Family Boundary Setting and Addiction

Addiction negatively impacts all relationships the individual has whether it may be family relationships, friendships or intimate relationships. When an individual is deep in their addiction they not only are trying to survive day to day in order to avoid becoming sick from withdrawal but also continue to engage in lying and manipulative behaviors. These behaviors serve an overall purpose to the individual who is in active addiction despite their relationships with others becoming negatively impacted.

In every individual’s life who is battling addiction not only is the person who is engaging in substance use being affected but the family and loved ones become affected by the addiction as well which then puts these individuals in a place where they want to help the person but then if they don’t help the person then they watch the person they love suffer all different types of consequences. This can become a significantly difficult situation to be in which often has families and loved one’s pondering on the question “What am I to do next for the person that I love? What am I to also do for myself?.

A phrase that I have come across often since practicing in the addictions field is “Their addiction is not only affecting them but it has also become a part of me and I am afraid to get that phone call” or I hear “I may not be in active addiction but I do know everything that comes along with addiction.” Boundaries are often a difficult topic of discussion when dealing with families and loved ones. Individuals who have someone in their life struggling with addiction often find themselves questioning if they should put boundaries into place and what would that look like in addition to also questioning “What is going to happen to them if I do put boundaries into place?” “Healing relationships in recovery takes a concerted effort on everyone’s part and the first step for everyone, the recovering addict or alcoholic, family member and loved ones is to focus on establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries in their interactions and communications with one another” (Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation).

What are Boundaries? 

Personal boundaries consist of personal limits that individuals set in place for themselves in order to indicate towards others what they will and will not tolerate in addition to what makes them comfortable and/or uncomfortable. When setting personal boundaries in place for self it allows an individual to keep themselves safe in addition to also keeping their overall well being safe. Healthy and unhealthy boundaries are identified as follows (Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation) :

  • Healthy boundaries help people define who they are as a way to ensure relationships are safe, supportive and respectful. 
  • Unhealthy boundaries are thoughts or behaviors used as a means to manipulate or control relationships to keep people away. 

Importance of Obtaining and Maintaining Boundaries

Boundaries are based on our values and beliefs system and without implementing boundaries with not only other’s but with ourselves it leaves a window of opportunity open to go against what we believe and feel is right for ourselves. Boundaries also provide a guideline to others of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. When putting boundaries into place they are not for anyone other than ourselves. In order to keep ourselves safe and true to our beliefs and values we continue to keep implementing them into our daily lives despite whether other individuals accept them or not. Below are a couple of examples of boundary setting with addiction and recovery:

  • If my loved one asks me to lie for them, I need to think about how I feel about myself when I lie. Because my value system says it is not good for me to lie, I will refuse that request. 
  • If my loved one or family member is in recovery, I will think about my use of alcohol or my relationship with them is most important to me, and act accordingly, based on my own values. 

Taking the First Step Towards Boundary Setting

If you are someone who is currently dealing with a family member who is struggling with addiction, setting boundaries can be difficult. Setting boundaries can be uncomfortable in the beginning however this is the only way to continue to remain true to your values and beliefs. Maintaining boundaries can keep you safe from harmful situations along with any other feelings and/or emotions that come up for someone due to lack of boundaries. Setting boundaries can be as simple as telling someone no. It’s like anything else once you continue to keep doing it it becomes easier with time. 

Setting boundaries also allows you to give yourself permission to also be direct in what you will and will not tolerate. Never feel bad or apologize for maintaining your boundaries with others and remember to never allow others to negatively influence you that would be going against your beliefs and values. 


Harbor Village Recovery treatment specialists are here to help. Tell us a little bit about you or your loved one: