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Setting and managing boundaries

Unfortunately, addiction can often lead people to do things they might never have considered before, and act in ways that can hurt themselves, others and test the limits of their relationships.

Boundaries can help you to define what behaviour is reasonable and acceptable in your relationship.

Most of the time we don’t need to write down or spell out our boundaries, but when someone in your life is misusing drugs or alcohol, clear boundaries can really help you to:

  • Feel more in control
  • Limit the harm of their behaviour
  • Develop trust
  • Set reasonable limits
  • Make you and your family feel safer
  • Make you and your family feel more respected

When establishing boundaries, it helps to frame the discussion around the behaviours you want to manage with the user, rather than them as a person. You may need to negotiate a little to establish a boundary that they think they can hold, and you are willing to enforce. Some of the things you need to consider are:

What is the most important behaviour you need to address?

You may not be able to address all of the problem issues at once, so try breaking it down into steps that are achievable. Think about which of these will have the greatest positive impact for everyone.

What are you willing to compromise on? Or NOT?

Consider the things that cause you the most distress or create the most angst for the family and work out what you can and can’t live with.

What consequences are you willing and able to enforce?

Consequences need to be appropriate to the behaviour you are wanting to change, and you need to be able to stand your ground and enforce the consequences you set. Not doing so allows the user to believe they can continue to behave in an unacceptable way, and the behaviour may even escalate.

How long will the boundary be in place?

Think about when it will start, when you will review it, and if there are any circumstances in which you might change it or take it away. Boundaries often need to be re-defined as time goes on or if they are broken.

You may find our Boundary Agreement Worksheet helpful to establish an agreement with your loved one.