Establishing Boundaries with a Loved One That Has an Addiction

Mother talks to her son

Healthy boundaries are an essential aspect of any relationship. When one person in that relationship has an addiction, boundaries become crucial. Boundaries are a way to protect ourselves and maintain relationships. They let other people know what we will and will not accept in our lives. When a person struggles with an addiction, they will often put a toll on others and exhibit unhealthy behaviors. Having an addiction doesn’t mean someone is a bad person—addiction just causes people to say and do things they might otherwise not say or do.

It is helpful to understand that addiction can cause people to behave in a manner they usually wouldn’t. It is also vital to realize that this issue does not mean that you have to put up with harmful behavior to you or your well-being. Some pretty clear lines need to be drawn with your loved one when it comes to addiction until they are ready to accept help and turn things around.

Things you should never do when a loved one has an addiction:

Do not give them money.

Giving money to someone with an addiction is never a good idea. Even if the person uses the money to pay for food or rent, giving them money is still allowing them to continue their habit. If a person with addiction receives money, the chances are good that they will use that money on drugs or alcohol. Giving an addict money is not helping them. It only enables them to continue with their addiction. The sooner you can learn to say no to this request, the better off you and your loved one will be. An exception is paying to send them to treatment.

Do not allow them to bring drugs into your home.

Just because your loved one uses drugs does not mean that they have the right to bring them into your home. Asking a loved one not to bring drugs into your home is by no means being overbearing or asking too much. If your loved one is struggling so much that they cannot follow through with this request, this is a sign there is a severe need for help. You have every right to decide what is and what is not allowed in your home. There is nothing wrong with not allowing drugs into your home.

Do not bail them out of their problems.

Addict asking for a bail

Often parents will bail their child out of jail or help them get out of their problems, acting under the belief that they are helping them out. A person who isn’t allowed to experience the consequences of their actions is robbed of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Someone who never sees the adverse effects of unhealthy behavior will have no motivation to change because they don’t have to deal with any problems. To stop repeating our mistakes, we need to have the opportunity to learn from them. The only way we can learn is by experiencing our consequences. So while it may feel like you are helping the person out, it is not really help at all. Again, if you are going to bail someone out, make sure that treatment is a requirement of their release.

Do not make it easier for them to continue their destructive behavior.

Anything that can help an addict continue with their addiction is a form of enablement. When it comes to addiction, enablement can have deadly consequences. If you are unsure about the difference between helping and enabling, then it would be good to spend some time reading up on the two subjects to have a clear-cut idea of what will help and what will hurt your loved one. Helping someone get better is much different than enabling them to stay the same.

Do not tolerate abusive behavior.

Abusive behavior is a boundary violation that should never be tolerated. Sometimes drugs and alcohol will cause a person to become violent or abusive. If this is the case, it would be wise to remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. If your loved ones cannot control themselves while under the influence, you have every right to refuse to be around them when they are in that state of mind. Never allow a person to physically, mentally, or emotionally abuse you without consequence. If needed, reach out for professional help and get out of the dangerous situation right away.

Things you should do when a loved one has an addiction:

Do help them find a suitable treatment program.

The number one thing that you can do to help an addict is to help them find a quality treatment program to help them overcome their addiction. When a person can attend a long-term program, their chances for success increase exponentially. There are several resources out there, so make sure to look around and speak with different facilities to find the one that will best suit your loved one’s needs.

Help addict

Do give them a shoulder to lean on.

If you can be emotionally supportive of your loved one, this will be a huge help. It is important to note that if you constantly feel drained by your interactions with someone, it is okay to limit the number of interactions you have with that person. There is nothing wrong with setting limits when it comes to your well-being; if you can listen and be supportive, though, this can certainly go a long way.

Do provide empathy and compassion.

Addiction is a difficult thing to go through, and sometimes the people who are dealing with it need a lot of empathy and compassion. Most people do not plan on falling into the trap of addiction, and not many people want to be an addict. It is difficult to get out of this lifestyle, and many people struggling with it will often face harsh criticism and judgment. A little empathy and compassion can often go a long way towards helping someone.

Do encourage them to get help.

People with addiction need help, plain and simple. The more you can encourage your loved one to get help, the better. It is important not to nag them because that is not usually helpful, but small reminders and nudges never hurt anyone. Sometimes an intervention is needed to get someone to agree to go to treatment. Interventions work best in cases where the person is quite literally destroying their life. Your loved one may get upset with you for suggesting that they go to rehab, but hopefully, they will eventually agree to go.

Do help them out while they are actively trying to better themselves.

Once your loved one has agreed to get help and is actively doing the work to turn their lives around, then, by all means, help them out as much as your feel comfortable doing. You can do several things to help your loved ones while they are in treatment, and by doing so, you are encouraging them to continue putting in the hard work needed to turn their lives around.

Setting boundaries isn’t always easy, but it is well worth the effort. When it comes to addiction, this can be a matter between a life of recovery and a life of ruin or even death. Sometimes the best thing we can do for the people we love is to establish firm boundaries so as to maintain a healthy relationship.

Reviewed by Matt Hawk, BS, CADC-II, ICADC



After overcoming her own addiction in 2012 Julie went on to become certified as an addiction counselor in order to help others achieve a life of recovery. She worked in the addiction field for 8 years and now uses both her personal and professional experiences with addiction as an influence for her writing.