setting boundaries for loved one with addiction

Setting Boundaries With a Loved One With an Addiction

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Invading boundaries is one of the hallmark symptoms of addiction. It’s so common that certain combinations of lying, manipulation, and stealing are considered practically a diagnosis that addiction is present – even if the substance or trigger is not yet clear. The loved ones of addicts are often worn down by the constant onslaught of boundary invasion and manipulation from those who are addicted. Fortunately, there are a few simple methods that can help you build a healthier recovery environment for everyone involved, and it starts with setting boundaries.

Addiction essentially reverts a person into their least healthy toddler-self. What they need is for boundaries to be set and maintained like ironclad house-rules. The patterns of adult addiction are so similar that we can help you sketch out those boundaries now based on the millions of previous families who have gone through what you’re going through today.

1. “I Will Never Lie For You or to Cover For You”

Part of loved-one manipulation is asking family or friends to lie for the addicted. The need to hide the addiction or the shameful behavior of addiction can be powerful, and you may want to ease their suffering in some small way. But one lying-for snowballs into a manipulation avalanche and you must draw a line. You will not and never will tell a lie on behalf of your addict loved one. Especially not to cover for their addiction. Setting boundaries includes keeping your conscience clean.

2. “I Will Have to Stop Believing You If You Lie to Me”

Being lied to is a real problem when trying to earnestly help your loved one through addiction recovery. It can hurt deeply for you loved one to deceive you so easily, or for them to try even when you’re not fooled. So set ground-rules. Make it clear that lying to you is equal to them saying not to listen to their words. You will be required – by logic- to stop trusting them if their words aren’t factually true.

3. “No Alcohol and/or Illegal Substances In My House or Near Me”

You have the right to ban all unwanted substances and triggers from your house. You don’t have to tolerate illegal drugs in the home, or even alcohol which is legal. If your loved one is addicted to something you can get at the grocery store, you can ban that, too. You can set a rule that all found items will be trashed or turned over to the police and that any found items will result in a loss of trust and living space.

4. No Drug-Using Friends Near Me or In My House

Likewise, draw a line at bringing drug-using friends into your space or home. While you may be willing to shelter and care for your loved one, friends known through drug using are always potentially dangerous. They are likely to have drugs on them, not respecting your no-substances rule, and are more likely to persuade your loved one to get high with them. Let it be known that drug-using friends are not welcome but friends on the sobriety path are. Setting boundaries includes keeping you and your family safe.

5. No Insults, Blame, or Ridicule to Anyone We Are With

Another hallmark of addiction is abusive behavior. Insults, slinging blame, and bringing down other people are classic dysfunctional coping mechanisms for someone struggling with addiction. This means it’s both necessary and normal to draw a boundary at both verbal and physical abuse. So let your loved one know that you will not tolerate any blame-slinging or insults. In return, ensure that you and others stick to the rule as well.

6. “Meet Your Appointments or You Won’t Be Invited to the Next Event”

Addicts break promises. Between forgetfulness, illness, and the fear of responsibility that addiction inspires, it can be painful to try and include your loved ones in events. Family celebrations, shows, and even doctors appointments become a problem. Tardiness can even be an issue if your loved one is disruptive on arrival.

Draw a hard line and form a pattern. Each time they miss an appointment or event, they will be excluded from invitation to the next enjoyable gathering. But not from the next doctor’s appointment.

7. If You Get Arrested, I Will Not Bail You Out or Hire a Lawyer

Draw the line at arrest. Some addicts don’t check their behavior because they know family will come rescue them. Take away that safety net and your loved one will either avoid the consequence or hit bottom facing the results of their actions.

8. “I Will Not Lend or Give You Money”

Last but certainly not least, the family ATM must close. It’s one thing to provide a place to stay and a plate at family meals. It’s another to fuel a dysfunctional and self-harming lifestyle. Tell your loved one that you will not be a part of their self-destruction. You will help them stay alive and turn the addiction around, but spending money can only come from an income that they earn.


First Steps Recovery includes Fresno California addiction treatment that deals with relapse, recovery, and all kinds of family dynamics. For more information, call us at 844-489-0836 to learn how you can stay on track toward a rewarding and healthy lifestyle.

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