How Dependency Can Be Both Good and Bad

How Dependency Can Be Both Good and Bad

Learn more about the definition, theory, and psychology behind dependency.

Dependency can be a somewhat complicated subject. In many cultures, especially in an individualistic culture like we have in the United States, dependency is thought of as something negative. It’s often equated with a character flaw or a state of weakness. Though you could certainly make a case for instances in which this is true, it’s also true that dependence is an unavoidable fact of life.

We are all dependent on natural resources like air, food, and water. As children, we are dependent on our parents or caregivers to meet all of our needs. As adults, we depend on one another for much more than many of us may recognize. We depend on farmers, scientists, engineers, the multitude of individuals that are part of every kind of supply chain, factory workers, journalists, architects, designers, educators, and medical professionals. And these are only a few of many examples of people and systems that we rely on for nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Let’s talk a bit more about what dependency is and how it may manifest in our lives.

What Is Dependency?

In the context of social and interpersonal dynamics, dependency refers to a state in which an individual, group, or society relies on another individual, group, or society for resources, support, or guidance.

Dependency, however, can take a variety of forms. Examples include an addict’s dependence on drugs, a child’s dependence on their parent, or (in the context of science) a variable’s dependence on an experimental manipulation. We would also consider a nation that depends on foreign aid or exports as economically dependent, a person that depends on someone else for validation as psychologically dependent, and a young person that lives with their parents as financially dependent. In all of these varied contexts, reliance on another entity is a unifying theme.

In psychology, dependency typically refers to a relationship that is characterized by excessive reliance on other people (or substances) to meet emotional, physical, or psychological needs. It is often studied in the context of a maladaptive pattern of behaviors such as pathological gambling or drug addiction.

Dependency can be rooted in a variety of factors, including genetics (Hiroi & Agatsuma, 2005), environment, and psychological and social factors (Kopala-Sibley et al., 2015). People who experience high levels of stress or trauma, have low self-esteem, or have a history of neglect or abuse may be more susceptible to developing patterns of dependency (Disney, 2013).

“For everyone you create to be dependent on you, you are equally dependent on them. Neither relationship is healthy.”
― Alan Cohen

Dependency Types

Dependency is a term that captures many different aspects of interpersonal interactions. Below are a few examples of dependency that are commonly studied by behavioral scientists.

Substance Dependence:

Substance dependence refers to a pattern of compulsive drug or alcohol use, characterized by tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and a persistent desire to use the substance despite negative consequences.


As mentioned previously, codependency is a type of relationship in which one person relies excessively on another person for emotional and psychological needs. Codependent individuals may struggle with boundaries, have a strong need for approval, and often put the needs of others before their own.

Behavioral or Process Addictions:

Behavioral or process addictions refer to a pattern of compulsive behavior or activities that a person is unable to control. Examples include gambling addiction, shopping addiction, and internet addiction.

Emotional Dependence:

Emotional dependence refers to a pattern of relying on another person for emotional support, validation, or security. This can occur in close relationships, such as romantic partnerships or friendships.

Physical Dependence:

Physical dependence refers to a pattern of relying on a substance or medication to manage physical symptoms, such as pain or anxiety. Physical dependence can lead to withdrawal symptoms when the substance is discontinued.

Psychological Dependence:

Psychological dependence refers to a pattern of relying on a substance or behavior to manage psychological symptoms, such as stress or anxiety. This can occur with substances such as drugs or alcohol but can also occur with activities such as gambling or gaming.

In Sum

Dependency is commonly cast in a negative light, but the truth is that we all depend on something or someone. There is nothing inherently shameful or wrong about having a dependency. Often being dependent is necessary. However, when a dependency becomes a complete inability to rely on ourselves, it can become a problem. Ideally, we would find a healthy balance between dependencies and self-reliance.


● Disney, K. L. (2013). Dependent personality disorder: a critical review. Clinical psychology review, 33(8), 1184–1196.

● Hiroi, N., & Agatsuma, S. (2005). Genetic susceptibility to substance dependence. Molecular psychiatry, 10(4), 336–344.

● Kopala-Sibley, D. C., Zuroff, D. C., Hankin, B. L., & Abela, J. R. (2015). The development of self-criticism and dependency in early adolescence and their role in the development of depressive and anxiety symptoms. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(8), 1094–1109