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Recovery from drugs and alcohol requires the establishment of personal boundaries with friends and family. A lack of boundaries can contribute to relapse. Still, establishing boundaries can feel uncomfortable. At times, family and friends may push back, failing to honor your boundaries in ways that enable your addiction rather than support your recovery. The key to setting boundaries that work for you is first identifying what yours are and then clearly articulating them. 

Determining Your Needs for Recovery

Much of recovery is relapse prevention. Relapse — or returning to the use of substances again after stopping — is often brought on by exposure to triggers. A trigger is understood to be “a stimulus that elicits a reaction.” For a person with alcohol use disorder (AUD), this can look like being invited to drink or to locations where drinking will happen or being exposed to emotional settings that stimulate the desire to drink.

While triggers can seem external, it is important to note here that a trigger is actually internal. Something is being stimulated inside you that makes you want to drink or use substances. Knowing what emotion or impulse is being triggered is not always obvious. When the “why” of the trigger isn’t forthcoming, working to control the external factors, or “what,” that facilitate this stimulus will help you get and stay clean and sober. 

Communicating Your Needs

Choosing how and when to share your needs may mean first sharing the truth about your addiction. It is possible some will not take it seriously. Making a note of those who accept and support you versus those who deny and enable you is a significant first step in setting boundaries. Allow yourself to take a break from individuals who refuse the reality of what you share with them. Oftentimes distance can create even greater clarity and success in recovery.

For those who do show up to support your recovery, let them know what you want to stay away from. Make requests like, “I’d prefer if you wouldn’t invite me out to events where alcohol will be present.” Or, “I would like to still be invited, but please let me know in advance if there will be substance use so I can make an informed decision about attending.” Let your listener know that you appreciate them supporting your wellness by honoring your needs. 

In the cases of dysfunctional families, boundaries can get a bit trickier. Know that you are doing what is best for you; that is all you can do right now. Invite your family members to honor your needs by expressing them in ways that do not blame them for your addiction unless they have explicitly encouraged it. This does not mean you should not communicate areas where growth and change are opportunities. It will not benefit you to ignore how your family has contributed to your substance or alcohol use. 

Before speaking to your family, especially in the case of dysfunction, consider meeting with a professional to discuss your needs. Together, you can create a safe and meaningful plan for how you will conduct your family discussion. You may choose to make your request in writing, or you may want a neutral party present who can facilitate and offer feedback if you anticipate an emotional exchange.

If your boundaries are not being observed, remind the individual of your needs. If your needs continue to be ignored, your first responsibility is your own well-being. It does not need to take three strikes for someone to be “out.” Use your best judgment in each scenario, but remember that you and your needs are important; you should be taken seriously and supported.

Looking Forward

Addiction affects everyone differently, so it makes sense that each person will need to find their own tools to counteract triggers when they occur. Fortunately, there are plenty of tried and true tools for addressing addiction to be used in recovery. These include mindfulness techniques like yoga and meditation or art or music therapy. The most useful intervention involves working with therapists and/or a group of like-minded individuals on their own recovery journeys. 

Determining your recovery needs will take time. It is an evolving process, meaning it is ever-changing to meet your needs. What serves you at the beginning of your recovery journey may no longer be necessary one month or one year down the road. 

While many relationships are healthy and encouraging, some are rooted and will continue to be rooted in dysfunction. In cases of family dysfunction, it can be the root cause of how addiction occurred. It is possible you will need to distance yourself from individuals who contributed or continue to contribute to the emotions or thinking that led you to use substances. 

In addiction recovery, establishing healthy boundaries with friends and family is essential. Establishing boundaries can be uncomfortable, but a lack of boundaries or no boundaries altogether can contribute to relapse. There may also be times when your boundaries are not honored by friends and families. This can contribute to your addiction rather than your recovery, so it is vital to communicate clear boundaries and uphold them on your end. In order to set healthy boundaries, you need to know your personal goals and your emotional needs. Creating a list of addiction triggers — such as being offered substances, engaging in certain activities, or having others engage in substance use around you — can be beneficial to your recovery. If you are ready to set healthy boundaries and would like help with this process, call West Coast Recovery Centers at (760) 492-6509 today.

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