Speaking on co-addiction

Family Works

Rob Coombs ID. Min. Ph.D.
Posted 8/6/17

For 25 years, Susan has been married to her alcoholic husband, Rick. By any standard, life has been miserable. Probably not a day has gone by that Susan hasn’t prayed for her husband.

There are …

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Speaking on co-addiction

Family Works


For 25 years, Susan has been married to her alcoholic husband, Rick. By any standard, life has been miserable. Probably not a day has gone by that Susan hasn’t prayed for her husband.

There are so many battle stories. Any prolonged conversation with Susan and the listener is certain to hear one or two. Her pain is obvious. These have been real battles, with real scars. Fighting tears, Susan will tell anyone who will listen how for years she has constantly checked on Rick, covered for Rick, and cared for Rick. The three “Cs” – checking, covering, and caring.

Finally, her prayers are answered. Rick quits drinking, for good. Not another sip. Within two years, Susan has filed for divorce. Why? As addicted as Rick was to his drug of choice, Susan was equally addicted to her drug of choice — Rick. Now that there was no reason to check, cover and care for Joe, her addiction can no longer be satisfied.

Co-addicts are persons who consistently find themselves excessively involved in the lives of addicts. How do you know if you are co-addicted to an addict? Answering “yes” to the following nine indicators is a strong indicator that you may be.

1. Collusion. Do you cover for the addict in some way in a vain attempt to hide from the outside world the reality of your spouse’s addiction? Secrecy in order to protect the family image or the integrity of the addict fuels co-addiction.

2. Preoccupation. Do you obsess about the life of the addict? Many co-addicts are like policemen, constantly checking on the whereabouts and the activities of their addicts. In fact, they can become so obsessed with the life of the addict, they often neglect their own needs.

3. Denial. Do you go through periods of time that you deny that a problem exists? When not obsessing, co-addicts often lapse into periods of ignoring the problem. They attempt to avoid the problem or pretend it isn’t there until something dramatic happens at which time they begin to obsess once again.

4. Turmoil. Do you go from one crisis to another? For co-addicts, emotional turmoil becomes the norm.

5. Control. Do you try to control the life of the addict? Although doomed to failure, the co-addict tries to manipulate the addict in a vain attempt to control an out-of-control life.

6. Responsible. Do you blame yourself for the actions of the addict? Co-addicts often blame themselves for the addict’s life. They naively believe that if they could be responsible for the life of the addict, then they could straighten his life out.

7. Autonomy. Have you lost your sense of self as you have compromised again and again what you believe and the values you hold? Over the process of time, co-addicts sacrifice and sometimes lose touch of who they are as a person.

Recognizing co-addiction is the first step of facing your own addiction. Next, letting go of the addiction and choosing to live your own life (not the life of the addict) is the next step. Counseling is often helpful in learning how to do this. Redefining the relationship is the final step. This has the potential to bring an excitingly new and healthy way of life for you. Whether or not this is true for the addict will depend on the choices he makes.

Rob Coombs is a professor with a doctor of ministry degree and a doctor of philosophy with an emphasis in Family Systems.


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