When you love someone with a substance use disorder, it can feel like you are being pulled in many directions. On the one hand, you want to help them. You see them struggling and feel compelled to do whatever you can to make things easier for them. On the other hand, you may be neglecting some of your own needs in that pursuit. Over time, this can wear you down, making it difficult for you to help yourself or your loved one. It is easy for your boundaries with others to become weak and even nonexistent. This generally happens over time and is a process rather than one defining moment. 

The First Step Toward Helping Yourself 

Blurred boundaries can stretch you too thin and deplete your resources. You might be depleting your financial resources by continuing to give your loved one money “just one more time.” Your sleep might be sacrificed if you are waking up in the middle of the night to your loved one calling and asking you to pick them up. You may get your hopes up each time your loved one promises to get treatment, only for them to come crashing down when that doesn’t happen. 

Setting boundaries can keep your life from being overrun by your loved one’s addiction, prevent unhealthy patterns like codependency from forming, and deter you from sacrificing your own identity. 

Boundaries Also Help Your Loved One 

As much as it feels like you are helping your loved one by trying to fix their situation, you are helping perpetuate the problem. The path to recovery for someone with addiction starts with treatment. Even though you can give them food and shelter, provide money, bail them out of jail, help care for their children, or pick them up from the bar in the early hours of the morning, you cannot fix their addiction. 

It is easy for helping to turn into enabling, even if that isn’t your intention. As unnatural as it may feel, stopping your desire to run to your loved one’s aid can benefit them. A hemorrhaging wound cannot be fixed with an adhesive bandage. Getting your loved one into treatment is the only long-term solution.

The Benefits of Boundaries

Implementing and maintaining boundaries is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. It involves being in touch with your needs and emotions, communicating effectively, and being assertive. These things may have fallen to the wayside as you have been trying to survive this tumultuous situation.

The first thing to remember is your “why” for setting boundaries. It is important to keep in the forefront of your mind that you need to protect yourself, your well-being, and your resources. You are not a less important person in this situation. Furthermore, you must keep in mind that setting boundaries and expectations will help your loved one just as much as yourself.

The current situation is not conducive to their wellness or recovery. This can be an uncomfortable reality to accept. It can feel like you are letting them go, giving up on them, or just generally being unkind or unsupportive to them. Those are the exact type of feelings that can contribute to boundaries being blurred, so it is important to recognize when you are experiencing them and keep them from driving your decisions.

Setting Boundaries and Sticking To Them

Setting boundaries should occur in as calm a context as possible. This gives you the best chance of accurately representing your needs and being received well. In times of high emotion, it can be hard to express yourself clearly and be taken seriously. It might be the case that you have tried to set boundaries when your loved one has angered or upset you. For example, if your loved one came home intoxicated one night, you may have been so upset that you told them the next time this happens you will kick them out of the house. 

This might not have been the exact boundary you wanted to set. In that moment of high stress, however, saying that was a way of expressing emotions that had pent up. It is also possible that you mean exactly what you said. Regardless, when setting a boundary, it is crucial to have plans to carry that out. If there is no follow-through the next time they come home intoxicated and you let it slide, that is showing them you were not serious about your claim. This can leave you feeling even worse than before and reinforce the control your loved one has in the situation that is causing both of you harm.

Boundaries can vary in their scope. They can be relatively small, such as telling your loved one you would not like to speak with them while under the influence of substances. Boundaries can also be much bigger, such as indicating to your loved one that they are not allowed to stay in your home as long as they are not receiving treatment. 

No matter the boundary, it is important to communicate directly and act on your words to uphold these boundaries. If you do not respect them, you cannot expect others to do so either. This is especially the case if the conversation goes poorly and your loved one is not receptive.

Professional Intervention 

If you are struggling to carry this out, you are not alone. Seeking professional help during this time is important. When you have exhausted your options for getting your loved one into treatment, enlisting an expert can make a difference. A licensed clinician can assist you and your family in planning and implementing an intervention

An intervention is designed to persuade your loved one to go to treatment and set boundaries and expectations going forward. Additionally, seeking individual and family therapy can help you and your family learn communication strategies and work as a team to heal the wounds addiction has caused.

If setting boundaries does not come naturally to you, you are not alone. When we love someone, we want to help them with every resource we have. This does not change when that person is struggling with substance use disorder. There can come a point, however, when covering for their mistakes and trying to make their life easier actually does more harm than good. Fortunately, there is a way out. Family-Centered Services can help you and your family get through this challenging time. Our team of licensed clinicians can help your family heal from addiction through interventions, individual and family therapy, sober accountability, case management, and more. Call us at (509) 991-5822 to get started.