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A Cheat Sheet on Boundaries


This post is Part 2 in a short series on Rewards & Boundaries, which came about as a response to member Layla and her question below. See Part 1, "A Refresher on Removing Rewards" here.

© Héctor J. Rivas via unsplash

"What do you do when you are asking him to leave for he has been drinking and he refuses to leave? We just sweep it under the rug and walk away from him!"


Boundaries: they're only useful if you can follow through and stand behind them!

Our 'Boundaries Queen' at Allies is Laurie MacDougall, and if you haven't read them already, we recommend that everyone check out her 2-part series on boundaries: here's Part 1, and here's Part 2. Laurie started out just like you — a family member on this site, looking for an approach to her Loved One's SUD that resonated with her. Throughout the years of her applying CRAFT, shepherding her Loved One into recovery, and taking her own self-care and well-being by the horns, she has acquired a deep understanding of the importance of boundaries.

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) aside, as human beings, in contact and communication with other human beings, I figure knowing how to set a boundary and stick to it, is simply essential.

Here's the cheat sheet I've put together after re-reading Laurie's pieces on boundaries.

  • "[Having a LO with SUD] time when we are most in need of these self-preserving strategies and yet, our limit-setting abilities are likely at their weakest!"

  • "I have found that much of what I have learned can be applied to all aspects of my relationships with others. . . ."

  • "We were not taught how to set personal boundaries when we were growing up, or maybe setting strong personal limits backfired, making us vulnerable to even more extreme abuse."

  • "[Sometimes we] see our Loved One as too sick or weak. . . . . Not setting personal limits for these reasons insinuates that my Loved One needs me to do things for him/her. It helps make our Loved One dependent on us and can lead them to feelings of helplessness."

  • "FEAR is an immense obstacle to overcome. . . . .Worrying, and trying to prevent them from returning to use, drives us from making logical healthy decisions."

  • "Pay attention to the motivation behind your boundary. . . . . I learned to question my motivation for a limit: am I trying to get someone to do something (manipulating)? Or, am I simply keeping my own values and morals in place? Is the boundary solely for me?"

  • "When I implement well-thought-out limits that I am more capable of sticking to, I inspire change in the response to my boundaries, and I get better results."

  • "When we do not follow through with the boundaries we have established, there is a second underlying negative message sent to the receiver. We are implying our Loved One is not capable of respecting the boundary."

  • " You do have the right to change a boundary! They are your boundaries, you can do whatever you want with them. If they are not working, change them, get rid of them, or firm them up."

  • "[Setting healthy boundaries] . . . requires a lot of reflection, work and practice. I had to start with just a single change at a time. I was patient and forgiving with myself and had to practice frequently. I still make mistakes and it is most likely to fall apart during moments of crisis. At least now I have a few more strategies to lean on in difficult times."




In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. Setting boundaries for an 18 year old with SUD and severe depression, with chronic suicidal thoughts. He is at rehab right now. He just turned 18 and was told if he continues to use substance and not actively engage in sobriety then he cannot reside at our home. There is the fear that he will feel hopeless if he is asked to leave and hurt himself in return.

    I was thinking of providing him with a list of family members, shelters, etc if the day comes and he’s asked to leave.

  2. 3 Key points to keep in mind with Boundaries:

    1. They are not a punishment. This is where natural consequences and letting a person experience the negative brought on by their actions can really help a person learn about how substances are negatively affecting them.

    2. They are for you; you are responsible for enforcing them. I often ask myself, “How am I going to hold true to my boundary if my LO does not? How easy is it going to be to enforce? What are the barriers to enforcing them?”

    3. They determine your behavior and do NOT determine your LO’s behavior – THIS IS KEY and often not well understood. Some questions I might ask myself are, “Are there any ways I could get out of the way here and let my LO experience natural consequences (that are safe) in this situation? What behavior on my part will help me hold to my boundary?”

    In your situation, asking your LO to leave after drinking, is proving to be very difficult to get to work. Is there something else that you could do? Maybe something directly in the moment, that would allow your LO to suffer natural consequences? Maybe:

    1. If he passes out on the floor, leave him there.

    2. If it looks like he’ll be coming home late and you know he’s been drinking, lock the door at a particular time. Could you let him know ahead of time this is your plan of action?

    3. Don’t wake him up if he’s late for work.

    4. Anytime he is drinking, disengage. Find something else to do.

    _Always keep in mind rewarding non-use!_

    The counterpart to removing rewards ­­— rewarding non-use — is also a key to having a positive influence on your LO and his drinking. They work together and are not independent of one another. It is so important to identify those moments of non-use and reward, reward, reward, to encourage repeated positive behavior, all the while removing immediate rewards during times of use.

    Asking your LO to leave because they are struggling to stop may be a conversation that could be reserved for a more calm moment, when he hasn’t been using. It could sound like:

    “I know I’m the one that’s having difficulties dealing with drinking — it’s a trigger for me, and I cannot handle it.

    For my mental health and safety, I can’t have you staying here. It’s not safe for either of us.

    I’ve put together a few options for you to consider. Look over my list and maybe you can add any other options you might think of, and let me know by tonight which one will work for you.”

    or – perhaps you need to simply reinforce your boundary, making sure you’ve been 100% clear with him ahead of time, even letting him know what you’ll do if he decides not to respect your wishes for his conduct in your home. For instance:

    “Son, I understand living here might not be your first choice, but as long as we’re all under the same roof, I want to be sure that I’m being clear as to my own needs and personal limits.

    We’re happy to have you staying with us, but I’m/we’re just really uncomfortable with the drinking. Please, if you decide to drink, do it elsewhere, and make plans to stay elsewhere.

    If it looks to us like you’ve been drinking (or, you’re out late, substitute whatever is appropriate), we’ll take the prerogative of locking the door.
    You’ll always be welcome back home when you’re not using.”

    _Your boundaries, your responsibility to enforce them_

    Remember, these are your boundaries, so it’s your responsibility to enforce them.

    What if he says, “Nope, I’m not leaving!”? What will you do? Are you prepared to take the steps to evict him.

    Or could you do something less drastic like move him out of a bedroom and into a shared living space (see our suggestions for this here and further posts on the ‘Daybed & Locker’ set-up here)? Something that may make him a bit less comfortable in the house.

    Thanks so much for writing in and please keep us posted on how you fare.


    1. Thank you so much for all of these suggestions and steps in setting up boundaries!

      I have been sticking to my boundaries with my 40 year old son and I am pleased to report he has taken the first steps to recovery! He has been 9 days sober and a completely different son and father to his two children, aged 10 and 11!

      I reached out to my church and found a doctor and counseling and he finally went to see Dr. Sue and got some anxiety medicine which is helping tremendously with his triggers and withdrawal! He is meeting with the counselor tomorrow to set up a future plan! Thank and Praise God!

      I can’t thank you enough for your website and helping me set these boundaries! I realize addiction is a roller coaster ride, but thank you for being on this ride with me!

      I know there will be setbacks, but I am so proud of him for taking these first steps in his recovery! Thank you again and God Bless All of You for allowing free access to your website!