What Is Relationship Addiction?

A couple in recovery from addiction struggle to connect.

Table of Contents

If you have a history of addiction, you might want to look at how you relate to others. Relationship addiction is common in many interpersonal relationships with those who aren’t great at setting boundaries or respecting their personal needs over others. Codependent relationships can lead to dangerous behaviors like enabling and taking on more than you can handle. Let’s take a look at relationship addiction and how it can harm someone’s recovery.

The Many Forms of Addiction

Substance use addiction tends to be the type many know the most about, but addiction can take many forms. It is possible to form a psychological dependence on something, especially if it contributes to a need for a specific positive feeling. Addiction can come in many forms, from sex addiction to gambling addiction. These are different than physiological dependencies that your body might form from using an illicit substance like heroin, cocaine, or alcohol. When you quit gambling or use social media less, you don’t experience body withdrawal. However, what doesn’t disappear is the urge to seek out what initially provided you pleasure.

Just Chasing Another High

Many don’t realize that relationships can become an addiction in themselves. They might see relationships as a harmless way of connecting with another person, and they are correct for the most part. Relationships can become the veins of healthy support systems as long as the proper boundaries are in place and the connections don’t take over their entire lives. It becomes dangerous when the person becomes wholly dependent on the relationship. The intense feelings from the relationship become yet another outlet for dealing (or not dealing) with serious mental health issues that still most likely exist within the recovering individual.

Codependency vs. Interdependency

Those prone to addiction can often find themselves in these unhealthy situations, mainly because they use their relationship as a coping mechanism. This creates a very unhealthy dynamic for both parties because neither has an identity outside of the relationship. Codependency is when a person completely relies on the other person. Their entire life revolves around the relationship. This becomes extremely unhealthy and can only lead to further harm down the road.

The opposite of codependency is interdependency. Being interdependent means you are connected, but you still exist outside your relationship. You are still influenced by each other, but your entire existence isn’t built on another person. Imagine a Venn Diagram. The two parts of the circle overlapping symbolize your relationship with another person. In a codependent relationship, the diagram is just a circle. There is no overlap in the middle and the areas outside the two circles unrelated to the relationship. The connection is the only thing that exists.

The Dangerous Cycle of Enabling

Many codependent relationships run a significant risk of contributing to toxic cycles of enabling unhealthy lifestyles. This becomes even more true in relationships with one or more addicted people. This isn’t limited to romantic relationships. It can become the case between parents and their children or between friends. A person in a codependent relationship might be afraid to call their loved one out for their toxicity because they are afraid of losing them. Instead of practicing tough love or letting that person go, they allow the unacceptable behavior to continue.

An addicted person might also allow a toxic person to continue in their ways, thus contributing to an unhealthy situation. As a result, the addicted person might use substances to escape. Another case could be a person upholding their loved ones’ responsibilities or taking the blame when their loved one makes wrong or unhealthy choices, therefore protecting them from the consequences of their actions.

This cycle of appeasing a person’s toxicity out of fear of losing them or allowing them to go through life without holding themselves accountable only feeds into resentment and more addictive habits, which further destroy the relationship and the people in it. The only way out is ending the cycle of enabling and holding both parties accountable for the roles they play.

Finding Healthy Love

If you think you might be addicted to relationships, then it may be time to take a break from searching for love for a while. Love shouldn’t be something to fill the void. Healthy relationships are deep connections you make with another person where values and boundaries are mutually respected. Healthy relationships involve allowing each other to grow and holding each other accountable. If you think you may have a relationship addiction, it would be a good idea to speak with a therapist or a counselor about your situation to develop a solution.

Addiction is lifelong and can impact many aspects of a person’s life and how they relate to the world. Since substance use completely rewires the brain, it affects how a person seeks enjoyment. A person might feel attached to something seemingly harmless while still using that activity as a way to cope with any problems or negative emotions they might have. Additionally, those with a previous addiction may still have unhealthy interpersonal relationships from the period before they entered into and received treatment. These unhealthy dynamics need to be addressed for healing to continue. Suppose you or your loved one has a relationship addiction. In that case, you or they should speak with a healthcare professional about setting healthy boundaries and pursuing safer relationships that allow for continued growth. To learn more about relationship addiction and the next steps to healthier connections, call Jaywalker Lodge at (866) 529-9255 today. We are here to help.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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