. used me like a drug…he got addicted to me in the same way he was addicted to alcohol (and other substances)….I tried everything to help him….only when I cut him off cold turkey and walked away from him did he finally pick himself off the ground and put his career and life into high gear…somehow we were both holding him back from his full career potential….

    I tolerated a lot of his bad behavior…which is almost like giving that a stamp of approval…and that did not help anyone….he was so destructive…it still shocks me how terrible he was to everyone around him….like he was just full of toxic fumes and suffocating all who came in contact with him…

  9. Addiction is a bitch. I grew up in addiction and married an alcoholic/addict. Thankfully I’ve been a grateful member of Al-Anon for over 6 years now and getting healthier all the time. From my experience most alcoholics are also codependent. We’ve got the same disease, it’s just that I feel compelled (read: powerless) to attempt to control people. It’s just a symptom of a spiritual problem if you ask me. I think that both the alcoholic and the codependent deserve the same amount of compassion. It’s easy for one or the other to stand there wagging a finger, but it’s a whole different story inside the addiction.

  10. Thanks for posting this topic. I got crazy with trying to fix my husband and I was losing myself. I a m so grateful for my alanon sponsor and home group. It really helps.

  11. I just walked away from an alcoholic who thinks he is just fine. Getting ready to be homeless cut off from most of his family etc fine. I had to realize I can not control it and can no longer do that to myself. I wish him luck but sometimes by caring for them you can enable to much and they need to their bottom to get it. I am no longer willing to submit to the crazy jealous rants and mind games. I have been clean for about 16 years as of October so I know that no one can fix it for anyone. he has a job so hopefully he will not be in the shelter to long etc and yes it hurts to see him hit bottom but I can not put myself at risk emotionally,physically etc anymore.

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