Codependency and Love Addiction – What’s the Difference?


While both codependency and love addiction stem from childhood trauma (and often go hand-in-hand), it is possible to suffer from love addiction without being codependent – and vice versa.

Roughly two decades ago, a deeper understanding of the insidious disorder now known as love addiction was just beginning to emerge. Our earliest understandings of the disorder stemmed from our existing grasp on codependency – thus, we initially combined the two as one in the same. Later on, we came to understand love addiction as a primary disorder. While the two disorders can go hand-in-hand, it is possible to be codependent without being love addicted.

“Not all codependents are love addicts, but all love addicts are codependent.” – Pia Mellody

What is Codependency?

In a codependent relationship, the codependent individual relies on his or her partner to meet all of his or her emotional needs, and his or her sense of self-esteem is dependent entirely on the continuation of the relationship. Relationships in which one individual struggles with codependency are almost always unhealthy, one-sided, and highly dysfunctional. In many cases, one individual will struggle with substance abuse, mental illness, immaturity, irresponsibility, or some other underachieving behavior. The codependent will enable this behavior, inadvertently allowing it to continue, and eagerly fulfilling the role of caretaker.

There are several benchmark symptoms of codependency, though one does not need to possess all of the symptoms in order to qualify as codependent. Some of these symptoms include:

  • An inability to set healthy boundaries.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • A lack of self-identity.
  • Issues with intimacy.
  • A need to control (or be controlled).
  • Unhealthy communication skills (an inability to express personal needs).
  • Obsessive thinking.
  • People-pleasing tendencies.

Codependent individuals consistently put the needs of others before their own, and often develop severe and deep-seated resentments as a result. Those who struggle with codependency typically come from dysfunctional families – many of them adopted misguided core beliefs during childhood as a direct result of neglect, abuse, or abandonment. Dysfunction comes in many different varieties. In some cases, children will be forced to fill the role of the caretaker – perhaps because their parent (or parents) struggle with mental illness, addiction, or a chronic health condition. Children who grow up filling this role may come to believe that their own happiness and well-being depends wholly on their ability to care for someone else. In other cases, children will be emotionally invalidated on a regular basis, learning that their own emotional needs are unimportant – perhaps adopting the belief that they are unworthy, inadequate, or insignificant.

We carry unresolved childhood issues with us into our adult relationships, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. In order to heal codependent tendencies, we must first heal our childhood wounds.

What is Love Addiction?

Those who suffer from love addiction, on the other hand, are essentially addicted to the feeling of falling in love. They strive to find the perfect relationship (though we know this is an unrealistic ideal), and hope to remain in the ‘romantic phase’ of a relationship forever (which is also highly unrealistic). Romantic relationships have phases – they all do. Love addicts become hooked on the emotional high of falling in love; as soon as a relationship begins to stabilize, or gain more emotional depth and solidity, they grow restless and distracted.

Those who suffer from love addiction will typically possess three main characteristics. First of all, they will cling to unrealistic expectations – both for their partner and for their relationship as a whole. They will expect their partner to constantly regard them in a positive light. Secondly, they will spend a disparate amount of time and emotional energy focusing on the object of their obsession (yes, obsession). Because love addicts so deeply fear being left by their partner, they will do everything in their power to keep the relationship afloat. The disproportionate amount of time spent thinking about the relationship and obsessing about being left will eventually blossom into a full-blown mental obsession. Finally, love addicts will fail to care for themselves while they are in the addictive relationship. They will often abandon self-care entirely, and spend all of their time tending to the needs of their partner.

While love addicts fear abandonment (a fear that typically stems back to early childhood), they will also deeply desire an intimate relationship. Because they are incapable of healthy intimacy, however, they will choose partners who are also incapable of being intimate in a healthy and functional way. They will often become enmeshed with their partner, and continue in this brutal cycle of emotional agony and self-defeatism until they become aware of their addiction and begin seeking help.

What is Codependent Love Addiction?

Codependent Love Addicts (CLAs) are the most widely recognized, as far as love addicts go. They tend to fit a relatively standard profile, suffering from low self-esteem and deep-seated emotional insecurities (usually stemming back to childhood). CLAs attempt to keep people in their lives through manipulation – their addictive tendencies have many codependent qualities, including caretaking, rescuing, enabling, accepting abuse, and passive-aggressive controlling. They have dragged high levels of shame with them from childhood into adulthood, and believe that they are somehow defective or undeserving. Essentially, codependent love addicts possess all of the self-defeating qualities of both codependency and love addiction.

Recovery from Codependency and Love Addiction

When a young child is not adequately nurtured by his or her primary caregivers, development will be stunted, and the child will inevitably adopt a distorted sense of self. When a young child is abandoned, he or she will develop dysfunctional coping mechanisms – in the way of codependency and love addiction, these coping mechanisms concern looking to others for a sense of self. In order to heal and begin developing and maintaining healthy and functional relationships, one must heal unresolved childhood wounds and begin developing a stable sense of self. We at Next Chapter work with men who lack a solid sense of self-identity based on unresolved childhood trauma. We treat love addiction and codependency as primary disorders, utilizing a wide array of proven therapeutic techniques and methodologies.

For more information on our program of recovery, please contact us today.