Why Set Boundaries?

Setting boundaries is important to drug recovery! When you have weak boundaries, you compromise who you are. You lose yourself and your freedom. Because you are the only thing in which you have complete control, healthy boundaries are an essential part of proper self-maintenance. You might ask, how can I be a good partner, friend, or relative to this addict or alcoholic? The answer lies with in the boundaries. Boundaries allow you to find happiness again and allows the addict to deal with their own consequences. The addict may be upset for some time, but this will most of the time lead to sobriety.

Once they leave a detox center and graduate from a drug and alcohol program, they will thank you! This is why good boundaries are critical! You will come to find that you are actually of little to no help to others without them.

First things first:

The first step to take to start in figuring out your boundaries with an alcoholic or an addict is in determining what behavior they display that you find unacceptable. Start writing down the behaviors or actions that you observe over the course of a few days. Go through the list and find the ones that are unacceptable. This list will have things that you will no longer put up with under any circumstances. These are things you will not compromise on. Your list may look like this:

You will not:

  1. Come home after midnight
  2. Have access to my money
  3. Bring drugs/alcohol into my home
  4. Take my car
  5. Hit me
  6. Yell at me
  7. Etc…

Some of the left over behaviors may fall into “gray areas”. When looking at the list of observations, be sure to be “fair”. This may be hard to grasp since the addict is not being fair with you. However, they are sick and need help. Next make a list of the things you would like to see change but have decided that these things aren’t as important right now. This list may look like this:

I don’t like these behaviors and see them as unhealthy:

  1. Smoking
  2. Staying up all night
  3. Sleeping all day
  4. Neglecting your laundry
  5. Etc…

This list should be kept to yourself. This can help you to pick and choose your battles and to help you clearly see what is worth fighting about for now.

Once you have your boundaries set, do not reveal them to your addict or alcoholic until you are ready to stand on them! This is very important.

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You’re ready to set boundaries? Read this first:

The addiction or alcoholism disease changes a person during their active use. During active use, the addict or alcoholic becomes very manipulative. They lie, steal, cheat, and make it all seem like your fault. Hear this…It is not your fault. They would make these choices regardless of your behavior, actions, or words. When communication with someone in active addiction it is important to rememeber that what they say hold close to no credibility. Stay calm and love this person, they are sick.

Some things to remember while speaking to the active addict or alcoholic:

  • It’s perfectly ok and acceptable to tell an addict or alcoholic , “I’m sorry. I can’t be around you when you’re using or drinking.” It is not your responsibility to protect their feelings. Don’t be cruel, but do be compassionate, honest and matter-of-fact.
  • Treat the addict with love while stepping away from their behavior. Detach. Don’t explain, debate or argue with them. They are in denial right now and will not hear anything you say. Prepare to be tested! It is very important you stay firm. You will not make the addict sober, just as you did not make them high.
  • Speak your truth and enforce your boundary, do not allow them to take your truth away from you. No arguments. No debates. Don’t condemn or blame. Just go about your life. No, they won’t like it, but that is their problem, do not allow it to become your problem. You made choices, they made choices. Not only are your strong boundaries good for you, they are the good for the addict or alcoholic. The sooner they are forced to accept responsibilities for their actions or allowed to “hit rock bottom” for their decisions, the sooner they’re likely to seek help and change.
  • If you discover the addict or alcoholic has lied to you, calmly confront them about it and disengage from whatever the lie was. There’s no need to argue or debate things. State your truth, the facts and the boundaries and stick to them.


Communication with an active alcoholic or addict is not always easy!

It is hard enough setting and enforcing boundaries with reasonable people, let alone those under the influence of a alcohol or drugs.

There is no “winning” a conversation with an active alcoholic or addict. You must first take all emotion out of the things you are saying. Also, plan to disregard their rebuttals and excuses. Say what you need to say and move on. Here are some things to remember to help you speak clearly to get your point across.

  • “NO” is, in fact, a complete sentence! The addiction had the ability to take power away from the family member and pass it onto the addict or alcoholic and his or her disease. Don’t let it happen to you.
  • If it’s good for you, it’s good for everyone. Similar to putting on your oxygen mask in an airplane before assisting others, making a decision that is good for you will positively impact those around you. Your positive changes can create positive changes in those around you.
  • If you need an answer right now, the answer is no. Addicts have a way of manipulating any situation. Oftentimes, this includes putting stress and pressure on family members or friends to make important decisions “right now”. If the addict in your life demands an answer, simply tell him or her no. Remember, “no” is a complete sentence.
  • “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” The highly esteemed Eleanor Roosevelt uttered this statement. You are in charge of your actions, thoughts, and words. If you feel inadequate, you gave someone permission to treat you as such.

Relay your boundaries to the addict in a matter of fact way. You DO NOT have to defend your decision or argue about the boundaries you have placed. All boundaries come with consequences. A boundary without a consequence is worthless!

Some of the best consequences may involve creating distance between the alcoholic or addict and yourself.

For example, if the addict is late, don’t call, just wait fifteen minutes then continue your plans without him or her. If the person is being rude or calling you names, go somewhere else.

In time, you will find you rely on the alcoholic or addict less and less as you continue to enforce your boundaries. Separations may result. Yes, these are difficult and painful situations but I promise you it gets better! Just remember, with soft, meaningless boundaries you only enable the unacceptable behavior of the alcoholic or addict.

Communicating a boundary/consequence, may sound like this:

“Eric’s birthday party begins at 5 p.m. We will be eating dinner at 5:30, then we are all going to the theater for a movie at 7:30 p.m. I hope you will join us. If you can’t, we will go without you.” Then when they don’t show up on time you continue with your plans. Do not hold anything up, or change anything to accommodate them. Don’t even call them to see where they are, or if they’re still coming. You go on with your life. If they show up drunk or high, you say, “I told you I will not be around you when you are high, since you chose to get high, you are no longer welcome to come with us.” Say it calmly and mean it.

Communication is everything in a relationship. Poor communication leads to frustration and resentment.. If you feel anxious, resentful, worn out, disrespected, or hurt, it’s safe to assume that your boundaries have been violated. Below is a good technique for expressing your feelings to the addict or alcoholic in your life:

  1. “When you behavior, I feel emotion because ____________.”
  2. “I prefer/want/need specific action because ______________________.”
  3. “If you continue behavior, I will specific action.”

It’s important to note that once boundaries have been infringed upon, you must follow through with the consequences. Be patient, implementing effective communication techniques and setting healthy boundaries will not ensure overnight changes, but you will begin to experience improvements in your relationship with the addict over time. Most importantly, you will notice positive changes in yourself.