Everyone who has lived with or loved an addict knows just how hard it can be. For caregivers, validating and acknowledging their own hardships and feelings about the situation feels selfish because we often always have to give way towards our loved one who is struggling.
This love often translates to codependency, or what experts define as caregivers’ tendency or need to save their struggling loved ones, even at the expense of their own health and well-being. Codependent caregivers tend to excuse the behavior of their addicted loved ones to the point of enabling their harmful behaviors.
One of the best ways, if not the best way, to solve this serious problem is for codependent caregivers to establish proper boundaries with their addicted loved ones. This means doing everything within their power to help their struggling loved ones get the help that they need—from medical attention to check themselves into a drug rehabilitation facility to maintaining whatever progress they might make along the way. But these things can’t happen unless caregivers learn to embrace that drug addiction is a disease that needs medical help and attention, and they need to learn when to step back if they truly want their loved ones to recover from it.
Addiction is always fueled and worsened by codependency, which is why family members and loved ones of those struggling need to learn how to set loving boundaries. Here are some ways to do this.
Understand that kindness and accountability can go together
Many caregivers never want to hold their addicted loved ones accountable because they often equate accountability with punishment or judgment towards their already struggling family member or loved one. Why be cruel to them when they’re already having such a hard time?
This is a mindset everyone—not just codependent caregivers—need to do away with. Accountability and compassion can absolutely coexist; in fact, enabling the toxic and harmful behaviors of the people we love is not an act of kindness, but one of cowardice.
Communicate your new set of rules and boundaries
If we truly love our addicted family member or loved one, then we need to fight for them and their health and well-being, especially when they can no longer fight for themselves. Setting this boundary might mean the following:
- Cutting them off financially if our monetary support is helping fuel their drug habit or addiction
- Banning alcohol, drugs, and other substances around the family or anywhere near the house
- Banning drug-using companions or friends in the home, especially if there are kids in the house
- Resolving not to bail them out or pay for their lawyer when they get arrested
The medium is the message
One way to ensure that you are practicing loving-kindness when setting these boundaries is to communicate them in the right manner, at the right time, in the right setting, with the proper motivations. Simply setting these rules will not fly, especially if they don’t know about them beforehand. Let them know where you stand on these issues and why you will no longer tolerate these toxic habits and behaviors around you and the rest of the family.
To properly communicate with your loved ones, here are some factors you might want to take into account:
- Make sure they are sober or not under the influence when you talk to them about this new set of boundaries.
- Invite the entire family to show a united front.
- Start the conversation from a place of love and concern, not nagging. Do not default to blaming, judgment, or condemnation. Explain to them that you are doing these things because you love them, and not because you’re punishing them. Tell your addicted loved one that you are having this conversation because everyone in that room wants to see them happy and healthy.
- Communicate to them your exact terms and rules, and what consequences they will face if they violate them.
- Give them options for treatment. Tell them that while you cannot force them to go into treatment, especially if they are not a minor, you and the entire family would appreciate it so much if they do choose to seek professional help.
It’s never too late to intervene
Consider seeking the help of an intervention team to help you make a concrete plan. We might benefit greatly from having an objective third-party specialist help us navigate this process, especially if we are having a hard time breaking the cycle of codependency.
Trying to help an addicted loved one can be difficult, but the goal is challenging. Know that you are doing noble work and that you will see your efforts pay off if you don’t give up.