How to Set Boundaries When Your Loved One is Suffering from Addiction

Setting limits to addiction

Watching a loved one suffer from an addiction can be incredibly painful. 

You want your loved one to be healthy, happy, and to know that they’re loved. Addiction can create a toxic environment in your relationship, making it difficult to communicate these feelings effectively, and causing unbearable emotional or even physical harm. 

Knowing how to set the right boundaries will benefit both you and your loved one, and maybe even save your relationship with them.

Why is it important to set boundaries?

Without boundaries, it’s easy to lose yourself to your loved one’s addiction and compromise the things that make you you.

Addiction is a destructive disease and can fuel behaviors rooted in fear, like resentment, trying to manipulate or control your loved one, or developing a martyr complex. Feelings and actions that come from fear are counterproductive to dealing with the root issue of the addiction.

Instead, setting healthy physical and/or emotional limits protects your own mental health and overall well-being, and provides extra support for your loved one. Having boundaries in place may also make it easier to repair your relationship as your loved one works toward recovery. 

How to set boundaries

When a loved one is suffering from addiction, it may have taken over your life, too, making it difficult to establish boundaries for yourself. The first step is to accept that you cannot change your loved one, and instead you have to work with what you can change: your role in the situation. Give yourself permission to take a step back when you feel overwhelmed or too attached to an outcome.

Tune into yourself to figure out what your values and limits are. 

Some examples of value-based boundaries include not lying or “covering” for your loved one if they ask you to, or deciding whether or not you’ll allow your loved one to bring their alcohol or drug-using friends into your home.

It’s also important to decide when a situation requires immediate boundaries to be set. Sometimes it’s easy to identify these situations, for example, if violence is involved. Other times, it’s not quite as obvious when it’s time to step back from an interaction.

If an interaction with your loved one is creating knots in your stomach, or you find yourself beginning to feel resentful during a conversation, know that these are signs to step away momentarily from a situation. Take some time to cool off or process your feelings before returning to your loved one to talk it out. 

How to communicate boundaries

Once you’ve set your boundaries, clearly communicate them to your loved one. Be honest and direct with them, but most importantly, be respectful and compassionate. 

Make sure you speak in ways that won’t provoke a defensive response. Remain calm during the conversation, stick to the facts, and avoid judging or blaming them. Speak from your perspective, using statements like “I’m having trouble with this and it could help me if you…” rather than “when you do this, you make me feel…”.

Setting and communicating boundaries can seem daunting at first, but remember that it’s the first step to healing a relationship strained by addiction.

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