substance abuse cycle

The Dangerous Cycle of Codependency and Substance Abuse

Codependency doesn’t only refer to relationships and drug abuse; it also refers to a person and his or her drug addiction. This behavioral condition is destructive for both the addict and his or her significant other. The substance abuse cycle is a dangerous one that can leave you and your life in shambles. 

Learn how relationships with drug addicts can be dangerous and how you can handle them with help from Granite Mountain Behavioral Health. 

What is Codependency?

Codependency is a behavioral condition characterized by enabling a loved one’s destructive actions. While healthy relationships include mutual satisfaction and productivity, codependent relationships are usually one-sided and filled with abuse and emotional destruction.

Codependent people often feel the need to “save” their addicted loved ones. They’ll make excuses for their negative behavior, rescue them from situations related to the addiction, and take care of the addict when he or she can’t function normally.

People who are codependent tend to have had parents who abused alcohol or drugs (more commonly alcohol). If their parents aren’t able to take care of themselves because of their addiction, the child may have to step into the caretaking role, becoming codependent. These people also tend to end up with partners who abuse drugs like alcohol, heroin, or marijuana. 

Signs of Codependency

People who are codependent usually display the following symptoms:

  • Display low self-esteem. You often find it hard to make decisions and never feel like your actions are good enough. There’s a harsh judgment on your thoughts and expressions, and you don’t take compliments well. You constantly worry about what other people think of you.
  • You comply with negative situations. You’ll put aside your own interests to make others happy. You’ll also compromise your values and morals or “walk on eggshells” with loved ones to keep them happy. You tend to remain in destructive situations for longer than you should.
  • Avoid taking care of your needs. You’re more concerned with giving others advice instead of taking it yourself. You also give this advice out freely when nobody asks for it, and you get upset when others don’t take this advice.
  • You’re in denial. Identifying your feelings is difficult for you, and you often tend to deny or minimize them. You think you can take care of yourself without help from others, and you think that you’re dedicated to others and are unselfish.

Signs of a Codependent Relationship

  • Finding it hard to say no to your partner even when demanding your time and energy
  • Making extreme sacrifices for your partner
  • Not voicing your opinion and keeping quiet during arguments
  • Feeling trapped with your partner
  • Covering up a partner’s misdeeds, i.e. trouble with the law or illegal substances

How Can Relationships Trigger Drug Abuse?

A recovering addict could find triggers when they enter a new relationship. It’s often said that people in recovery should wait a while before dating someone new. When you’ve overcome an addiction, you might want to immediately repair the relationships you’ve strained. You might also think that your life will improve by having a significant other.

If you do decide to start a relationship at this point, you must be honest with them about your recovery. By communicating your needs and circumstances, your partner will be more open to the possibility of being with you. 

If you don’t, the stresses of being in a new relationship may drive you to take drugs and drink again. In some cases, a non-addict can begin dating someone and not find out they abuse substances until later on. 

The Effects of Addiction on Relationships

Being in a relationship with a drug addict can be difficult, frustrating, and confusing. Your substance-abusing partner can frequently break promises and ask you to borrow money for drugs. The more time your partner abuses drugs or alcohol, the more time they spend finding and using them instead of spending quality time with you.

Partners of drug addicts can also take on a dysfunctional family role known as the “enabler.” When you enable someone, you accept and promote bad behavior, even if you aren’t purposely doing it. Enabling is a common quality of codependent relationships. It can include providing someone with money for drugs or covering up for them when they get caught with substances. 

Your drug-addicted loved one might also be secretive about their substance abuse, hiding drugs, and lying about taking them. This can be due to their shame and fear of judgment that stems from their addiction. They’ll often lie about who they spend their free time with, why money is missing and why they’re behaving in a different way.

Constantly dealing with a partner’s drug use can also cause you a great deal of emotional pain. You might feel guilty about leaving them even if staying is damaging to your health. People in these roles may think that leaving means that they’re giving up on the person they love. 

People in relationships with drug addicts can experience the following problems:

  • Domestic abuse as a result of drug addiction
  • Fighting about staying out late and not taking care of responsibilities due to drug use
  • Only finding pleasure in drinking or drug use together
  • Only being able to talk about relationship problems when drunk or high
  • Isolating oneself from friends and family to hide your partner’s drug problem

The Cycle of Substance Abuse

The substance abuse cycle is a toxic, codependent repetition that can end in death if you don’t receive proper care. Addiction is a disease that takes over the body over time; it doesn’t usually happen after one sip of alcohol. By learning about the substance abuse cycle, you can observe each phase in yourself or a loved one and stop it before it gets worse. 

