How to Set Healthy Boundaries When Dealing With Addiction

7 Boundaries to Set When a Loved One is Addicted

How to Set Healthy Boundaries When Dealing With Addiction

Boundaries are essential in any relationship – but when a friend or loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they’re even more important.

What do boundaries have to do with addiction?

Boundaries are key to creating healthy relationships; even when your loved one isn’t healthy. Boundaries are key in marriages, friendships, relationships – between you and your parents, siblings, coworkers and more.

Think of boundaries a psychological fence between two people: you are not the same person as anyone else, regardless of your relationship. Boundaries establish guidelines for suitable behaviors, responsibilities, and actions.

When your boundaries are weak – or don’t exist at all – you compromise what makes you, you. Weak boundaries allow you to lose yourself, your freedom, your personal space. Weak boundaries when a loved one is addicted, mean you will ly be lied to, cheated on, and stolen from.

When you set boundaries with an addicted loved one, you increase the chances that he or she will seek help.

Who needs to set boundaries?


Every single person needs to have boundaries within his or her relationships, and if your loved one is addicted to heroin, painkillers, alcohol – or any other drug – you need to establish boundaries. Setting solid boundaries for yourself allows you – the loved one of a drug addicted person – to bring a measure of control and sanity into a chaotic and insane situation.

The following are telltale signs that you need to set boundaries, or strengthen your existing boundaries:

  • You bring up what he or she has done wrong in the past
  • You send him or her on guilt trips
  • You are constantly telling him or her what to do (and warning what will happen if they don’t do it)
  • You criticize
  • You give solutions when you haven’t been asked
  • You cover for him or her (lied for them, called in sick for work, picked him or her up from the bar)
  • You are taken advantage of, or stolen from
  • You walk on eggshells to avoid conflict

Establishing Healthy Boundaries

Moving into the new year, it’s time to set healthy boundaries. Doing so involves taking care of yourself, understanding your wants and needs, and determining what you don’t , want or need. It also involves clear communication with your loved one.

As situations in each home and relationship can vary, the following boundaries are not a “one-size-fits-all” – but they are a good place to start when deciding how to set boundaries with the addicted person.

“No drugs or alcohol are allowed around me or in the house.”

Let your loved one know what substances are acceptable and unacceptable in the home. Don’t want illegal substances heroin or cocaine under your roof? Let him know. No drinking alcohol when the kids are in the house? Communicate that with her.

Let your loved one understand the consequences if he or she violates those boundaries. Will you force her to find somewhere else to stay if she’s been drinking? Will you notify the police if you find heroin in the dresser drawers? Reclaim control over what goes on in your home, within your personal space, and the space around your children or grandchildren.

“No drug-using friends are allowed in the home.”

Just because your loved one may not be using at the time, doesn’t mean his or her friends aren’t using. If you don’t want someone who is high on Oxycontin in your home, then you shouldn’t have to put up with that. Laying out such a boundary reduces the damaging effect of addiction on the family.

“If you are arrested, I will not bail you out or pay for a lawyer to defend you.”

This type of boundary will prompt responsibility for your loved one. Although addiction is a disease that needs to be treated as such, there is a responsibility that lies upon your loved one to take care of him or herself by getting help.

When you set such a limit, you are letting him know that he is an adult and is responsible for himself.

Make it clear that his drug use or drinking is something that must be confronted, but in the meantime, he must conform to the standards of behavior that you expect – and the law requires.

“No more insults or ridicule.”

Retain your own values, your plans and your goals. By setting boundaries to eliminate the insults, you no longer sacrifice your self-worth.

Reestablish the self-respect and integrity that you hold, and that your family holds by defining what is acceptable language and actions.

Don’t forget that you have a right to expect decent and respectful behavior from others – including a drug addicted loved one.

“I will not give you any more money – whether it is to pay a bill, buy you food, or put gas in your vehicle.”

Addiction can distorts family roles: it turns family members into caretakers, scapegoats, doormats, enablers and pleasers.

By setting the boundary to no longer financially support your loved one, you are focusing on your own well-being and mental health.

Remember, setting boundaries won’t cure the addiction or control an addicted person – but they will protect you. Protect your mental health, your physical well-being, and your finances.

“I will not lie or ‘cover’ for you anymore – regardless of the circumstances.”

Insisting that your loved one act more responsibly will benefit both of you. The disease of addiction thrives in chaos and lies. Set boundaries that will help to remove you from such mayhem, and force your loved one to take ownership in his or her actions and behaviors.

“If you aren’t on time for dinner, you are not welcome to join us.”

With the focus on an addicted individual, family members never put themselves first.

If you’re constantly worrying about your loved one and the troubles his drinking or drugging bring onto him or the family – you’re being robbed of your peace of mind.

Just as your loved one’s life has been taken over by addiction, so too has that of your family. Set boundaries and take back what is important to you.

