Co-dependency and love addiction: nature or nurture?

30th May 2018


Co-dependency and love addiction: nature or nurture?

If you have addictive tendencies you may also have trouble forming and maintaining healthy relationships. You may rely too much on your partner and feel that you are unable to cope on your own. Or you might just struggle with seeing them enough and want to spend all of your time together. Are co-dependency and love addiction under our control or are we unable to avoid becoming needy towards others? Is it a case of simple addiction, and therefore can it be treated and is rehabilitation possible? Is the root of the problem caused by nature or nurture?


It is thought that co-dependency is inherited in one sense – but in learning from the modelled behaviours of our elders rather than via genetic inheritance. In co-dependent relationships, it is common to find that one or both partners have some kind of personality disorder such as narcissism or a need to take control, and the behaviours of such personalities are naturally passed on through the generations via behaviours at home. It is up to the descendants to recognise their own or parents’ flaws and to break the chain of narcissistic or co-dependent behaviours with their own children.

Love addiction

Love addiction can appear to take control of someone’s emotions and make them act out of character in the name of love. It may be true love or it could be a false obsession, but the person with the addiction will be powerless over their need to be loved and affirmed, and again will be modelling what can be unhealthy life choices and partner choices as a result of their uncontrollable emotions.

Addiction takes many forms, and today is a widely recognised disease, with increasing acceptance that it is not a choice but an illness that requires understanding and support to be overcome. Love addiction was not recognised as an addiction separate from alcoholism or narcotic addiction until as recently as the 1970s. During this time support was available for alcoholics, but little else. Other types of addicts were referred to as co-alcoholics, and from here came the term co-dependent.

Co-dependency as addiction

During the 1980s co-dependents were commonly associated with addicts (see Anne Schaef, 1990, ‘Escape from Intimacy’), and in this way, the relationship was treated as dysfunctional from the point of view of addiction. This is where the link between co-dependency and love addiction came from.

Love addiction later became a recognised form of addiction, and addicts were seen as coming from all walks of life: female or male, married or single, celebrity or Joe Bloggs. Co-dependency started to take on a new definition and the co-dependent was seen as separate from the addict and as being treatable as a patient.


Perversely, many love addicts demonstrate something known as love avoidance, whereby they are so afraid of their addiction, or of becoming co-dependent, that they make poor relationship choices with people who are unavoidable or ‘safe’. For example, an addict might fall in love with someone who is gay, already married, boring, or abusive, so that they can maintain an emotional distance and avoid intimacy and dependency – both that of their own and that of a partner who might overwhelm them. Their greatest desire is to be in love, but their greatest fear is also to be in love, and so they avoid the possibility of it actually happening.

This avoidance, or ambivalence, may take place on a conscious or subconscious level, but it is a means of self-preservation. Needless to say, it is not a means to a healthy and fulfilling love partnership and so love avoidance needs to be addressed alongside love addiction or co-dependency in relationships.

Many people go through their whole lives following the behaviour patterns modelled to them by their parents, and some find it almost impossible to find or keep a healthy relationship without support from an addiction organisation who can teach about patterns of addiction and methods of overcoming them by following a 12-step self-help programme.

For help or advice about any issues associated with co-dependency or love addiction, contact Serenity today.

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