Putting Yourself First: 5 Ways to Set Boundaries with Fellow Addicts

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Being in recovery has taught me a lot. Before entering into recovery, I was still a child, unable to take care of myself spiritually, mentally, or physically. As a result of strenuous work on myself, I’ve been able to grow up in the program. However, one area that I have always struggled and still find myself falling short in is setting boundaries. This is especially true when it comes to setting boundaries with addicts.

Setting and having boundaries with addicts is crucial to having success in the program. I found myself confusing helping with enabling and being taken advantage of. It’s especially difficult to differentiate when it involves other people in recovery or addicts looking for recovery. Our overwhelming desire to help can often lead us to continually put ourselves in potentially dangerous situations for our recovery. Remember, we cannot transmit what we don’t have.

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries are defined as the physical, emotional, and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. They are the divide between healthy and unhealthy contact with others. Without having boundaries, we leave ourselves vulnerable. Putting personal boundaries in place is not an act of selfishness or cruelty, it’s an act of self-preservation.

Possessing personal relationships without boundaries is leaving the door wide open for toxicity to enter the relationship. As a codependent individual, I often have experienced this unfortunate seismic shift from a healthy to a toxic relationship as a result of non-existent or lackadaisical boundaries. This reigns just as true in non-romantic relationships.

Helping or Hurting?

When we come into recovery, we are barely capable of functioning. Through the love and compassion we have received from our predecessors, coupled with the efforts we put forth in working our program, we have been able to find sobriety and joy in recovery. The natural response is to want to share the happiness we’ve fabricated in our lives with our fellow addicts.

Many times, however, if we have no boundaries with addicts, what might have begun as good intentions, can quickly descend into insanity and negativity. The occasional ride to meetings or spare cigarette can quickly develop into dependence and transform into expectation. This not only puts unnecessary pressure on yourself, but it does our fellow addict a disservice by harboring a reliance on others as opposed to self-sufficiency, that is the ultimate goal of recovery.

Setting Boundaries with Fellow Addicts

If you need help setting boundaries with addicts, fear not! There are several ways in which you can successfully safeguard yourself from toxicity while implementing healthy boundaries.

personal boundaries


  • You are Not Responsible for Their Recovery


When it comes to dealing with newcomers, setting healthy boundaries with addicts is very important. We all want to help those newly in recovery. After we get a little time in the program, work some steps, start feeling good again, we want to spread the message! Whether that’s through H&I, sponsorships, or even just reaching out to the newcomer in general, there is a multitude of ways we can help our fellow addict.

However, it’s extremely important to recognize when the relationship with the newcomer crosses over from healthy to toxic. We are not responsible for their recovery. We can provide support, love, understanding, and our experience, strength, and hope, but cannot work someone else’s program for them. If they are not willing to help themselves, then there is nothing we can do and we must set boundaries with addicts when push comes to shove.


  • Your Feelings Are Valid


At the end of the day, you are entitled to your feelings. Setting boundaries with addicts include safeguarding your feelings. If a friend, partner, or even sponsor is not respecting your feelings, that is crossing a boundary. No one’s feelings are right or wrong or more or less important than anyone else’s.

If you consistently find yourself asking a fellow addict in your life to respect your feelings, there needs to be a boundary in place. A violation of one’s personal feelings is never okay, and allowing someone to walk all over you emotionally is a sure sign of toxicity.


  • You Can Love from a Distance


One of the most important boundaries with addicts is loving from a distance while they are in active addiction. As much as we may want to lift them up, it’s good to remember that they will pull us down first. Putting your sobriety at risk is never okay.

Despite any guilt trips, lashing out, or pleading on their part, we reserve the right to love and support them without putting ourselves in danger. That means you are not a bad friend or fellow recovering addict if you don’t take them to get their drugs or meet up with them while they’re high. Only we know our personal thresholds of tolerance for exposure to active addiction, and by setting the boundary by our personal standards, we can still love and support those in active addiction in a healthy way.


  • You Have the Right to Say “No”


“No” is often one of the first words we learn to say as an infant and one of our favorites in active addiction. So why is it we are so afraid to use it in recovery? When it comes to setting boundaries with addicts, reserving the right to say “no” is one of the most powerful boundaries we can have.

Whether it’s someone outside of a meeting asking us to go super out of our way to give them a ride home after even though we have work early the next day, or several different friends asking us to hang out on the same day, there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying no. In fact, not having this boundary can actually land us in more trouble than using no at your personal discretion. We will find ourselves being pulled in a million different directions unable to meet all of the commitments we’ve unwittingly made. As in Jim Carrey’s “Yes Man” learning to say yes is a good thing to keep us open to possibilities, but saying yes with discretion is crucial to avoid disaster.


  • You Are Not Obligated to the Relationship


If all else fails, and you find your boundaries with addicts are not being respected, you reserve the right to terminate the relationship. You are not obligated to keeping an unhealthy relationship, even with your fellow addicts in recovery. The primary message of recovery is learning self-love, and sometimes walking away is the greatest act of self-love one can perform. Walking away isn’t giving up, it’s accepting that this relationship is no longer beneficial to your life.

Setting boundaries with addicts and people in general is important to maintaining a healthy, happy, productive life. Boundaries may seem harsh to those of us who have never had any, but trust me when I say they can transform your life for the better. Maintaining a certain standard of behavior, you’ll tolerate in your life will spare you unnecessary pain in the future. Always remember, never settle for less than you deserve!

In Need of Detox?

It can be intimidating to know that addiction and alcoholism are always right around the corner. Sometimes getting that little push and having medical guidance can be what it takes. Relapse and active addiction/alcoholism are only as preventable as much as we value the sobriety we hold in our hands. If you or a loved one has been struggling with getting a firm grasp on sobriety and need detoxification, please call 800-982-5530 or visit restoredetoxcenters.com. Our teams of specialists are waiting by to help figure out what options are best for sending your life is a comfortable direction that you can proudly stand behind.

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