Parents can Set Boundaries with a Substance Abuser
Setting the kind of boundaries needed to help your child learn on their own, make mistakes, learn, and become independent is hard without adding addiction and alcoholism to the mix. But when you have a child who is an addict or alcoholic it can seem nearly impossible to set the boundaries between you and them. You’re their parent and you want to help them in every way possible, you want to show them how to get better and make sure they do, you want to make sure they are happy again and most of all you want to save them from themselves. We get it. The truth is though, with all these good intentions, you have to be able to set boundaries with your child and that may mean giving up some of that control and want to help even though it’s what you as a parent feel you are supposed to do.
Years of living with the trauma of addiction may cause family members to lose any sense of their own self-worth. In households ruled by addiction, the normal constraints and rules of good behavior have long ago been forgotten.
Here is How To Set Boundaries with A Loved One Abusing Drugs
Realizing the only control you have, is over yourself. Setting healthy boundaries with your child means taking care of yourself and knowing what you like, need, want and don’t want. Then it means clearly communicating that with the other person.
You may not even know that you need to set boundaries and you may think that you are doing a great job already. Well, take a look at these signs that you need better boundaries:
- You’re constantly telling them what to do.
- You’re warning them about what will happen if they don’t do it.
- You’re bringing up the past of what they did wrong.
- You’re giving them solutions when they haven’t asked for them.
- You’re preaching about what people should and shouldn’t do.
- You’re criticizing.
- You’re mind-reading.
- You’re sending guilt trips.
If you set boundaries with the addict in your life you can finally realize you cannot change your addicted child’s behavior by setting rules or any of the above behaviors. Any success in dealing with an addict is a result of you setting good boundaries for yourself, not your kid.
Why Are Boundaries Important?
Family members forget that they have any right to peace of mind or are entitled to respectful behavior from everyone in the family – including the addict. In this environment, setting boundaries – actually demanding that the addict conforms to decent rules of behavior – will likely seem outlandish. But this reaction is a symptom of the extent to which living with an addict has distorted the thinking of everyone in the household. An addict in the grip of addiction acts insanely, while also spreading that insanity to those around him. Family members very regularly fall victim to the addict’s lies and manipulations
Boundaries keep you from comprising who you are and falling victim. Without boundaries, you lose yourself, your freedom, control and your ability to live your life the way you are ok with. Healthy boundaries are important not only for the addict but also for you to maintain a healthy sense of self. And we get it you may feel guilty, boundaries feel like you are putting distance between you and your child, but you have to help yourself and make sure you are healthy before you can be of any REAL help to your child at all. Good boundaries are the first step towards doing that.
What are ‘Boundaries’?
Boundaries are different than rules. Rules are things such as telling your child they are not allowed to use drugs in your home, but they are addicts and end up using drugs in your home anyways. You then become angry and frustrated because they didn’t listen. A boundary is saying that you as the parent do not wish to live in a home where drugs are being used illegally and this puts everything on you, you have no reason to be angry, you have complete control of the situation and have several options. YOU ARE NOT TRYING TO CONTROL YOUR ADDICTED CHILD. You are choosing the actions you will take and what is acceptable for you in your life.
Boundaries with an addict must be set after calm and reasonable thinking. Setting boundaries in the heat of an argument will result in failure. Set your boundaries with your child to match your own values. Set the boundaries that control your actions, not the addicts.
Here are some examples of boundaries you can set with your child:
- “Yes, I’ll be happy to drive you to the mall as soon as you’re finished with your chores.”
- “I want to hear about your day. I’ll be free to give you my full attention in 15 minutes.”
- “I will let you borrow my CDs just as soon as you replace the one that you damaged.”
- “If you put your dirty clothes in the hamper by 9:00 Saturday morning, I’ll be happy to wash them for you.”
- “Can I give Jessica a message? Our calling hours are from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. I’ll let her know that you called.”
- “I’m sorry; that doesn’t work for me. I won’t be loaning you money until you have paid me what I loaned you previously.”
- “I’m happy to have you live here while you’re going to college as long as you follow our rules.”
- “I’m not willing to argue with you.”
- “I’ll be happy to talk with you when your voice is as calm as mine.”
- “I love you and I’m not willing to call in sick for you when you’ve been drinking.”
Notice all of these boundaries start with “I” because you are choosing your actions, not the addicts. These are great examples of how to set boundaries. But now you have to stick with them. What happens if the addict in your life doesn’t respect your boundaries. There needs to be a plan in place. Once you have decided what behavior is unacceptable to you and have vocalized it as we said above with “I” statements you can now begin to figure out some reasonable consequences. And that is the easy part. It is going to be actually enforcing them that is hard. Just remember though, a boundary without a consequence is not a boundary. Some of the best boundaries that you can use are just detaching. In fact, Al-Anon, the 12 step program for family members of addicts uses the phrase “detaching with love.”
What you can do is say something like, “I love you but I am not comfortable with you drinking in my house or around me. “ And when they do it, create distance. Have them go to a friend’s house or you go to a friends house. If they lied to you, confront them about, they have taken money, lock it up. Eventually, if it gets bad enough you may have to kick them out. Whatever the case may be the longer you enforce your boundaries the less you will come to rely on the alcoholic or addict to make sure they behave the right way in order to be happy. That and if your child is forced to take responsibility for their actions or allowed to hit rock bottom they might get help sooner.
If you need to set boundaries with your child, start by figuring out what you want and need, make sure to take care of yourself and maybe look into Al-Anon for you and any other loved ones affected by your addicted child’s behavior.