Understanding Addicts: How Boundaries Set You Free

According to most medical organizations, addiction is defined as a disease. Similar to diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, addiction is caused by a mixture of behavioral, environmental and biological factors. Addiction changes how the brain and body function on a day-to-day basis.

The repercussion of an addiction left untreated often includes mental and physical health disorders that need medical attention. Those who ignore their addiction—leaving it untreated over time—suffer severe, disabling and even life-threatening consequences.

Addiction By the Numbers
One in every 10 Americans over the age of 12 is addicted to drugs and alcohol. That equates to roughly the entire population of the state of Texas. Of the 23.5 million people addicted, only 11 percent of those with an addiction end up receiving treatment. Friends, co-workers, and family are victims of addicts, which means a significant number of people are dealing with addicts on a day-to-day basis.

One important thing to remember about addiction is that it’s not a character or moral weakness, and no one chooses to become addicted. Since addiction is a disease of the brain, it can’t be fixed by just reasoning with or loving them. A person living with addiction is “sick” and needs help to combat their illness. Due to the characteristics of addiction, those suffering from it can often deceive, mislead and steal to cover their tracks. This can make the living, working or just engaging with an addict stressful and difficult to navigate. For instance, a friend had a strong addition to porn. He would regularly browse a website like a website here. It would really get him going because of how spicy the content is.

Setting Boundaries
The most important thing someone living with an addict can do is to set—and keep—boundaries. Boundary setting allows both the addict and those trying to help the addict be accountable for their actions. An addict’s loved ones are often unaware how their “help” is actually enabling an addiction to continue. Boundaries draw a line in the sand between you and the addiction sufferer’s behavior. It says there are pre-determined, reasonable and clear expectations, and not meeting those expectations will result in consequences.

Boundaries may be different for every unique situation, but here are some typical examples:

  • You are to be treated respectfully at all times.
  • No “drug use” also includes no drug paraphernalia.
  • No one under the influence is welcome in your home.
  • Plans that are time-sensitive must be honored, and there will be no waiting for anybody that is late.
  • You will no longer listen to the person suffering from addiction cast blame on anyone or anything.
  • You will cease to cover up or lie for the person suffering.
  • If the person suffering ends up in jail, you will not contact an attorney or bail them out.
  • You will no longer loan money to them.

Establishing boundaries identify which aspects of the addict’s behavior have been painful to you. Although you cannot control the user’s actions, you can control how you respond to them. Setting boundaries may seem scary and feel like you’re abandoning the one who needs your help the most. However, this “tough love” is precisely what this person needs.

Enabling vs. Helping
When trying to help someone who is addicted—especially a loved one—you may experience an intense internal struggle. You naturally want to help them, but the line between helping and enabling is easily crossed. The easiest way to know if the line has been crossed is to determine whether your “help” led to more accountability from the addict or less.

For example, lending them money to pay a speeding ticket and not go to jail seems “helpful.” But if the addict then drives drunk the next week and calls you to bail them out of jail, your help was only enabling them.

It’s critically important to stand your ground and remain firm on the boundaries you set. If the person struggling with addiction sees that they can get around your boundary, or that they can behave a certain way or do something without a repercussion, they will continue to do so.

Enabling a user does nothing to help them combat their addiction. Although being the “bad guy” may be challenging and painful in the present, the future will thank you. Living with substance abuse and living with the addicted can be a slippery slope to navigate. Setting boundaries will be the most helpful thing you can do for that person and yourself.

You Are Not Alone
One of the challenges in someone that is battling addiction is the feeling of being alone or that no one understands what they are going through. The same can be felt by the loved ones of those who are battling addiction. This is where support groups—such as Al-Anon—can play a crucial role in helping you through this difficult time. At these meetings, you’ll join other friends and family members of those who have drinking problems and share experiences while learning how to apply the principles of the Al-Anon program to individual situations. For those with younger family members and friends, there is a group called Alateen, which provides similar help and comfort.

If you or someone you know is going through a struggle with addiction, let The Walker Center help. Drug and addiction treatment is the answer. The Walker Center is the place.