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Know all those poems and love stories that talk about love as an all-consuming, intractable force that fuses the lives of two people?

Long-time married couples know that everlasting love is a bit more nuanced than that, but hormone-bombarded teenagers may not be able to see past their all-consuming amorous feelings. In some cases, complete infatuation can lead to something unhealthy, like codependency.

Image of a teen couple holding hands

Codependency is not a diagnosable disorder, but rather a collection of behaviors characterized by an extremely emotional and psychological reliance on another person. A dysfunctional bond with someone can fuel continued substance misuse or addiction in one or both people in the relationship.

Common characteristics of codependency among adults and teens include:

  1. Low self-esteem: A person may feel that they are unworthy of love or respect, and they commonly compare themselves to others and come up wanting. They constantly feel ashamed or guilty.
  2. An extraordinary need to please others: A teen may place the needs and desires of others above their own and will go to great lengths to receive adoration or acknowledgment from other people.
  3. Overwhelming caretaking urges: A person may try to solve the problems of others, even if no assistance is requested, and feel rejected if their efforts are refused.
  4. Poor communication skills: Because a codependent person may be unable to articulate their feelings appropriately, they may tell a lie, avoid a confrontation or exhibit inaccurate feelings or responses.
  5. Inappropriate reactivity: If a person hears something they don’t like, they may become defensive or lash out because they feel threatened.
  6. An inability to navigate boundaries: A person may offer unsolicited advice or make inappropriate comments. Or they may set exceptionally rigid boundaries for themselves and remain detached or withdrawn from others.
  7. Obsessive behavior: A person may fixate on a particular problem or person and be unable to let it go. They may also let a single mistake haunt them for longer than it should.
  8. An irresistible need to control people and situations: A person may use deceit, charm, blame, helplessness, outrage or flattery to manipulate people into getting what they want.
  9. Difficulties with interpersonal intimacy: A person who struggles with codependency won’t open up to anyone for fear of being rejected, judged or misunderstood. They may even sabotage relationships if they feel that someone is getting too close to them.
  10. Unflinching denial: A person may project their negative feelings onto others, blame others for their shortcomings and fail to recognize their unmet needs.
Teen couple struggling with codependency hugging on a busy sidewalk

Because adolescents tend to have fewer life experiences than adults, and lack perspective, they may be especially susceptible to codependency in a relationship. For those who are also misusing substances, this codependency must be treated in the recovery plans for addiction treatment for teens.

When teenagers ignore the tried-and-true advice of everything in moderation when navigating a relationship, codependency can arise and present problems — especially if substance misuse is involved. That’s why a discussion of any mental disorders or emotional problems must accompany a drug treatment program. Otherwise, the teen is likely to fall back into old patterns of dysfunctional behavior once he or she leaves rehab.

A therapist or psychologist can address codependency issues, but if your teen also has substance misuse problems, contact Next Generation Village for more information on programs that can help.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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