Setting boundaries is important for both you and your drug or alcohol addicted loved one.

With boundaries, you are less ly to become entangled in the chaos of the addiction, you will keep the focus on yourself and your well-being, and get off of the emotional roller coaster rides.

Free from the extremes of emotions, you’ll think more clearly, healthy, and rationally, reclaim your self-respect, set healthy examples for your family, and give your drug addicted reason to seek help.

Hold firm in your words and actions, and don’t make idle threats.

In time, you may find you rely on your loved one less and less as you continue to stand strong – and eventually, your loved one may be forced to accept responsibility for his or her actions – causing motivation for him or her to seek help and seek change, too. Make 2016 the year of change for the whole family unit by taking steps that you can manage, and setting boundaries for yourself.


Setting Boundaries with an Addicted Loved One

How to Set Healthy Boundaries When Dealing With Addiction

It’s devastating to know there’s only so much you can do.

Right now, it’s important to understand you have the right to take care of yourself first. Just as you’re advised to do when flying: apply your oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs.

This is an incredibly hard concept to accept for the majority of us.

However, only by preserving your resiliency can you continue to love this individual in crisis, hold compassion, and provide help and guidance when required.

Accept That It’s Not Your Fault

Anyone close to you is often in your scope of influence. However, there are numerous factors that contribute to substance abuse. There are also many ways someone can avoid becoming addicted.

As hard as it may be, first acknowledge and accept your loved one’s addiction isn’t your fault. Yes, there may be environmental, hereditary, or traumatic aspects that tilted the potential for risk—but no single factor determines if someone will have a substance abuse problem. An individual must take responsibility for his or her behavior and actions.

Further, there’s little you can do to force your loved one into recovery. Your role is to be supportive and understanding if this is his or her eventual choice.

Learn How to Say No

Maintaining a level of self-care often requires us to not overstep our limits and understand the power of saying no.

This is challenging to do even in the best of circumstances regarding trivial matters.

When it comes to drawing an emotional boundary line and refusing whatever our loved one is asking for, we often feel guilty, hold a sense of obligation, and feel it’s our duty to protect him or her.

Individuals affected by addiction can sometimes demonstrate behaviors that including lying, stealing, manipulation, and other misguided unethical actions. They may experience criminal or financial trouble, have difficulty maintaining employment or housing, and fail to keep up with personal care needs.

It’s not your responsibility to tolerate or fix any of these things. You don’t need to become codependent or enable your loved one to continue using by doing so. Yes, you may be able to still see that person you love, perhaps even gave birth to, through all the turmoil. This will, most certainly, pull your heartstrings into a tight knot and cause many sleepless nights.

But if the disease has altered his or her brain chemistry to the point where behaviors and actions are compromising to you or anyone else, you must say no. What does this mean? It means setting boundaries and keeping them. You can’t:

  • Give him or her financial support
  • Permit your loved one to steal from you or anyone else
  • Allow substance use in your home under any circumstances
  • Tolerate abuse of any kind of you or anyone else

These and other clear prohibitive factors must be made clear. Remember when setting boundaries, you must remain consistent in your message. For example, simply say: “I love you, and want you to be healthy. If you choose to seek treatment for substance use, I’ll be here to support you. If you choose to keep abusing drugs or alcohol, I won’t accept the following behaviors….”

Consequences for not following your rules should also be clearly communicated, and you must enforce them for the slightest infraction. Yes, you might be afraid of what will happen as a result, but you’re not in control of your loved one’s actions.

Establish a Support Network

Setting boundaries with someone requires a lot of willpower and persistence. You might find it easier if you have people to turn to who understand what you’re going through.

Just as people in recovery have 12-Step groups designed to relate to the challenges and joys of sobriety and maintain accountability, friends and family members of people with addiction problems have specialized communities for coping, setting boundaries, and establishing healthy lives away from addiction:

You may also find solace and reinforcement through church or spiritual groups, individual therapy, and other friends and family members of your loved one.

Invest in Self-Care Routines

Dedicate time to care for yourself so you have the resilience you need to deal with this troublesome process.

  • Stay physically active and get plenty of rest
  • Spend time in the sunshine, around animals, and with people who support you
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Focus on other things in life other than your loved one’s substance problem
  • Don’t assume all responsibility for caring for this person

Your sense of self, your accomplishments, your purpose in life—these characteristics aren’t defined by your loved one’s addiction or recovery. Setting healthy boundaries doesn’t change how you feel about this person, but can enable you to deal with the challenges of substance abuse.

Here are some books that may help you as well:

How Willingway Can Help

Willingway offers free Continuing Care community groups in many cities throughout the Southeast. These informal weekly meetings are open to anyone who needs information on addiction and support for their family.

To find out more about services offered by Willingway, substance abuse treatment in Georgia, contact us 24 hours a day at 888-979-2140, and let us help you get started on the road to recovery.



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