Setting Boundaries With A Loved One In Recovery

Setting boundaries can help people with substance use disorders and their loved ones focus on common goals. This foundation can help your loved one overcome substance abuse and achieve long-term recovery.

Like other mental illnesses, substance use disorders affect every area of a person’s life, from their relationships to their overall health and well-being.

A natural reaction to seeing a loved one experience the challenging and sometimes devastating effects of addiction can be to do anything to help.

However, it isn’t always easy to know what to do. Setting boundaries can provide a foundation that the person with the addiction and their loved ones can rely on.

Boundaries can help people heal from addiction while lessening the negative effects of addiction on family members or other loved ones.

Why Set Boundaries?

Setting boundaries helps protect your own health and well-being so that you can provide the encouragement your loved one needs to get into recovery or stay on the path.

For Your Own Health And Well-Being

According to the American Psychological Association, family members of people with an addiction often show deteriorated interpersonal and psychological functioning.

This can be exhibited as increased stress and interpersonal conflict, problems with social adjustment and family cohesion, and more.

Family members also sometimes have to deal with legal or financial issues caused by substance abuse.

Friends may experience these repercussions to a similar or lesser extent, depending on the relationship, but boundaries can help reduce conflict and other stresses caused by addiction.

They can also help the person stay on the path to recovery and even save the friendship.

For Your Loved One’s Health And Well-Being

A recent review of research noted that people who were able to maintain long-term sobriety named having the support of family, friends, and peers as a critical factor of their success.

Setting boundaries might mean the difference between being able to offer that support or not. It can also give your loved one something to lose, in terms of your support.

Having something to lose was another factor that the study revealed helped prevent people from relapsing, whether it was an important relationship, a job, or their freedom.

Reframing The Idea Of Boundaries

Loved ones often will want to do anything they can to help their family member or friend recover from substance abuse.

Setting boundaries might feel like a restrictive behavior at first but ultimately is a way to show compassion for yourself and your loved one and support their long-term recovery.

Instead of thinking of boundaries like a fence between you and your loved one, think of them like a fence surrounding a seed that you have planted and will care for together.

That seed of recovery will benefit from both protection from detrimental elements and exposure to healthy elements.

The Addiction Treatment Boundary

This key boundary might look like talking openly about the issue, encouraging your loved one to seek treatment, and helping them stick to the treatment plan.

Addiction is a treatable disease, and recovery is possible but often only if the person gets the professional help they need. Let them know that you can’t provide that help.

Treatment is even more critical in recent years, when the numbers of people dying from overdoses and excessive alcohol use have seen record highs and fewer people have been seeking addiction treatment.

In some cases, help might involve medical detox, where healthcare providers offer 24/7 care to ensure that the person experiences a safe and successful withdrawal process.

In other cases, it might involve an inpatient treatment program or a partial hospitalization program (PHP), the two most intensive types of addiction treatment, or outpatient services.

Whatever the case, addiction specialists can help determine the right first step and next steps for recovery.

The Saying ‘No’ Boundary

Depending on your relationship, you may have a hard time saying no to the person, but this is an important boundary to establish. Saying no might look like:

  • refusing to be available 24/7, e.g., setting time between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. as off limits to anything other than an emergency (and establishing what an emergency is)
  • not allowing abusive language or behavior toward yourself or other family members or friends, such as by removing yourself from a volatile situation
  • not allowing self-abusive language or behavior, such as by reminding your loved one to be gentle with themself

Being able to say no helps you protect your own mental and emotional health while setting an example for your loved one of what self-compassion and self-care look like.

You might also consider extending your no-saying to family members and friends if they speak negatively about your loved one or their experience with addiction.

For example, you might not allow words like “druggie,” “addict,” or “junkie,” to be used in your home, due to their derogatory nature.

You can even help reduce the stigma around addiction by educating loved ones about substance abuse, such as that it is a mental health disorder that requires treatment.

The Healthy Habits Boundary

This boundary reiterates to your loved one that you care about and are committed to their long-term health and well-being. Encouraging healthy habits might look like:

  • not allowing alcohol in the house
  • accompanying your loved one to events where substances might be available to offer your support
  • taking up a new hobby with your loved one, such as photography or cooking
  • exercising together regularly
  • stocking up on nutrient-dense foods
  • learning a mindfulness practice with your loved one, such as mindful eating or breath awareness

Over time, healthy activities can become second nature to your loved one, providing a source of support throughout their recovery journey.

Finding Help For A Loved One With Addiction

If your loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, the care teams at Spring Hill Recovery Center can provide help.

Personalized treatment plans and a holistic, compassionate approach to addiction recovery can help your loved one regain their mental health and take back their life.

Call us today to learn more about getting started.  


  1. American Psychological Association — Family Members of Adults with Substance Abuse Problems
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — Understanding Drug Overdoses and Deaths
  3. JAMA Network — Estimated Deaths Attributable to Excessive Alcohol Use Among US Adults Aged 20 to 64 Years, 2015 to 2019
  4. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs — Pathways to Long-Term Recovery: A Preliminary Investigation

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

Published on: February 2, 2024

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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