It has been said that no one can force the drug addict or alcoholic to seek the treatment necessary to get well. And while that’s true, family members are not completely powerless. They can set boundaries designed to govern the addict’s behaviour while in the home, at the same time protecting themselves.
Think of a boundary as a fence of sorts. On the outside of the fence is potential danger; inside the fence is relative safety. When families set up boundaries, they are protecting themselves from the dangers on the outside of that fence. They are also encouraging the addict to remain inside that fence in the hope that he or she will eventually agree to seek treatment before it is too late.
There are three important things to consider when setting such boundaries in your home:
- defining realistic boundaries
- developing ways to set those boundaries
- creating accountability to keep them consistently.
Defining Realistic Boundaries
Anyone who has dealt with a drug addict or alcoholic knows that there is no ‘magic switch’ that will end addiction overnight. They also know that no single boundary is likely to be strong enough to create a desire within the addict to get better. Therefore, boundaries must be realistic. They must also be developed with the best interests of the family in mind, not the interests of the addict.
For example, let us assume you are providing financial assistance to the addict by giving him or her cash directly and by paying their bills so that they can use their own money to purchase drugs or alcohol. No matter what you do, you are unlikely to force the individual to stop purchasing his or her substances of choice. Nevertheless, you can decide to no longer financially support their habit.
Developing Ways to Set Boundaries
Once you have decided to no longer provide financial assistance to the addict, you need to give it life by way of practical steps. Things you could do include:
- refusing to pay any bills for him or her
- refusing any direct cash hand-outs
- refusing to provide any transportation except to and from a doctor or clinic
- refusing to give gifts of any sort that could be sold
- locking up items that could be stolen and sold.
In order to successfully implement a boundary, it may require a couple of days of thinking to figure out all of the possible ways you might be providing financial assistance. It helps to write your ideas down as you go.
For many families the hard part about setting boundaries is creating a system of accountability. After all, family members have enough stress to deal with from the addict him or herself; the last thing they want to do is to be at one another’s throats over accountability issues. Nonetheless, it is very necessary.
Continuing with our example of providing financial assistance, accountability can come in as many forms as the system you put in place to implement boundaries. Let us use providing direct cash assistance as an example.
Let us say both husband and wife carry their own cash on a week-to-week basis. Mutual accountability will involve both of them recording the amount of cash they carry along with every expenditure for the week. At the end of the week, they get together and do a mutual accounting. This discourages them from giving money to their son or daughter.
It should be noted that boundaries are not necessarily carved in stone. There may be extenuating circumstances from time to time requiring limited flexibility. It is important to build that flexibility into the system you develop when establishing boundaries for the first time.
On the other hand, do not use flexibility as an excuse to violate those boundaries you set up. Doing so only teaches the addict that boundaries do not really exist. It will not be long before he or she uses the flexibility against you to get you get what they want. Never forget how manipulative alcoholics and drug abusers tend to be.
The boundaries you set up should be strict except in those very limited cases where flexibility is necessary. It might be painful to be strict, but it is necessary if you expect the boundaries to accomplish their intended goal. A failure to be strict will make things worse by causing you to feel defeated and emboldening the addict to continue taking advantage of you.
Direct Benefits of Boundaries
In the midst of an addictive situation, it can be difficult to see how boundaries will help. However, rest assured that they do. Some of the manifestations will be seen plainly, others will not. They include:
- Personal Responsibility – Boundaries go a long way toward teaching personal responsibility to both the addict and his or her family members. Moreover, while the addict may not learn a lot, family members will. By setting and keeping boundaries, they will be more attuned to how their behaviour is enabling to the addict. They will also discover that the addictive behaviour of their loved one will never be changed until they start taking responsibility for their own actions.
- Reducing the Impact – When a family sets boundaries they are taking action to reduce the impact the addict is having on their lives. It has been said that addiction is a family problem, and indeed it is. However, reducing the negative impact suffered by the rest of the family may mean the difference between keeping them all together and watching them fall apart. Boundaries go a long way in keeping them together.
- Defining Roles – For some reason, families embroiled in an addiction scenario often have no established roles among various family members. This leads to unhealthy distrust of one another. However, setting boundaries establishes each family member’s role, which, in the long run, can be very healthy. If nothing else, the addict will quickly learn that he or she is no longer in control.
- Healthy Lifestyle – Oftentimes an addiction begins when an individual has an improper role of a healthy lifestyle. In other words, he or she does not see how a little bit of marijuana could be unhealthy. This improper view opens the door to all sorts of unacceptable behaviours. Yet when a family sets boundaries, it is again establishing guidelines for what a healthy lifestyle looks like.
Implementing an Intervention
Addiction Helper believes in setting boundaries for the sake of both the addict and his or her family. However, there is one last thing to consider here: implementing an intervention on behalf of the addict. An intervention is a scenario in which concerned family members and friends confront the addict in order to challenge him or her regarding how their behaviour is harming other people.
While not impossible, an intervention is very difficult to conduct successfully if no boundaries were in place beforehand. When boundaries are in place, the intervention becomes exponentially easier. How so?
Let’s say you clearly set a boundary regarding financial assistance to your addicted child. Let us also say that the child, a 25-year-old cocaine addict, begins to steal from you in order to supply his or her drug habit. The stealing is a clear violation of the boundary and something you can use during the intervention.
Experts say that it is better to approach an intervention from the perspective of how the addict is harming other people. He or she has already proven they do not care about their own well-being, but they are not likely setting out to purposely injure you. During the intervention you can demonstrate how stealing from you is making it impossible for you to pay your own bills. You can demonstrate that he or she might be putting you in financial jeopardy to where you could lose your home, your car, or some other personal property.
Ask for Help
Assuming you are visiting our website because your family is in the midst of an addiction situation, we know how difficult it can be for you to understand all of this and put it in the practice. Nevertheless, you do not have to go it alone. Addiction Helper can assist you in finding the professional help you need to deal with your family crisis. Even if your addicted family member is not ready to seek help, you and the rest of the family can receive help from counsellors and charities.
There are counsellors who will sit with you and go through the idea of setting boundaries. They can assist you in preparing for and implementing an intervention. Moreover, should your loved one eventually decide to seek help, they can provide the support your entire family needs to make it through the detox and rehab process.
When you call our addiction helpline, one of our trained counsellors will take as much time as necessary to answer all of your questions. We can also provide you with information regarding all of the detox and rehab help available just in case the addict in your life is ready to get the help he or she needs. We work with the best clinics, counsellors, and charities throughout the UK to provide treatment and counselling services to addicts and their families. We can help you, if you are willing to ask.
Help for family, friends, and close ones is just as important as the help people suffering with addiction need. Seek support to find the right path.