Discover the facts about codependency myths and learn more about this mental health disorder.

With codependency, two people in a relationship are so interdependent that they cannot carry out daily living without each other. There are some misunderstandings surrounding codependency, which can result in codependency myths, but codependency facts can create a better understanding of this condition.

Myth 1: Codependency only occurs in relationships impacted by addiction.

Fact: Codependency can occur in any type of relationship and is not limited to situations in which one partner has an addiction.

While codependency initially was used to describe relationships in which one person had an addiction, the term has evolved and includes any sort of relationship that is dysfunctional. Codependency can involve a person with a mental illness or someone who has a condition such as cancer. A parent can also become codependent on a child who is experiencing difficulty at school or who is involved with the juvenile justice system for law violations.

Codependent relationships can be between spouses, romantic partners, parents and children, friends, or colleagues and are not limited to those that involve substance abuse. In some cases, codependency may involve a relationship with someone who is simply irresponsible, and the codependent person takes on the role of ensuring that the person pays bills, maintains a job and completes daily life tasks. In these relationships, the codependent person derives self-esteem from being needed by the other person.

Research has shown that it is possible to experience codependency without addiction. One study found that people who were exposed to conflict between their parents were more likely to be codependent, but addiction was not found to be related to codependency. This finding confirms that codependency does not occur only in relationships involving addiction.

Myth 2: Codependency is an official mental health disorder.

Fact: Codependency is not a diagnosable mental health condition. 

A clinician cannot make a codependency diagnosis because it is not a condition currently recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5).

Codependency is a term that describes a dysfunctional type of relationship or pattern of behavior, but it is not a mental health diagnosis. Despite the fact that codependency is not a diagnosable mental health condition, some mental health experts have argued that it should be.

There are assessment tools that can measure whether a person is experiencing codependency. For example, the Codependency Assessment Tool is a valid test that measures factors such as family issues, neglect of self, and low self-worth that are seen in individuals struggling with codependency.

Myth 3: Codependent means the same thing as clingy.

Fact: Being codependent is more significant than the behaviors associated with being clingy. 

A clingy person may want to spend all of his or her time with a significant other, but being codependent involves more than just wanting to spend time with someone. In codependent relationships, people obsessively care for someone upon whom they are codependent, and they take an excessive amount of responsibility for the other person as they attempt to fix that person’s problems. A person who is codependent will also forgo his or her own needs and wants to care for another person.

Another way that codependency surpasses clinginess is that a person in a codependent relationship usually relies entirely on the relationship to maintain happiness and self-esteem. Someone who is codependent will go to great lengths to avoid abandonment or the end of the relationship, even when the relationship has become unhealthy.

Myth 4: You’re either codependent or you’re not.

Fact: There is a codependency continuum, with some people demonstrating more severe codependency than others. 

As previously discussed, codependency is not an official mental health diagnosis, so there are no standards that indicate that a person is either codependent or not. People can demonstrate different degrees of codependency based upon their life experiences. In addition, a codependency spectrum exists, ranging from the absence of codependency to severe codependency. Between these two ends of the spectrum are mild or moderate levels of codependent behavior.

Someone with lower levels of codependent behavior may occasionally put others’ needs before their own or try to fix a loved one’s problems. On the other hand, people with severe codependency are completely consumed by their need to care for others and rescue them from their problems. With both mild and severe codependency, a person demonstrates behaviors consistent with this condition, falling somewhere along the codependency spectrum.

Myth 5: People with codependency are weak or immature.

Fact: People experiencing codependency often have a history of dysfunctional family relationships and have overcome adversity. 

As research has shown, people who are exposed to conflict between their parents are more likely to demonstrate codependent behavior as adults. In addition, many people learn codependency from their families and repeat these behaviors in their own adult relationships. People with codependency are not weak or immature; they are simply engaging in the same behaviors they witnessed when growing up because these are the ways they learned to interact with others.

Additionally, people with codependency often endure abuse in their relationships and continue to remain committed to these relationships despite the abuse. There is also evidence that emotional abuse, emotional neglect and physical abuse during childhood increases the likelihood that a person will become codependent. Codependency, then, is not indicative of weakness or immaturity, but instead is a way of meeting emotional needs and coping with the effects of childhood trauma.

Myth 6: Codependency can’t be overcome.

Fact: Overcoming codependency is possible with treatment. 

Codependency treatment can help people correct dysfunctional behaviors so they can enjoy healthy relationships. In codependency treatment, people can explore the behaviors they witnessed during childhood and learn how they may have been unhealthy, and they can learn new ways of coping with trauma and meeting their emotional needs.

The research demonstrates that overcoming codependency can be achieved with treatment. One study found that a 12-week group therapy program that addressed issues with relationships and family of origin was effective for reducing depression and anxiety and improving behaviors associated with codependency.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction and co-occurring codependency issues, The Recovery Village can help. We offer comprehensive treatment services at locations across the country. Reach out to an admissions professional today to discuss treatment options. 

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

James Madison University. “Counseling center: codependency.” (n.d.) Accessed June 7, 2019.

Mental Health America. “Co-Dependency.” (n.d.) Accessed June 7, 2019.

Knudson, Theresa, and Terrell, Heather. “Codependency, perceived interparental co[…]he family of origin.” The American Journal of Family Therapy, May 4, 2012. Accessed June 7, 2019.

Morgan, James P. Jr. “What is codependency?” Journal of Clinical Psychology, September 1991. Accessed June 8, 2019.

Hughes-Hammer, C., et al al. “Development and testing of the codependency assessment tool.” Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, October 1998. Accessed June 8, 2019.

Reyome, Nancy, and Ward, Karen. “Self-reported history of childhood maltr[…]te nursing students.” Journal of Emotional Abuse, 2007. Accessed June 8, 2019.

Byrne, Marilyn, et al. “Symptom reduction and enhancement of psy[…]ependent population.” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 2005. Accessed June 8, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.