When Addiction Causes Counter-Dependency


Dependency is definitely a big problem for people affected by substance abuse.

Obviously, the addicted person is dependent upon their drug of choice and it negatively affects their life and the lives of those around them.

Likewise, many family members of addicts/alcoholics are codependent, engaging in problematic behaviors that are just as destructive as those of the addicted person.

Sometimes, though, the consequences of addiction can manifest in a dysfunctional mindset known as “counter-dependency”. Although not as well-known as codependency, this is its exaggerated polar opposite.

Whereas codependency is defined by an unrealistic and unhealthy over-reliance on or need for another person (the addict), counter-dependency is an unhealthy rejection of intimacy, characterized by a lack of trust and a refusal to admit to a need of others.

While co-dependent behaviors focus on maintaining intimate relationships no matter the personal costs, counter-dependent behaviors are characterized by the avoidance of any emotional vulnerability to someone else.

Signs of Counter-Dependency

  • lack of attachments/difficulty connecting with others
  • has problems trusting others
  • denies needing relationships with others
  • a strong need to constantly be right
  • egotistical
  • self-centered
  • refuses to ever ask for help
  • demands perfection of themself and everyone around them
  • extremely uncomfortable appearing vulnerable or weak
  • has difficulty relaxing
  • workaholic
  • addicted to exercise/grooming to the point of narcissism

At first glance, the person who is counter-dependent might seem to be simply strongly autonomous and confident. However, healthy autonomy and self-reliance still recognize the need for interconnectivity with and interdependence on others.

Causes of Counter-Dependency

Many addicts/alcoholics are counter-dependent because of an interruption in parental attachment when they were infants. Because addiction can be multi-generational, this can often be because their parents were addicts or alcoholics themselves.

Due to the lack of or reduced sufficient bonding/attachment/guidance from their own addicted parents, the child develops an exaggerated sense of their own independence and autonomy and suppression of their reliance on anyone else.

This can also be caused or worsened by withholding affection from the parent or by abuse, both typical behaviors of addicted/alcoholic parents.

When the child grows up – often becoming an addict or alcoholic – they continue to use the coping mechanisms they learned when they were younger. In their minds, if they don’t need someone else, then they will never be let down.

Likewise, a high percentage of the children of addicts/alcoholics who don’t become addicted during adulthood seek out people with substance abuse problems as their own spouses, continuing the generational cycle.

And, because primary codependency is common among the children of substance abusers, many who grow up to be codependent will subconsciously seek out a partner that is counter-dependent.

It is even possible for some couples to switch back and forth, swapping their roles of codependence and counter-dependence, depending on the nature of their current situation and their individual unsatisfied needs.

Treatment for Counter-Dependency

Counter-dependency is just one of the many mental disorders and dysfunctions that can co-occur with addiction. Although a person may enter a rehab program because of their substance abuse issues, the addiction cannot be effectively treated without also treating psychiatric problems. If any attempt to do so will be overly difficult and ultimately, self-defeating. Sobriety will not last and healing will not occur if emotional sobriety is not also achieved.

Counter-dependency is a dysfunction that is usually rooted in childhood issues, most typically the “subtle disconnects between parent and child“, as Drs Janae and Barry Weinhold aptly put it in their 2008 book, The Flight from Intimacy. As such, the issue is often deeply-ingrained in the person’s psyche.

Fortunately, it is possible to recover from childhood trauma and set aside the negative and destructive behaviors learned. Talking to a trained counselor about any childhood issues is a good place to start.

To fully heal from counter-dependency, however, the person needs to learn how to redefine intimacy in their own life. Because their partner is most often codependent, couples counseling with a therapist experienced in dealing with addiction-related issues can be particularly helpful in helping the couple learn about acceptable levels of intimacy.

Then, the couple can move forward with a new found emotional sobriety that will help them avoid unnecessary stresses and destructive triggers that could threaten to undermine all their hard-won progress.

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