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 likely 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 like, 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 like 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.
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“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 likely 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.