Setting Healthy Boundaries with an Addict

Categories: Articles, Love and Relationships, Parent Resources

Boundaries are an incredibly healthy part of any relationship, but when your loved one is addicted to a substance, good boundaries can mean the difference between a toxic relationship that harms you and them and one in which both of you can benefit. Addiction changes people, damaging the ego and turning all of their focus away from social interaction, love, and supporting their friends and family and towards their substance of choice. While this is a natural result of overstimulating the reward system, which provides social motivation for healthy people, it’s damaging to relationships and to your loved one’s ability to give back in a relationship.

At the same time, it’s understandable you don’t want to cut someone you love out of your life. And, while “tough love” is popular as a solution, it often doesn’t work. Setting healthy boundaries will give you the ability to step back, keep your loved one from hurting or taking advantage of you, and maintain your relationship so that you can be there for your loved one when they’re ready.

The following 7 tips will help you set healthy boundaries with your loved one, so that you can stay healthy as you work to get your loved one into addiction rehab.

Remember They’re Responsible for Themselves

While it’s easy to feel guilty or responsible for people when they are in pain, especially when you could help but aren’t, you are not responsible. Addiction is a complex and nuanced disorder which often plays into multiple factors such as stress, upbringing, peer groups, and coping mechanisms, but it is the person’s choices that eventually result in addiction. Prolonged exposure to a substance is the number one factor contributing to addiction, and they made that choice for themselves. Family members often feel shame and guilt, but it is not on you.

They’re also responsible for making the choices to go into rehab and to get help, because getting clean or sober often requires a significant amount of personal willpower and motivation. You can be there to help and facilitate the process of getting help and you should make that clear, but you should not take responsibility for pain someone else is causing themselves.

Detach with Love

As a parent, sibling, spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, or even a friend, it can be easy to give too much of yourself to helping someone get better. You can spend all your time and energy picking up after someone, covering their addiction, picking them up, driving them somewhere, or even taking them to the hospital. You can also spend a lot of time and effort waiting, making life more comfortable, or otherwise investing in a person who is not in a condition where they can invest back in you.

While it’s nice to be there for your loved one, a practicing addict or alcoholic will continue to demand more and more of your time, effort, and energy. Detaching with love is the practice or recognizing that you can’t give it and be healthy yourself. You need to put yourself first, and if that means not being there for your loved one, then you won’t be there.


Say No and Mean It

Addicts can be selfish, manipulative, and demanding. Recognizing that, and that it is often the substance talking and not your loved one, is an important part of setting boundaries. This means that when you say no, you have to stick to it even when the addict in your life begs, uses manipulative or hurtful behavior, or otherwise questions your love for them to get you to change your mind.

If you can establish that a no means a no, you’ll be in a better and healthier place where you can much more easily control how and when you spend your time.

No Money

Money ties into saying no, but many parents and siblings continue to pay for rent, groceries, or even transport long after when they should have stopped. While it can feel like your loved one won’t be able to manage any of these things by themselves once you stop, that’s often the point. Continuing to pay for even basic necessities could be enabling them to continue drug use, because they couldn’t maintain it without your support.

Saying no about money after providing it can result in anger, outrage, and a lot of hurtful words. Stick to no, establish it as a given part of your relationship that you won’t be paying for anything, but make it clear that they can sleep on the couch (or bed if you’re in a relationship), can come to you for non-financial help, and that you’ll always be there to listen when they need it.

No Drugs or Alcohol in My House

It should be a basic ground rule that the addict is not allowed to use or drink while in your house. You can and should establish that you understand they are drinking or using when outside and when on their own but that they are not allowed to do so when with you. You could also work to get your loved one access to drugs such as Naloxone to prevent overdose, help them to learn more about safely using, attend meetings, or otherwise be there for them in ways that show you accept they are using – just don’t allow it in your home. This extends to them inviting friends over to drink or use as well.


I Will Not Lie for You

It’s extremely easy to get caught up in a pattern of lying and deceit for the benefit of an addict. It often starts small, hiding addicted behavior, hiding why someone is not at work, or lying to friends and family. This can extend to buying them drugs or alcohol to stop withdrawal symptoms, deliberately going out of your way to cover for them, and extending your time and energy to hide their addiction. This process is enabling of their addiction, harmful to you, and harmful to your relationships with the people you’re lying to. If you can say no, refuse to lie to anyone for their benefit, and move forward on a policy of honesty first, you can build a better and happier relationship.

I Won’t Change to Accommodate You

Addicts are often demanding, rarely respectful of other’s time and energy, and may expect you to wait or spend your time helping them in ways they wouldn’t help you. For example, you may be accustomed to waiting for long periods for the addict in your life to come home for dinner. Don’t. If they aren’t there on your time and your schedule, proceed without them. If you can make this a tenant of your relationship “I’ll be there for you, but you have to do your part” you’ll establish a healthier and better relationship.

Addicts are often difficult, selfish, and motivated by nothing more than their substance. However, there is still hope. If you remain there for your loved one, you can continue to support them, talk to them, and listen to them. And, when they’re ready to go into rehab, you can help. While there are many tools you can use to try to expedite this process, such as an intervention, the important thing is that you are there, establish that you trust and respect your loved one, and are willing to help when they are ready.

When your loved one is ready to go to rehab, they can and will get better. Modern rehabilitation uses a combination of medical support and behavioral therapy to approach addiction from a holistic point of view, tackling both the physical problem of addiction and the underlying behaviors and problems behind the addiction with the intent of giving your loved one the tools and foundation to start over, without the need for drugs or alcohol.

If you or your loved one needs help, contact us today and feel free to talk to us about addiction treatment programs at our affordable drug and alcohol rehab that fit your needs. The Anaheim Lighthouse is a modern and effective addiction treatment center in Southern California.

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