Setting Boundaries and Following Through
When dealing with drug and alcohol addiction, especially the addiction of a loved one, you may experience a mountain of emotions and resistance when it comes to setting boundaries. There are plenty of times that you may set a boundary only to break it later the same day because it just seems easier.
Setting healthy boundaries with a drug or alcohol addict is often easier said than done. You may express to the addict how they have hurt you or stretched your love to the limits, you may tell them you are not willing to tolerate any more lies, you may even threaten to kick them out of the house if they do not change. However, if you don’t enforce the boundaries and rules that you’ve set, you may as well be talking to the wall.
One of the most important things to understand is that drug and alcohol addiction is a disease. Every single day is a battle for survival to an addict. For the loved ones who must live with an addict, setting boundaries is often the only way of dealing with the destructive behaviors that addiction creates.
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The Importance of Following Through
The most important rule of setting and expressing a boundary to an addict is to follow through. If you demand certain behavior of an addict, you need to be sure that you will stop at nothing to carry it out.
Because there are such strong emotions and extreme behaviors involved with addiction, loved ones often have a tendency to set very dramatic forms of boundaries. An example of this kind of boundary would be the standard, “If you ever do it again, if you ever touch drugs or alcohol again, I will leave you.”
While you may mean this in the heat of the moment, following through with this kind of threat can be extremely hard to do, especially if you love the addict unconditionally. Unfortunately, an addict is willing to do whatever they have to do in order to keep abusing drugs or alcohol, even if it means lying and manipulating their loved one. If an addict knows that you do not mean what you say, they will listen to you yell at them and agree with whatever you say, knowing that you will never follow through on any threats you’ve made.
Setting Realistic Boundaries
So what can you do about setting realistic boundaries? Set boundaries that are practical and that you are able to enforce. Each boundary will obviously be different for everyone, depending on your circumstances and situation.
A good example would be if the addict constantly talks on their cell phone or texts, but they rely on you to pay the bill for their phone. Your boundary may be to stop paying their cell phone bill. If you make it hard for them to call a dealer for drugs, you are taking a step in the right direction. They will naturally fight with you about losing their phone, or try to manipulate the situation by saying that they would need a phone if they were out and got into an accident, but you must stand firm on your boundary.
If the addict drives your car, or one that you pay for, then you could stop making payments for them or take back possession of your vehicle. This is also another way to make it difficult for them to obtain drugs or alcohol.
Boundaries must be set for the right reasons. You need to be focused on your own well-being and mental health. Let it be very clear that setting boundaries will not cure addiction, nor will boundaries allow you to control an addict.
You need to put a lot of thought into the boundaries that you are willing to set and make it very clear to the addict why you are doing this. Explain to them you are doing this for your own good — as well as theirs – and why it is important to you.
Remember the key: once you set a boundary, you must enforce it.
What methods have you found useful when it comes to setting and enforcing boundaries for your loved ones struggling with drug or alcohol addiction?
Contributed by Nikki Seay.
Since 2004, Lori has worked with the behavioral health treatment community to bring awareness about mental health disorders and evidence-based treatments. Lori strives to help people better understand mental illness and provide support to those needing help and their families. As a mental health advocate, Lori works to be a voice for those suffering from substance abuse, dual diagnosis, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, trauma, or any other disorder.