Boundaries allow you to draw a line between what is acceptable, and what you are not prepared to tolerate, within a relationship. When a loved-one is abusing drugs or alcohol, their chaos can often affect your life and boundaries will help you to manage your own space. It is important that they reflect your position in a situation – boundaries are not about controlling or making rules for others. Here are a few ideas about using boundaries in different situations:

  1. Sometimes setting a boundary can be quite straightforward.

Situation: You get upset when you take a call and the other person is abusive.

Boundary: You decide not to continue any future calls when the person becomes abusive.

  1. Life and situations constantly change, and boundaries may also need to change. Some are also more complex by nature. It is important that you only set boundaries that you feel comfortable with, and that you can keep.

Situation: You want to ask the person you are concerned about to leave your property and live elsewhere. It is important to plan when, where and how you will tell them, particularly if you are worried about how they will react to the news. For example, having the initial conversation on Christmas Day, when it’s snowing outside, might not be the best time. Would it be best to talk to them in your home, or on neutral ground and would you feel more secure if someone else were present? You should also decide how long you are going to give your loved-one to find another place to live. Unless you are in an emergency situation, can you give them a few weeks or months to sort out alternative accommodation?

Boundary: Plan a timetable that feels right for you. Clearly convey to your loved-one when they will be expected to move out. Make sure they know that you will not allow them to stay after this date, and that it is their responsibility to find alternative accommodation.

  1. When someone is abusing substances, everyone in the family is affected in one way or another. Therefore, it can be important, and is ideal, to reach a consensus within the family on how you will deal with particular issues.

Situation: The person you are concerned about keeps asking you and other family members for money.

Boundary: The whole family agrees on a unified approach to stop giving them any more money.

  1. However, different family members may have their own opinions about a given situation so it might not be possible to reach a family consensus. Maintaining good communication, and agreeing to keep everyone in the loop, can be a way of dealing with this sort of situation. Setting up a private WhatsApp or email group could be a useful tool.

Situation: The person you are concerned about keeps asking you and other family members for money. You want to stop giving them money but your mother finds it difficult to say ‘no’ and your ex-partner doesn’t believe there is even a problem. It’s important that what you are going to do feels right for you, and that the others know your view.

Boundaries: Agree to tell each other that an approach for money has been made, and how that person has acted (their response needs to be free from judgement by the rest of the family). The benefits of this approach are that the patterns of asking become clearer to all and the person’s ability to manipulate individuals is reduced.

  1. Always try to reflect on your actions. Are you enabling your loved-one? Are you taking responsibility for them? Are you trying to fix them? It is OK to be supportive if you are seeing positive action from your loved-one.

Situation: The person has a hospital appointment, and the journey is difficult on public transport.

Boundary: You may decide that, in this situation, giving them a lift is something you are happy to do. But you might want to make it clear that this does not mean you are going to start providing a regular taxi service.

  1. Someone who is using drugs or alcohol can often behave in a chaotic manner. They might contact you to ask for help at odd times of the day or night. Always give yourself time to think a situation through and decide on your position and feelings before responding to them.

Situation: The person wants you to do a food shop and pay for it.

Possible boundaries: If you believe they are spending their money on substances instead of food, you might want to refuse.

If you think they are able to walk to and access the shops, suggest this is something they can achieve for themselves.

Point them towards the local foodbank or community fridge.