It’s not uncommon for people with an addiction to struggle with boundaries. Setting and enforcing healthy boundaries can be a challenge for the people who love and care for them. The process can be painful and guilty. When a person with an addiction struggles, those closest to them are often willing to allow otherwise problematic behaviors to help their loved ones find their way. Unfortunately, this often means that the person “crosses the line” when it comes to certain completely inappropriate behaviors.
What are limits
Put simply, boundaries are limits to what is acceptable or can be tolerated in a relationship. In the true sense of the word, a boundary is a dividing line that separates one area from another and that can be marked by a physical barrier such as a fence or road. Without the physical marker, it may not be exactly clear where one area ends and the other begins. Similarly, when we use the word boundary to describe boundaries and rules in relationships, some judgment is required to decide which behaviors “cross the line”. Herein lies the difficulty that people with an addiction and their limitless loved ones have in their relationships.
Limits and addiction
Boundaries are very individual, but people with substance addictions and those close to them often have trouble respecting boundaries. Often, areas of difficulty in setting boundaries surround the very substances and behaviors that are at the center of addiction.
Substance abuse and addiction often raise questions of legality that should be addressed with firm boundaries. General areas where boundaries should be set include:
- Prohibition of drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs.
- Bring controlled drugs into someone else’s home or vehicle as it can have legal ramifications for the owner.
- Touching another person with unwanted sexual or aggressive intent.
- Use someone else as an alibi to cover up illegal activity.
It is never acceptable to involve another person in illegal activities. Beyond setting limits to illegal behavior, limits can and should also be set in relation to safety, health and even comfort. You define the boundaries in your relationships.
Smoking around someone else, around their children, or at home is a common limit for non-smokers. It is known that smoking itself causes harm to non-smokers, and it is now known that not only secondhand smoke but also secondhand smoke is harmful to health. Personal preference and comfort are perfectly legitimate reasons for strict limits, too.
People with a nicotine addiction may have difficulty maintaining strict smoking limits.
When deciding your smoking limits, keep in mind that it is entirely justifiable for you to believe that it should always be prohibited in your presence.
Limits for alcohol and drugs
It is difficult to put limits on how much alcohol consumption is acceptable for each person in the relationship, and trying to control what and how much can be consumed can lead to struggles. In the event the person with alcohol or drug addiction may not feel or admit that they have a problem, asking for limits can be both pointless and frustrating. It can be embarrassing to be in the company of an addict when they are unable and unwilling to communicate in meaningful ways because of the influence.
When it comes to alcohol and drug use, you need to decide which behaviors are acceptable in your home. Then you need to clearly communicate your expectations.
Set and enforce limits
The first step is to set your limit. The next step is enforcement. Define and discuss what is acceptable before communication efforts stall or potentially lead to verbal or emotional abuse. Use “I” statements to express your boundaries directly, honestly, and respectfully. Then be ready to clearly state when you feel like the limit is being exceeded and even move away from the situation if your limits are not being met. Enforcing your boundaries may require enforcing consequences for behavior that violates the boundary.