Are you a parent struggling to set boundaries with your addicted child?

Updated: May 18, 2019

Have you ever set a boundary with someone, only to turn around and find them crossing your very clear boundary you set for them? I know I have. I have set so many boundaries. I am so good at setting those damn boundaries. But for a long time, people were ignoring me. I got so mad because I felt like I wasn’t being heard. Then, I started doubting myself because if no one was listening to me and paying attention to my boundaries then maybe they weren’t the problem. Maybe I was the problem. And if I was the problem, did I even have the right to set those boundaries? And if I didn’t have the right to set those boundaries, maybe I deserved what I was getting.

As I gained more confidence in myself through a lot of inner personal work, I realized I was setting boundaries all wrong. It wasn’t important that I understood how to set boundaries. That part I was fine with, it was how to defend those boundaries I had to work on. So I had some discoveries in this process.

There are two major reasons why we let our boundaries get crossed.

1. The boundaries aren’t clear.

2. We don’t believe in the boundaries enough


Sometimes we think we are being clear when we aren’t. For example: Someone does something you don’t like and you tell them simply “You can’t do that again.” You think that should cover it. They can’t do that again, I have just told them so. ANNNNNDDDD they do it again.

The unfortunate thing in this example is that you don’t actually have any control over what they do or don’t do. You can tell them all day long they can’t do something and it doesn’t mean that is going to stop them. You can tell them “You can’t treat me that way.” And just because you say that, doesn’t mean they are going to stop.

Clear and intentional boundaries is the key here. Telling someone they can’t do something implies that you have some sort of control over them and you don’t. When you are thinking about your boundaries, you’re really thinking about a goal you want to achieve. But the goal can't be to make someone else do something. That isn't realistic. Because you’re thinking about a goal, it’s important to apply the same principles that you would with goal setting.

The easiest way to think about setting goals is using the SMART formula. Each letter may mean something different depending on the context. Below is a different way to approach boundary setting.

S=Specific, Sensible, Simple

M=Measurable, Meaningful

A=Achievable, Attainable

R=Relevant, Reasonable, Realistic

T=Time Bound

This is nothing you haven’t heard before. Sometimes, you just need a friendly reminder. I know I continuously need someone to remind me or let me know when I am not being clear. In my head, things are clear. To someone else, things may not be so clear so it’s good to have a sounding board.

Here’s one example of many SMART Boundaries when it applies to addiction.

Example: You may live in my house, but only under certain conditions. (Insert Conditions Here, make sure you follow the SMART Formula). If you fail to meet any of the these conditions, you may go live somewhere else. Here is a list of shelters in the area if you choose to not follow our conditions. You have “X” amount of time to get a job and find another place to live.

You have done all that, right? You set all those boundaries and yet they are still doing whatever they want in your house or in other situations. Which brings me to the second reason boundaries get crossed.


O, I am sure you believe what you are saying is the right thing to say. I am sure you believe the boundary you set is the right boundary to set. It’s upholding the consequences that’s the problem. I believed in every boundary I set that got crossed. But I didn’t have any consequences that went with the crossed boundaries, and if I did tell them what the consequences would be, I didn’t uphold them.

If you set a boundary and have no intentions on delivering on the consequences, then you don’t believe enough in the boundary and the addict in your life just called your bluff. Don’t think you are going to get away playing cards against the addict. They don’t give a shit about your cards. They will call your bluff every time.

If you say you are going to drug test them, you better be willing to drug test them. They will stare you in the face and lie to you and then make you feel guilty about not trusting them to get you to back down. And once the drug test comes back positive, they will probably lie to you some more. "THAT’S A FALSE POSITIVE!!!" "SOMEONE IS SETTING ME UP!!!!" "I HAVE A PRESCRIPTION!!!" Etc.

You have to believe in yourself. You have to have confidence in yourself to know what is true, and then be ready to deliver the consequences with them fighting you every step of the way.

You may start believing it’s easier just to let them have their way. You have no energy for fighting them anymore. But all that does is tell them they can wear you down. It’s like dealing with a five year old throwing a tantrum but in a grown body. Adults throw tantrums too, it just looks different as we get older.

If you tell them you are going to kick them out of the house, then you better mean it. And then kick them out of your house because that is the only way to protect yourself from ongoing assaults on your boundaries.

Delivering consequences is scary. You want to protect them in every way possible. You don’t want them living in a shelter, or going to jail. You don’t want them to die because you kicked them out of the house and now they are on the streets. You don’t want to lose your loved one. No one does. So, you bend on the consequences because at least if they are coming home, you know they are safe. You keep them out of jail because you don’t want them to have a record and hurt their chances at getting the career you always dreamed they would have. Or you’re afraid they will get hurt in jail. Jail is sometimes a lot safer than the streets for addicts.

You doubt yourself and your ability to handle what would happen if you lost your kid. You doubt yourself and your understanding of addiction. You doubt yourself because you want to believe them and what they are saying. And most importantly, you want to continue believing IN them.

This is why it is important to do your own self-awareness work. So you can become strong and grounded within yourself. To have faith in yourself and your ability to handle whatever happens. Because at the end of the day, whatever happens is what happens and that is out of your control.

I’ve learned a few things over the years of losing and almost losing people to this disease.

1. You can’t start mourning people’s death before they die.

2. You have zero control over what they are going to do. They are going to do what they are going to do. You only have control in how you handle yourself through it.

3. If they are in active addiction, expect them to lie, cheat, steal, and do things for drugs that is appalling.

4. They are not themselves when they are using drugs, they are someone else and you have to treat them as if they are a stranger to you.

5. There is no formula for what makes an addict, it can be anyone from any kind of background. So stop blaming yourself. You didn’t do this so you can’t take responsibility and therefore you shouldn’t feel guilty when they try to blame you.

6. You have your own work to do to endure this journey. Their addiction is not your journey. The way you learn and grow and handle yourself through it, that’s your journey.

You have your inner work to do just as much as they have theirs. Even if they get clean and start getting their lives together, your journey doesn’t end.

Jennifer Maneely has spent the last eight years investing in leadership programs, self-awareness, and relationship with families through communication. Drawing on her experience as a leadership consultant, she uses an executive coaching approach to working with parents. She has dedicated her life and her business to not only addicts in need but also understanding and supporting the needs of the family members. Being a recovering addict herself, she is trained in what it takes for an addict to get their life back and has spent years teaching family members how to respond to the addicts to prevent the families from unintentionally supporting the addict in their self-sabotage and destructive patterns of behaviors. Want to stop supporting your loved one in their addiction? Set up a free strategy call

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