How to Set Key Boundaries for an Addicted Loved One
If you love someone with an addiction, you would do anything for them. Even though this desire to heal your loved one is well-intentioned, it could also cause you to struggle deeply. Setting healthy boundaries for an addicted loved one is incredibly important for your well-being, and also for theirs.
When you have weak boundaries with your loved one, you may be unknowingly helping their addiction thrive.
That being said, boundaries can be hard to set and even harder to stick to.
Learning why setting healthy boundaries for an addicted loved one is so important can help make the process easier for you.
When you develop the awareness that setting boundaries comes from a place of love and compassion, it can make them far easier to implement.
How addiction affects relationships
Addiction is often referred to as a family disease because of its overwhelming impact on the nature of relationships. Unfortunately, addiction has the ability to seep into the relationships of those who are addicted and anyone who loves them.
If you love someone with an addiction, you likely feel the strain that your loved one’s substance use has placed on your connection. Because of your loved one's addiction, it may be difficult for you to feel like you can fully trust them. When your loved one doesn't feel trusted, it can cause them to pull away or become defensive.
Your loved one's addiction likely consumes most of your life, as you're constantly worrying about them and their well-being. A codependent relationship can manifest, in which your moods and emotions become intrinsically tied to the moods and emotions of your loved one. If they had a good day, then you had a good day. If they are struggling, so are you.
Additionally, addiction quite literally changes the way your loved one's brain functions. You may find that your loved one is often doing and saying things that seem wildly out of character for them. You may find yourself taking things personally, feeling badly about yourself, or getting into frequent arguments with your addicted loved one.
What are boundaries when it comes to addiction?
Because of the nature of addiction and how it is so intrinsically tied to relationships and connection, it is incredibly important to set healthy boundaries. According to Oxford, a boundary is defined as “a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.”
When it comes to addiction, boundaries are similar to a loving, healthy wall that you place between you and your loved one regarding specific scenarios, as well as your overall dynamic with one another.
When you love someone with an addiction, there's a chance that you may also struggle with codependency. Whether or not this is the case, you may find that it's very hard for you to say “no” to your addicted loved one. You may think that you're hurting them by saying no to them, or that they'll think you don't love them anymore if you set a boundary with them. However, this is absolutely not the case. When you set boundaries for an addicted loved one, you are doing it entirely out of love, for them and for yourself.
Setting boundaries aren't meant to hurt your loved one, but rather, they are meant to help them finally seek the help they need to heal. Boundaries are not meant to be harsh or critical. You don’t need to share boundaries out of anger, nor are boundaries a punishment. They aren’t meant to make your loved one feel judged or small. They are meant to be shared from a place of love and compassion.
Why is it important to set boundaries for an addicted loved one?
It's incredibly important to set boundaries for your addicted loved one for the sake of their own well-being. Not only does setting boundaries create a space for your loved one to heal, but it creates space for you to heal, too.
How your loved one will benefit from healthy boundaries
You may be wondering how your loved one could benefit from you setting healthy boundaries with them. After all, the word boundary itself has somewhat of a cold connotation. However, setting a healthy boundary is always out of a place of love.
If you currently struggle to set boundaries for an addicted loved one, you end up enabling their addiction in some way. When you enable your loved one and haven’t set healthy boundaries, they don’t have to face all of the otherwise natural consequences of their addiction.
For example, let’s say you’ve continuously lied for your loved one and covered for them, whether it be with other family members, friends, or even their workplace.
Because you’re stepping in to support their addiction by covering for them (this is ultimately what’s happening), they don’t have to face the natural consequence of what would happen if you weren’t there.
Below are some of the results of having weak boundaries in this scenario:
- keeps your loved one comfortable
- prevents your loved one from really seeing their use as problematic
- helps your loved one perpetuate their use
Even though you think you’re helping them by covering for them or “protecting” them, you’re only hurting them in the long run. In the above case, enforcing healthy boundaries for an addicted loved one would look like letting them know you will no longer lie for them.
When you do this, they’ll have to face the natural consequences of their behaviours. When they become uncomfortable as a direct consequence of their behaviour, this can prompt them to have an inner desire to seek change.
It’s important to note that this inner desire to seek change will be evoked by different things for different people. One person, for instance, can go to jail over and over again as a result of behaviours they’re engaging in due to their addiction. They may have become numb to it, or it may not bother them. Someone else, however, can go to jail one time, and that’s all it takes for them to desire to seek change. Your role in this is to remember to let the natural consequences unfold for your loved one, as difficult as it may be.
How you will benefit
When you set healthy boundaries for an addicted loved one, they aren’t the only one who benefits. You will benefit, too. When you love someone with an addiction, it's so easy to forget about your own needs. Your own well-being gets placed on the back burner as you focus all of your energy on the well-being of your loved one. However, you matter too. Your peace, and your mental and emotional well-being matter.
This is why it is so important that you set healthy boundaries for an addicted loved one when you realise that your boundaries may be weak. When you don't, you become so deeply consumed by their issues and their struggles. Your mental and emotional health deteriorate. You may find yourself struggling with symptoms of anxiety or depression. You may even find that your relationships with other people are becoming strained as well, as you aren’t being your full, whole self.
