Although the grips of addiction take a hold on a single individual, it is actually a family disease. Families are impacted to the same extent, if not worse, than the addict. This occurs mainly because of the emotional and physical involvement a family member has in the addict’s life. More often than not, an addict will cause tremendous damage within the family unit due to their addiction.
Unintentionally, the addict will burn many bridges.
The damage caused by active addiction remains prevalent, even when the individual enters sobriety. Building healthy family boundaries and learning how to effectively enforce them can save a recovering addict and their family from reaching a breaking point, both internally and as a unit.
A newly recovering addict needs support. They turn to family in their times of need, because, let’s face it, nobody can make a child feel better than their parents—assuming their parents aren’t in the grips of addiction themselves. Despite the damage caused within the family, unconditional love always wins. It gives families hope that they and the recovering addict can once again build a healthy bond and grow together.
How Does Addiction Affect the Family?
Addiction affects the family in a number of ways. Family members see addiction first hand. Imagine watching your child grow up only to deteriorate in front of your eyes; it’s horrific. With the dramatic spike in drug use, it’s a sight that one too many families are forced to see. Experiencing first hand what addiction does to an individual hurts greater than any pain imaginable, because of how attached you are to them and what you once knew them to be.
Those who are active in their drug and alcohol use are unstable and unpredictable. They will use every tool in their arsenal to keep their addiction moving forward. They will lie, steal, and manipulate family members to a degree in which causes stress, anxiety, fear, and anger toward the addict. The actions and behaviors associated with substance abuse distort and deteriorate boundaries. These behaviors can arise even in sobriety, so it is important to recognize if the addict is taking the proper steps in their recovery.
Family members often resort to enabling their loved one’s behavior or make countless attempts to control the addict, both of which are extremely unhealthy. Denial sets in long before anyone can realize it, ultimately causing the family and the addict to be participants in the grips of this disease.
An Addict’s Take on Boundaries
As an addict, myself, I can recall numerous episodes of how my behaviors affected my family, both in and out of recovery. I’ve heard over and over from my therapist and support system about how I need to set healthy family boundaries. I thought to myself finally, I can rebuild my relationship with my family, until I came to the realization that nothing was working. You see, my family does not seem to realize what “personal boundaries” are. Every time I have tried to set my boundaries between my parents, the same patterns occur only a short time later. This still affects me negatively today, with two years sober.
When family members cannot distinguish the difference between what’s healthy and unhealthy for one’s recovery, it becomes a growing issue between the recovering individual and the relationship with their family. Families may think the addict is coming off too harshly, removing themselves from the family dynamic. This can cause a family member to develop resentments against someone who is simply putting their recovery first. My overprotective parents were just not grasping what I was bringing to the table and why. In this moment, it became crucial for me to recognize these resentments were not ill intended.
After unsuccessful attempts at setting boundaries, an addict might become discouraged. However, there are guidelines that can help increase the chances of setting effective boundaries and sticking to them.
Why Are Boundaries Important?
Setting healthy family boundaries can save the addict and their family from years of emotional and mental turmoil. The disease of addiction is complex and progressive, in or out of recovery. While recovery is possible, it is based on the individual and their intentions.
Families, in my opinion, are affected greatly by addiction. They begin to live in fear due to first hand experiences relating to the choices an addict makes while actively using drugs. Families experience many obstacles once addiction in their family has come to light and even after it is treated. If an addict in recovery decides they are going all in, and take the suggestions given to them, it will be recognized.
Fortunately, there are support groups and other options to help families overcome their trust issues, grief, denial, and anger towards an addict. There are numerous suggestions given to families and setting healthy boundaries is one of them. In my opinion, they significantly change the family dynamic for the better.
In the end, it is all about how the family and addict react toward one another. Boundaries help increase the likelihood of a solid relationship between the two. They also help for families to recognize the needs and wants of the addict. And vice versa. In the process of setting healthy family boundaries, both parties need to firmly express their viewpoints and understand each other’s requests in an effective, adult-like manner.
How to Set Healthy Family Boundaries and Stick to Them
While attempting to set healthy family boundaries, there will likely be some difficulties that arise. Do not fear, this is normal. At first, it might seem impossible to talk to each other due to the great deal of pain both the addict and family is trying to recover from. Family members might feel as though the addict is not taking the conversation seriously, or vice versa.
Both parties need to communicate effectively in this process. There needs to be a high level of respect for the addict and the family, despite the hardships. One must not blame the other, for this causes animosity and resentment.
When stating your requests or your point of view, mean what you say and say what you mean. This is important because when an individual is expressing their concerns, especially in a vulnerable state, there is a high risk of misinterpretation and misperception.
If you want things to go smoothly you have to consider what is beneficial for both sides of the spectrum. If someone just jumps to say the first thing on their mind, it might lead to conflict down the road. Which is why thinking, in depth, about what you’re trying to accomplish is essential.
If the addict or family member is serious on the journey to rebuilding a healthy family relationship, there should be minimal issues. However, the family dynamic and an addict’s recovery is individually based. In the event that boundaries are being broken, one must follow up with the appropriate consequences. Be patient, be firm, and take your time. The situation will not improve over night, but in time, significant change will occur.
What If It Isn’t Enough
If you find that you’ve tried countless times to set healthy family boundaries and everything seems to fall back into the awfully familiar downward spiral, it’s ok. It takes a significant amount of time and willpower to actually enforce and stick to boundaries. Recovering from addiction is not an easy task. What works for a family member might not work the addict and what works for the addict might not work for a family member.
If setting boundaries becomes difficult, try taking these suggestions:
Suggestions for the Addict
- Use the coping skills you have learned when faced with a family situation you feel is going to damage your mental or emotional state.
- Reach out to your support group.
- Go to therapy and express your thoughts in a professional setting.
- Don’t lash out, even if you’re angry.
- Be patient, especially if your family lacks knowledge about addiction and how to treat it.
- Don’t give up, change will come.
Suggestions for the Family
- Seek out support groups to talk about your issues in a healthy manner.
- Try to set up family meetings in a professional setting if you cannot accomplish the goals on your own.
- Do not blame the addict or pass judgement.
- Do not give in to manipulation.
- Learn how to stop enabling the addict, in or out of recovery.
- Be patient with the addict, they are also going through a lot.
- Find a balance between the power of being a parent and respecting your child’s wishes.
Struggling With Addiction?
Building healthy family boundaries can help bring a family closer together but they will not get the addict sober. Addiction requires medical attention and treatment to initiate the recovery process. Repair happens after treatment when the individual has entered a comfortable space in their recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, it’s not too late to ask for help. The disease of addiction is insidious and progressive but there is hope because recovery is possible! If you finally decide it’s time to stop existing and start living call (855) 960-5341 today. At Ocean Breeze Recovery, we have trained medical staff available 24/7 to help you or your loved one on their journey to recovery.