Co-Dependents Anonymous is a self-help support group for individuals who want to be in healthy relationships. Using a "12 step" system, Co-Dependents Anonymous offers confidential, free assistance in a supportive atmosphere. Live meetings take place all over the world, and some groups meet online as well. The organization does not provide psychotherapy but does encourage its members to “work” the 12 steps of recovery from co-dependent behavior. People who are interested in joining the organization are encouraged to find a local meeting and attend it six times before making a decision about whether the group is helpful.
Many mental health professionals have begun to pay attention to the problem of co-dependence. Although the traits of a co-dependent relationship were first identified by people observing marriages and partnerships in which one partner is a substance abuser, the co-dependent dynamic exists in relationships where neither partner abuses drugs or alcohol. Instead, one partner places a high priority on preserving the relationship and will engage in self-sacrifice to the point of harming himself or herself to please or satisfy the other partner. In relationships that include substance abusers, co-dependency might manifest itself in one partner “covering” for the irresponsible behavior of the addict. In other relationships, the co-dependent partner might take primary responsibility for maintaining contact with or meeting the needs of the other partner.
Realizing that co-dependency is an unhealthy behavior, Co-Dependents Anonymous was founded by other co-dependents as a self-help alternative to continuing in unhealthy relationship dynamics. The organization uses the recovery model set forth in the "12 steps" and "12 traditions" first established by Alcoholics Anonymous. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, Co-Dependents Anonymous operates as a fellowship in which members can share their experiences and offers support to each other as they attempt to recover from the sickness of co-dependency. Much of the work of Co-Dependents Anonymous takes place in the form of structured meetings and accountable relationships between members and their “sponsors” — individuals who have been in the program for a longer period of time and who can provide one-on-one support.
The 12-step philosophy of recovery is a spiritually based process in which the co-dependent acknowledges that he or she has no control over the behavior of others and seeks the aid of a “higher power" that might be able to help the person normalize his or her thinking and behavior. During the process of working the 12 steps, the Co-Dependents Anonymous member works to develop a better understanding of himself or herself and his or her behavior. The person also makes amends to those whom he or she has harmed and eventually seeks to assist other co-dependents in their recovery.