The word codependency has many reported beginnings. Although there may be some argument about where the word first started it is generally believed that it originated as part of Alcoholics Anonymous and its sister organization, Al-Anon.

In 1951, Lois Wilson, wife of AA founder, helped to start Al-Anon, a 12-Step recovery program for the families, and significant others of the alcoholic.  Al-Anon has its beginnings and ideals in AA and was begun to address the suffering family members who, like the alcoholic, felt their lives were out of control.  Al-Anon states that “Al-Anon is a mutual support group of peers who share their experience in applying the Al-Anon principles to problems related to the effects of a problem drinker in their lives.  It is not group therapy and is not led by a counselor or therapist; this support network complements and supports professional treatment.”

As treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction evolved in the 1970s, providers began to realize the need and importance of a program for the families. Further, since drug addictions and alcoholism shared more similarities than differences, beginning in the early 1980s, various drug treatment programs adopted the term “chemical dependency,” as it better reflected the similarities between alcoholism (alcohol addiction) and other drug addictions.  This created a more commonly used diagnostic term, treatment for all chemical/drug addictions coalesced into a unified treatment paradigm, “chemical dependency”, which today is categorized as “Substance Use Disorder.”  To fit in with the changes, “co-alcoholism”, the term previously used for family member or alcoholics, was updated to “co-chemically dependent.”  Being too much of a mouthful to say, it was shortened to “co-dependent.”

The term codependency has been around for decades. Although it originally applied to spouses of alcoholics (first called co-alcoholics), researchers revealed that the characteristics of codependents were much more prevalent in the general population than had previously imagined. In fact, they found that if you were raised in a dysfunctional family or engaged in an unhealthy or dysfunctional relationship of any kind, you could also be codependent.

Today, codependency is a term that is not limited to alcohol and drugs, but is used in many ways to describe relationships, almost always as a pejorative. The real question is how does one know when they’re in a codependent relationship?  To what extreme are each of us codependent? It is important to understand that every one of us is codependent to one degree or another. According to Melody Beattie, generally considered the foremost authority on codependence, “A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.”

Dr. Anthony G. Foster,
Chief Executive Officer
The Center for Sobriety, Spirituality & Healing, LLC.