Setting Boundaries for Loved Ones with an Addiction

Addiction in the United States has grown exponentially in recent years, particularly because of the opioid crisis. To combat this, treatment centers have been established, programs have been created, AA/NA meetings take place daily from coast to coast, the medical community has recognized it as a disease—all of which has helped those with substance use disorder. While this has been unfolding, however, another affected community has continued to suffer from addiction, and that is the family, friends, and loved ones of those battling addiction.

As it is an inherently selfish disease, addiction systematically usurps everything and everyone around the person battling it, leaving carnage, heartbreak, and confusion in its wake. The first thing many people (especially family members) want to do for an addict is to help them. For parents, the instinct to help their children is a strong one—if they pull back, they feel like they are abandoning or betraying them.

At the onset of an addiction, there is usually a lack of knowledge on the subject, and little awareness of how severe the substance abuse has become. What they believe is helping the person they love is actually perpetuating their use.

Recognizing a Problem

Once you know a person in your life has a substance abuse problem, they have likely gotten to a pretty bad point and are struggling to keep it hidden or “managed.” Typically, this can look like blowing off commitments, isolation, irritability, financial problems, etc. If you are a parent and your child lives in your home, you will notice these things quickly. You might begin seeing things disappear from around your house, or money vanishing from your wallet.

Some other signs the person in question might exhibit:

  • Lying about where they go
  • Inability to pay for things such as cell phone bills, gas, groceries
  • Changes in behavior or personality
  • Differences in hygiene routine, such as not showering or showering multiple times a day
  • Spoons missing from the cutlery drawer
  • Missing commitments such as work or school

Once these flags go up, it is important to assess the situation. Have you discussed your concerns with the person? If you have, are they taking any steps to address the problem? Have they made any positive changes to move them forward? More often than not, in trying to be supportive of their issue, you have been enabling them to further their habit. If this is the case, a new approach may be the next step.

 

Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries is healthy and advantageous for both you and your loved one. Many people (specifically parents) bristle at the thought of cutting back on their support because they interpret it to be abandoning or betraying the person battling addiction. This is a deep-set instinct that parents have, and they feel they are responsible for helping their children. What takes some time to understand is that providing what they think is help or support to the addict or alcoholic is actually harmful to them; it allows them to focus on their drug of choice. If they know you will be there to provide these things, they can spend their time and energy on their addiction. For this reason, “help” looks different in the face of substance abuse disorders.

Some examples of boundaries you can set might include:

  • Forbidding alcohol or drug use in your home or in front of you
  • Banning substances from your home altogether
  • Not lending them money or canceling their credit cards/cell phone
  • Setting curfews and/or asking for monthly rent (if they are living with you)
  • Stop providing rides/letting them use your vehicle unless it is to a meeting or treatment
  • Not seeing or speaking to them if they are in active addiction
  • Not bailing them out of jail or assisting with court fees

These seem like challenging rules to set into place, and, in truth, they are. In many ways, they are ultimatums, and you are asking the person to agree to a certain way of living. Addiction causes unrest and unhealthy relationships, and it must be navigated with caution and a firm hand.

If your loved one does not agree to the boundaries you wish to set, you must follow through and cut contact, or tell them they are no longer welcome in your life until they decide to get better. By explaining the consequences of their actions, they may understand what is at stake.

In all likelihood, your child or the person you care about will be defensive or upset. They might gaslight you into thinking you are being extreme, that you don’t love them, that you will make their addiction worse. A person in active addiction is often not thinking straight and will say things to get what they want. It’s important to remember that it’s the substance speaking, not your loved one. This can be frightening and challenging, but it is the best way you can help them.

 

Long Term Recovery = the Goal

Health and happiness are what every person wants for their loved ones, including those with substance use disorder. It can feel conflicting to let go of them and to draw back financially/emotionally/physically when you are wanting to hold on, but it is the best bet for them to get well. If these boundaries are not put in place, their addiction will likely get much worse. Without consequences, they may never understand the need to get sober or realize the better life they are capable of living.

If you are concerned about a loved one and have tried all of the above, it may be time to look into professional treatment options. We have a team of compassionate Admissions specialists who will be happy to discuss options with you, and are available 24/7 at 866.420.6222. Help is out there, and recovery is possible. Please reach out today.

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