Codependency has been referred to as “relationship addiction” or “love addiction.” Our focus on others helps alleviate our pain and inner emptiness, but by ignoring ourselves, it only grows. This habit becomes a circular, self-perpetuating system that takes on a life of its own. Our thinking becomes obsessive, and our behavior compulsive, despite adverse consequences. Examples might be calling a partner or ex we know we shouldn’t, sacrificing ourselves, finances, or values to accommodate someone, or snooping out of jealousy or fear. This is why codependency has been referred to as an addiction.
Experts agree that addiction is a disease, similar to other medical conditions. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a chronic, progressive brain disease, affecting the reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. It’s characterized by craving, denial, dysfunctional emotional responses, and inability to consistently abstain and control behavior. To diagnose a mild substance use disorder, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-V) requires only two out of 11 symptoms, which can vary in severity on a continuum. (See “Living with an Addict” for the diagnostic criteria.)