Boundaries are essential building blocks of any relationship. They help us to set limits on how we behave or speak to one another. When a loved one develops a substance use disorder, it is especially important to spend some time outlining your boundaries.
Life with No Boundaries
Think of boundaries as an invisible fence between yourself and others. No matter how close you are to your spouse, sibling, or child, you are still two different people – there has to be some sort of separation. The gap between you is your boundary.
When boundaries are in check, you benefit from supportive and respectful relationships with others. You can feel safe expressing your opinions to this friend or family member. You do not feel responsible for their substance use, nor do you fund it. When you set strong limits about the behaviors you will tolerate and the ones you will not, you also increase the likelihood that your family member will seek help.
Life without boundaries is very different. Addiction can cause many dysfunctional interactions between family members. These can include manipulation, attempting to control someone, making yourself a martyr, and bringing up old resentments. It is also possible for an addicted person to continually push you into providing financial support, legal aid, and more. In short, weak boundaries around an addict may result in deception, exploitation, and even stealing.
For these reasons, it is very important to create healthy, strong boundaries between yourself and an addicted loved one.
Examples of Healthy Boundaries
When it comes to setting these limits, each person should spend some time in reflection. Consider your needs – what do you want, and what don’t you like about the current situation? What is your motivation for selecting that boundary? Then, clear communication is required. Let your loved one know plainly which actions you expect from them, and which will result in consequences.
Tip: Using “I” statements can be helpful in avoiding blame or poor phrasing.
Here are some examples of healthy boundaries to set with an addicted family member.
No drugs or alcohol in this house.
Tell your loved one which substances are acceptable and unacceptable in your home. If you don’t want them to drink around your children or bring illegal drugs inside, these are fair requests. Be sure that you clearly outline the consequences for violating these boundaries, such as police intervention or separation, so that they understand what is at stake.
I will not financially support your addiction.
Addicted people almost always encounter financial hardship. This is because they lose their ability to work, spend their savings, and then have to figure out what to do next. Often, that next step is to ask loved ones for money. If the addict in your life has borrowed cash for food, gas, or shelter, but really has spent it on drugs or alcohol, consider setting a limit instead of lending them money without question. It is okay to opt out of paying for your family member’s substance abuse.
I will not lie for you or cover for you anymore.
Many family members of addicts find themselves lying to coworkers, school personnel, bosses, landlords, and just about anyone to cover for their loved one. Calling in sick for someone, for example, is a common occurrence for those related to an alcoholic who is regularly hungover. You probably are tired of making excuses; lying tends to wear on people over time. Set this limit with your loved one: you will not continue to protect them from the consequences of their addiction.
I will not tolerate abusive behavior.
If a person you love frequently yells at you or picks fights, let them know that you will not tolerate that behavior. Make it clear that if they begin to insult you, you will quickly remove yourself from the situation. Do not put your own happiness and safety aside in an effort to keep the peace.
I will not bail you out.
Unfortunately, addiction tends to lead to trouble with the law. Whether your husband is arrested for a DUI or your brother is jailed for public intoxication, your loved one is a grown adult responsible for their own problems. If you do not wish to bail them out, pay for their attorney, or remind them of court dates, plainly state that you will not do these things.
Find an Addiction Treatment Center
Substance abuse is a frightening experience. The “emotional rollercoaster” of addiction is especially difficult for family members who want to help without enabling. If your loved one has lost control of their drinking or drug use, help is available. Contact Lakeside-Milam when you are ready to learn more about residential treatment, outpatient options, and mental health care in Washington State.