When a person struggles with substance abuse, their addiction can impact everyone around them. It can dramatically change the dynamics of relationships and put loved ones in precarious situations. Because of the damage addiction can cause, setting limits or boundaries and defining what would be considered permissible behaviors can help prevent further damage from being done. While this is not easy and it can feel harsh, it is important to protect oneself and encourage your loved one to self-reflect and take responsibility for the situation.

Boundaries, limits, and consequences must be clear and defined. In order for them to be effective, there can be no exceptions; however, they must be realistic as well. Boundaries are meant to highlight what your limits and ensure they know the consequences should those limits be reached. Not enforcing boundaries will result in them not being taken seriously and encourage your loved one to push them further. This is why it is important to communicate boundaries clearly and follow through on them 100 percent of the time.

Setting Realistic Boundaries

In order to have effective boundaries, they must be realistic and you should consider what you are looking to get out of them by enforcing them. Boundaries without purpose will not help the situation. Consider the following when creating boundaries:

Is the boundary healthy?

Boundaries can be healthy or unhealthy so it is important to consider the impact of the boundary you are creating. A healthy boundary will clearly define your roles in the relationship, aim to reduce chaos and uncertainty, and outline expectations that are designed to strengthen your relationship. If it diminishes a person’s self-worth, encourages guilt and codependency, or enables continued substance abuse, it is an unhealthy boundary.

What behavior do you want to address?

While you cannot control the actions of others, you can create boundaries regarding what you will allow in your life. For instance, boundaries such as not having substances in your home, around you, or around family members sets a clear expectation regarding what you will tolerate. You cannot control whether or not your loved one continues to abuse substances, but you can make it clear that you do not want it in your presence.

What is your motivation?

When setting boundaries, it is important to consider your motivations. Some boundaries are healthy and reasonable, while others may be driven from a desire to exert some form of punishment or revenge. Limits should be placed on behaviors and actions that are important to maintaining safety and the wellbeing of those around them. Boundaries that are created in a way that sets someone up for failure places further strain on the relationship and is not productive.

Does breaking boundaries have consequences?

When boundaries are created, you must also create a set of consequences that will occur should they be broken. The severity of the consequence should match the importance of the boundary. They should be logical, reasonable, clear, and not to be used as a form of punishment or revenge. Boundaries can help you draw lines where you may have previously experienced difficulty saying “no”. They can help you overcome feelings of guilt and reduce the need to explain yourself should something occur. When boundaries and consequences are clearly established, expectations are set and it allows you to protect yourself.

How to Set Good Boundaries

When good boundaries are set, they are one key way to support those in recovery from addiction. You cannot control your loved one’s addiction, but you can control how you react to it. Setting good boundaries enables you to create some stability in your own life and regulate how you respond to particular situations. Boundaries that are focused on ideas such as “if you love me, you will stop” do not work because they place blame on a person and do not set reasonable expectations. Instead, a good boundary focuses on ending enabling behaviors and making it clear that there will be consequences for actions. Some examples may include:

  • If they are arrested, you will not bail them out
  • You will not tolerate drugs or paraphernalia in your home
  • Substance-using friends are not permitted in your home
  • You will not give them money under any circumstances
  • You will no longer lie for them

Setting boundaries can help you create space between you and the chaos that can accompany addiction. It allows you room to focus on your own needs, physical and mental, and ensure you are able to set a healthy example for your loved one. While doing this may be difficult, it is vital that you follow through on your boundaries. This not only protects your wellbeing but also forces your loved one to take responsibility for their actions and consider if it is worth continuing.

Change takes time and boundaries can help encourage positive growth. Taking the time to educate yourself, network with support groups, and stop enabling behaviors will help increase the effectiveness of boundaries you set. Without boundaries, there is no incentive to change. Creating healthy boundaries provides you with a way to express your love and concern without further enabling destructive behaviors.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.


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