If you are a parent, partner, or other loved one of a person with a substance use disorder, you’re probably put in some painful situations when your loved one asks for something. You may have helped them in the past with money, paying bills, or even giving them rides to places. Yet you never quite know if they’re telling the truth and often wonder if your “help” has done more harm than good.
Loving somebody with substance use disorder can be challenging. Learning to set boundaries and say "No" can help you transform the relationship and make room to take care of your own needs.
What Happens When You Say No?
What is the worst thing that you think will happen if you tell your loved one that no? For example, what will they do if you say you cannot help them with money this week? Many parents, for example, think their child will stop calling or interacting with them if they cut off the financial support.
More often than not, your loved will keep calling and will continue to ask you for things. This is why it’s so important to have a plan on what your boundaries are, and stick with them.
You may not be willing to cut your child off completely, but setting boundaries is still essential. Let them know you love them, and you want them to get help for their substance use disorder. They can come over for dinner, but only when they are sober. You will take them shopping for groceries, but only when they are sober. You may not want to give your adult child money, but you may be okay with paying their phone bill this month, but not next month. Or you may not want to give them any help at all until they are sober.
When you say no, it’s also an opportunity to give your loved one an alternative or tell them you’ll help them with finding a 12-step meeting or detox. Let your loved one know how you can support them when they’re willing to get the help they need for substance use.
Saying No Can Be Challenging
You may have to say “No” more than once. This is because your loved one may be used to getting their way, so when you say no, they may not believe it at first.
“No” is a complete sentence; you don’t owe somebody who is asking you for something an explanation.
Sometimes, when you learn to say “No,” you may feel the anger behind the word. Getting angry, going into loud, irate explanations, or hanging up on your loved one will leave you feeling guilty. (Then you may be tempted to call them back and say, “I changed my mind.”)
Say “No,” and be polite and kind, and take a deep breath. Your loved one will have to accept that you’ve said no, and they may get upset. If you start to get angry, tell them you will call them back later. Wait until you’re calm and collected to do so.
Nobody is going to change overnight. Your loved one didn’t become addicted overnight, and they aren’t going to get sober overnight. When they first get sober, it will take a while for them to change their lifestyle and behavior. Likewise, changes in your relationship dynamic aren’t going to happen overnight, either. But by setting boundaries, you’ve already started to take care of yourself.
Once you’ve said "No" to your loved one, it’s time to put yourself first. Be gentle when you begin setting boundaries. Reward yourself with self-care time. This means spending at least 15 minutes a day doing something healthy that helps you unwind. This could be meditation, taking a walk, yoga, or another activity that helps relax you.
Joining a group like Al-Anon may help you learn more coping tools for living with a person with an addiction. Some people even benefit from interventions but getting help for yourself is important.
Help for Addiction
If you or somebody you love has a problem with drugs or alcohol, we’re here to help! You deserve a chance to reclaim your life. Learn more about your options by giving us a call.
Are you an enabler? Addiction is a scary disease; it can cause your loved one to take risks they usually wouldn’t take and start behaving startlingly. People who are close to a person struggling with substance abuse often want to help their loved one, but they may not know how to help. Sometimes this desire can outweigh good judgment, and instead of improving their loved one's life, you may enable them to continue acting out on their disease. This is what psychology calls being an “enabler.” It means you help a person out in a way that keeps them from suffering the effects of their addiction.
Does this sound like you? Think about it carefully. Although the word may seem cynical, it’s not about being judgemental. Have you bailed somebody out of jail, helped them with debts or otherwise done things to help them out? Do you give them money they haven't earned whenever they ask you for it? If so, it’s likely you’ve enabled them in the past.
Being an enabler doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person. You want your loved one to get better, and you want them to stay out of trouble. However, for them to start recovering, you’re going to have to let them become responsible for their actions.
Everyone wants to help the people they love, but when you enable a person, you may be taking away an opportunity for change or growth.
Setting Boundaries with an Addicted Person
When you enable your loved one, they feel free to let you take some of the burdens of responsibility away from them. It’s easier for them to be free from consequences of their own actions. Bailing somebody out, paying their bills, or giving them money is a way that enabling helps prevent repercussions. To keep yourself from enabling, you’ll need to begin setting boundaries. If you’ve been helping a loved one with money, you can start the process of cutting them off. You don’t have to stop everything at once, but creating new healthy patterns that encourage independence is a part of recovery for both of you.
People tend to enable out of love, but it can cause resentment and heartache. If you give your adult son money, for example, and he disappears for a few days, you’re going to worry and wonder how they spent it. It’s not your responsibility to watch after your loved one and clean up their messes.
Addiction can cause people to become codependent. This is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, but it’s not healthy. It can cause you pain, resentment, and heartache, even when your loved one enters recovery.
Boundaries in relationships are essential. An addicted person needs to learn to be responsible for their own lives and choices. Enablers need to learn to live their own lives and let that person learn to be accountable again.
Help for Enablers
Learning to take care of yourself is important when you have a loved one in recovery. The great news is, of course, that there is help for the whole family.
If your loved one is in treatment, ask the recovery professionals that are helping them to recommend local resources for you. You can also look for meetings such as Codependents Anonymous or Al-Anon to find other people who have been through the same thing. If you are experiencing depression or other emotions that are tough to cope with, please also do yourself a favor and explore your options for one-on-one therapy and family therapy with your loved one. Addiction is a family disease, and everyone deserves a chance to heal and grow.
Recovery can be a bright and hopeful journey, but it’s not without bumps in the road. Getting help for yourself, as well as your loved one can make the journey easier and more rewarding.
If your loved one is looking for help or more treatment options, please give us a call at (619) 363-4767 to learn more about your options. We’re happy to recommend resources for you, as well.