Initial Use

The cycle of substance abuse starts with initial use. When you turn 21, you’ll most likely have your first drink, or you’ll take a prescription drug when you’re recovering from a serious injury. You might even be pressured by friends to try illegal drugs like cocaine or MDMA. The initial use of a substance doesn’t always lead to addiction, but it can be the first step.

You’re likely to develop a drug addiction if you display one of the following risk factors:

  • Loneliness or depression
  • Neglected or abused as a child
  • Unstable home life
  • Family history of substance abuse


At this stage, the user is taking the substance more often than they should, or they’re using it improperly. This can include binge drinking (more than five drinks for men and four drinks for women in two hours), taking a higher dose of a prescription than necessary, or taking a painkiller without a prescription. Abuse depends on what the substance is and how it’s affecting the body. When someone abuses drugs or alcohol, they’re using it for “high” it produces rather than for its medical qualities or social aspects.  


Once someone frequently abuses a harmful substance, they’ll eventually develop a tolerance to it. Building a tolerance means that you’ve gotten used to having the drug in your system, and it’s made chemical changes to your brain. You might have fewer chemical messengers and less production of them as well. Now you need more and more of it to achieve the same effect. This is where severe substance abuse can begin.  


When you develop a dependence, your body now requires your substance of choice to function daily. You’ll most likely develop anhedonia, meaning that you won’t be able to feel pleasure without any meth or cocaine in your system. Dependence can also happen with prescription medication. While you might have needed this to improve your injury, it helped at first. However, now you’re using it to feel good instead of healing your body. 


Chronic dependence leads to addiction, which is classified as a mental illness. This can be diagnosed by looking at some specific signs and symptoms:

  • Craving the substance
  • Not keeping up with daily responsibilities (i.e. school, work) due to substance use
  • Having withdrawal when not using the substance
  • Dismissing old activities in favor of substance use
  • Inability to control how much you use the substance
  • Using more of the substance than planned
  • Continuing substance use despite negative effects on health and relationships
  • Using the substance in situations you shouldn’t, like driving

If you display six or more of these symptoms, you most likely have an addiction. 


Now you’ve stopped using your substance of choice and you’re in recovery from addiction. However, you come across physical, emotional, and environmental triggers that remind you of your past abuse. These can include stressful situations, places where and people with whom you did drugs, and objects like cigarettes and marijuana pipes. About 40 to 60 percent of addicts relapse within their first year of recovery. 

Codependency: Drug Abuse and User

When someone abuses substances to the point of dependency, he or she basically can’t function without them. This becomes a dangerous relationship that ends in chronic physical decline and even death.

If you have low self-esteem, you might think that you need drugs to feel better about yourself. If you’re lonely, you might surround yourself with drug-abusing friends who supply you with substances that make you feel accepted. 

Treatment for Codependency and Substance Abuse

At Granite Mountain, we can teach you and your partner how to develop healthy habits for your relationship going forward. If you’re in a toxic relationship, we can also provide you with life skills to deal with that. 

We can help you understand that you do not need drugs to help you feel like a better person. We can also show you that you don’t need to be in a codependent relationship to feel fulfilled.

If you are the partner who is abusing substances, we’ll recommend that you enter a medical detox program. This will get rid of all the harmful toxins in your body that have come from addictive substances. 

Detox is an important part of addiction recovery as it will end your physical dependence on drugs and alcohol. Medical professionals will help alleviate any withdrawal symptoms you might experience while in detox, usually by providing medication. 

Below is a list of helpful therapies you can attend at Granite Mountain:

Individual therapy

Individual therapy consists of only two people – you and your therapist. Together, you’ll determine the characteristics of your codependent personality and how you can improve your confidence. You’ll also gain insight into how addiction and codependency play off of each other. 

Group therapy

In group therapy, you’ll be able to speak freely about your issues with people who have gone through the same or similar experiences. A therapist will lead you and your peers in sessions as you learn communication skills and work through your codependency. 

Family therapy

When you’re in a codependent relationship with a drug addict, your family can often feel left out. Family therapy can help you rebuild broken relationships and help them understand your codependency, whether you’re the addict or the sober partner. You’ll learn skills that will help you learn how to interact in a more beneficial way. 

Substance abusers might also find it helpful to join a recovery group like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or SMART Recovery. Codependent partners can attend groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon and meet others who have substance-abusing loved ones. By keeping yourself accountable, you’ll be able to have healthy, more fulfilling relationships. 

If your partner has an addiction and is unwilling to seek help for it, Granite Mountain has resources for you. We can help you talk to your significant other about facing his or her addiction head-on. 

End Your Codependent Drug Abuse Today

Your cycle of codependency and drug abuse has gone on long enough. Granite Mountain can offer outpatient and partial hospitalization treatment for your loved one suffering from drug addiction. If you’re ready to seek help for your addiction or that of your partner, contact Granite Mountain Behavioral Healthcare today.