The Codependent’s Struggle with Substance Use in Abusive Relationships

Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

Codependents often struggle with drug and/or alcohol use in abusive relationships.  Denial about living in or with a nightmare is a coping strategy that perpetuates self-destructive behavior.   It is extremely painful, and extremely lonely.  A codependent suppresses dreams and desires to fulfill the wants of another.  Compulsive behavior is more common when a person cannot live their life without being subservient to the needs of another.  Suppressing needs and lack of emotional fulfillment begins the search for an escape.  Substance use can be the by-product of a codependent relationship.  Relationship neediness may be so extreme that the person believes they can’t live without an abusive partner. This keeps the door open to being treated poorly and excessive dependency on substances.

Codependency develops in families when problems are not discussed, abusive behavior is ignored, secrets are kept, and substance abuse and denial are common.  As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs. This learned behavior affects a person’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. The emotional and behavioral conditioning contributes to “relationship addiction” with people who are emotionally destructive and/or abusive.  Codependent substance abusers give to others from fear rather than love.

The codependent creates an illusory world by using denial, delusion, and dissociation to decrease the pain that would be experienced if reality were accepted.  The unacknowledged feelings trigger a need for relief.  They may use eating, gambling, indiscriminate sexual activities, and/or relationships to escape emotional pain.  The codependent resorts to substance abuse and other compulsive behaviors to relieve anxiety and handle building pressures.  They find it hard to be themselves.  Self-worth is determined by the happiness of a partner and they will attempt to control a relationship by being needed.  Any perceived unhappiness in others around them feeds feelings of inadequacy and fear of abandonment.  Self-esteem is derived by their ability to control situations and please others.

Abusers want a lot of control and are afraid of being controlled.  They are resistant to doing what their partners want them to.  They resist with denial, irresponsibility, indifference, withdrawal and rage.  The codependent’s compulsive caretaking renders them feeling powerless in an abusive relationship unable to stop the cycle of behavior that causes it.  As relationship conflict increases all too often the codependent turns to substances. They identify as victims and are attracted to that same weakness in abusers and friendships.   Walking on eggshells, emotionally battered codependents second guess themselves and feel lost in a deep hole.  The emotional abuse inflicted by a partner can be subtle by way of implying or saying that you are stupid, ugly, not worth attention or that no one could love an addict. The codependent believes they can’t live life or stay in purgatory without drinking or using drugs and this behavior increases the likelihood that they will blame the mistreatment on themselves.

Generally unsatisfied with their intimate relationships, they feel constantly unappreciated, and are preoccupied with their partner.  This way of intimate relating combined with substance use becomes the backdrop for living in quiet desperation.  Codependents take drugs or drink alcohol for mood change, excitement, relaxation, distraction, stimulation, or sedation.  They stay in abusive relationships and deny or make excuses for their partners due to a high (insane) tolerance for emotional pain and inappropriate behavior developed in childhood.  The codependent gradually loses touch with who they really are and their sense of self.  They become numbed out unable to feel or express true feelings.  This loss of self results in low self-esteem.  Denial of feelings and pretending nothing is wrong fuels substance use.  They start feeling out of control and repeat self-destructive behavior to feel better which often leads to symptoms of demoralization and depression.  The painful existence progresses as the person forgoes interests because they are worried about what the abuser is or isn’t doing.  They often drink or drug more, feel scared, alone, hurt and angry.  Trying to fix their partner and staying means they will continue to be hurt.  The cruelty often becomes more severe and frequent over time.  The codependent doesn’t trust in their capacity to deal with life as it comes, so they are in a perpetual state of fear.

Fortunately, treatment for codependency and substance abuse can be highly successful in restoring a healthy sense of self.  The codependent can learn to set personal boundaries to protect themselves from victimization.  Many find the support of the 12-step program Codependents or Alcoholics Anonymous effective in uncovering the underlying cause of self-destructive behavior.  Intensive outpatient treatment programs or individual therapy can help begin the process of caring for oneself rather than trying to fix someone else.  Ending an abusive relationship or discontinuing drug use will not stop the learned behavior or protect against harm.  The heavy emotional burden inside the codependent must come out to be healed.

Thank you for reading this post. I’ve dedicated my personal and professional life to the importance of non-violence and self-compassion by teaching from my experience.  As a result, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to create a healthy relationship with self.  And, as I learn and grow, I teach self-compassion and give advice I use myself, in the hopes that it helps you to improve your own life.







9 thoughts on “The Codependent’s Struggle with Substance Use in Abusive Relationships

  1. Thank you and others for the video on narcissism. I have a live in boyfriend who threatens to kill my pets and his pets and sabotage my reputation if we break up. He has told me that he hopes someone comes into my place of employment and rapes and kills me. Monday I go for a diagnostic mammogram and he told me out of anger while arguing that he hopes I have cancer and die from it. I have never done enough for him and the fact that he fetches at the store with my money that he has shown me how much he cares for me and how ungrateful I am. He moved into my home and didn’t have a car or drivers license, yet he has taken over my car and trashed the inside out and I have had to bail him out of jail twice for driving on suspended and violating an order of protection his ex-girlfriend.

    He has physically hurt me to the point I broke my elbow and still treats me like I’m the one with a problem.. I’m told by him that I’m a fake. I am not. He just doesn’t get that I’m reacting to his psycho behavior while expecting him to be an adult. I really need support to get out of this safely.

    • Jennifer,
      My heart goes out to you. Having a well thought out safety plan for leaving this violent relationship is imperative. I would contact a local Women’s Domestic Violence Shelter for advice and support. I have attached a link for a safety plan from The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. There are women’s shelters that house the animals of victims. You describe a very dangerous man. Please seek expert help and be cautious. I am wishing you the best.

  2. Thank you for the posts. I am only now in my early 40’s with some time to reflect & not drinking, seeing correlations to my abusive, narcissistic background & then later abusive relationships. There is a lot to work on internally & externally. Am happier alone than in an unfulfilling, abusive relationship definitely. Working on myself:)

    • Nathalie,
      You are welcome. I am hoping you have support as you are completing this emotional work. Keep investing in yourself by learning as much as you can about narcissistic victim syndrome and substance abuse/use. I am sending you much strength and courage to heal your life. Thank you for following my blog.

      • Thanks Roberta, only just seen this as getting to grips with facebook. Hope you are ok.Yes, seem to have attracted narcissists and sociopaths due to my empathic nature but am getting more attuned and cutting them out. It turns out I do not have much support but that’s fine see there true colours;) This includes friends and family. Since reading lots re cases of mostly male sexual predators through my experience & countless others I know, probably narcissists and sociopaths, I am making a stand for myself and on behalf of others, through, writing, speaking and reporting. Scary but empowering. Thanksfully I am strong and have some good helplines & mindfulness, yoga, belief. Hope you are well.

    • Laura
      There is nothing lonelier than staying in a relationship with someone who can’t love you. It takes courage to remove yourself from a situation that causes pain and let go of denial. You deserve the best life and love has to offer. I am wishing you the best on your journey. Thank you for commenting.

  3. Thank you for the wonderful post you shared. It was a great reminder of what I’m trying to practice in my life and to stand up for myself and be okay with being alone and not with an addict who takes you down – please keep these articles coming 😉



    • Sharon,
      You are welcome. We each have life lessons that push us in the direction of finding our own truth. It often takes struggle, mistakes, confusion, and frustration to break through and learn what is true for us. Staying out of a relationship until you are comfortable being alone is empowerment. Thank you for commenting. I am wishing you an abundance of self-compassion and strength.


I love to hear your thoughts, Please reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s