Setting boundaries with your addicted loved one will allow you to remember to take care of yourself, too. This doesn’t mean that you’ll stop being there for your loved one. It just means that you’re also there for yourself.
Signs you need to set boundaries for an addicted loved one
You may be wondering if you even need to set healthy boundaries with your loved one. When you’ve been in a particular dynamic for a long period of time, it becomes normalised. You may not even realise that there are some weak boundaries at play.
Signs that you may need to set boundaries with your addicted loved one:
- Have trouble saying “no” to your loved one
- Don’t prioritise your own needs and well-being
- Don’t ask for what you do need
- Have trouble making decisions
- Are always taking care of others
- Feel resentful towards your loved one
- Feel like your relationship with your loved one is draining
- Hold responsibility for your loved one’s happiness
- Feel like most of your thoughts revolve around your loved one
- Have a fear of abandonment or rejection
- Struggle with people-pleasing behaviours
- Walk on eggshells around your loved one
- Have a hard time expressing your thoughts or emotions to your loved one
- Have lost interest in hobbies or things that were fun for you
If any of these resonate with you, you may have trouble setting healthy boundaries and implementing consequences.
Enable your loved ones recovery and not their addiction
Whenever you find yourself indecisive around a decision to do with your loved one, it is helpful to ask yourself if you are enabling your loved ones recovery or their addiction. This simple question usually throws some much needed light on an otherwise cloudy situation.
5 Tips for helping an addicted loved one get help & helping yourself in the process:
1: Educate Yourself - Get as much information about your loved ones particular addictions as you can. Understanding the severity and reality of their illness will make it easier to enforce boundaries. It will also make it harder for your loved one to manipulate you.
2: Get Support - It is vital that you get support for yourself. Support groups such as Ad Fam, Al Anon, GamCare and many others support those that are affected by another addiction
3: Get some therapy - It can be extremely helpful for you to discuss your situation and fears with a therapist. They will be able to advise on helpful coping strategies and be able to provide an unbiased perspective
4: Don't Enable - Enabling only allows your loved ones addiction to continue and in the process, it will make you very unwell
5: Look after your own needs and wants - Should your loved one ever accept that they need help, you will want to support them in anyway you can. As the saying goes, ‘ You can't pour from an empty cup’. Taking care of yourself is paramount to your wellbeing, and even possibly theirs, when they are ready to accept the professional help they need.
What are examples of consequences and boundaries for an addicted loved one?
You may now have a better understanding of why it's so important to set boundaries with an addicted loved one. It helps them, and it also helps you.
When you set a boundary, you give it power by enforcing it with a consequence. If you do decide to enforce a boundary with your loved one, you must be prepared to also follow through on the consequence you’ve set.
If you don’t, your loved one will not take you or your boundaries seriously. Their cycle of behaviour will continue, and your relationship will remain the same.
When setting boundaries and implementing consequences with your loved one, it's so important to make sure that your decisions feel aligned with your life. If something below doesn't resonate with your specific situation, simply modify it to fit your needs.
Examples of consequences for boundaries that are broken by an addicted loved one:
Boundary: “I won’t lie for you anymore.”
Consequence: “It makes me feel uncomfortable. Moving forward, I will not cover for you. You’ll need to face the natural consequences of your choices without my interference.”
Boundary: “If you get arrested, I will not bail you out or pay for your lawyer.”
Consequence: “You’ll have to face the natural consequences of your choices if you get arrested.”
Boundary: “You cannot drink or use substances in my home.”
Consequence: “If you engage in substance use in my home, you will be asked to leave.”
Boundary: “You cannot be under the influence around the children.”
Consequence: “If you are under the influence around them, I will remove the children, or you will have to leave.”
Boundary: “I will no longer give you money.”
Consequence: “I feel uncomfortable supporting your illness. Even if you’re using the money for food or gas, I’m providing you with comfort that allows your addiction to continue. You will have to find your own source of funding moving forward.”
Boundary: “I will not witness you getting in the car to drive if you are drunk or high.”
Consequence: “If I witness you getting in the car to drive and you are intoxicated, I will have to report it to the police. You are posing an incredible threat to yourself and to others. I cannot have the death of you or an innocent person on my conscience. I do not deserve to bear such a burden.”
A final note on setting boundaries with your loved one
Remember, setting boundaries is not a punishment. You don’t need to talk to your loved one about boundaries in a condescending or demeaning way. Also, you don’t need to discuss your new boundaries with them from an emotionally charged place.
You can talk to your loved one about your boundaries and consequences from a grounded, loving place. Always keep in mind that setting healthy boundaries is going to ultimately help your loved one seek the help they need. There will be times that you feel like you’re being harsh, or you’re afraid you’re doing the wrong thing by setting a boundary. Always tell yourself that this is for the well-being of your loved one.
When you don’t set boundaries, you continue to enable your loved one’s addiction. When they’re comfortable with the way things are, there’s nothing inside of them that desires a change. Their internal motivation for change happens when they face the natural consequences of their use. There is no saying when, or how long that may take for your particular loved one. However, all you are responsible for is standing by your boundaries and following through on your consequences.
Author - Thurga
- Enabling. (2022, October 3). In Wikipedia.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enabling
- The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3725219/
- How to Cope When Someone in Your Household Lives with Addiction - https://www.healthline.com/health/living-with-an-addict