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A few weeks back, I wrote about setting boundaries. I talked about the importance of yeses and nos, and strategies for creating healthy boundaries. A reader wrote in with great questions about boundaries. What do you do when the person you are trying to set a boundary has an addiction? And, are there resources available that can help?
Addictions can have devastating consequences for families. Not only can they strain relationships, but they also can result in issues with money, safety, and in the saddest cases, death.
My expertise is not in addiction, but in my practice, I've met with families whose lives have been stung by it. Many parents are exhausted as they have expended both emotional and financial resources to help a struggling child. Spouses are heartbroken when they see the health and personality of the person they married change. Kids with addicted caregivers live with the scars of addiction often well into adulthood.
I want to address the questions about resources first. If you have a loved one who struggles with addiction, get your own therapist if you can. Managing all the pain of addiction and boundaries that are sure to be blurred can be overwhelming. Having a therapist to be able to provide emotional support, insight and help you navigate and set appropriate boundaries is important. If a therapist isn't for you, try attending a support group with people who share similar experiences.
Also, try to enlist a friend - one who isn't too close to the family member who is struggling with addiction - to be your confidant. Tell them about the loved one who is struggling with addiction and ask them to be your sounding board. You can tell them that you don't need advice or ideas, just someone to lean on when you are worried, stressed or scared.
Therapy and a confidant can be useful resources, but sometimes it also feels helpful to do something. One thing you can do to help set better boundaries with your loved one who is addicted is to begin to advocate for changes in your community's response to addiction. Addiction is an issue that is often treated with punishment, when what is needed is help. If you have the time and the resources, get involved in your community and advocate for polices that support and help those with addiction.
Addiction in a family can be isolating. When a family feels isolated, boundaries are hard to set and keep. If you can use your voice to help leaders and policy makers understand the importance of helping those with addiction, the isolation can be alleviated. If families who have a loved one struggling with addiction can advocate for polices that help and support those with addiction, then setting boundaries can be easier. When we feel like the weight of responsibility for taking care of a loved one with an addiction is shared, and when resources are available, it not only can help those who are addicted, it can improve family relationships.
Unfortunately, there isn't an easy path when it come to helping a loved one who struggles with addiction, but there is hope. When we or a loved one struggle, we often turn inward and feel isolated. If we can find the strength to get help ourselves - from a therapist, support group, or close friend, we can then look outward and advocate. As we advocate, we can change the current system of punishment that is often used to treat addiction and help create a community that help and support those with addiction and their family members.
Jacob Priest is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a professor in the University of Iowa College of Education. He is also the co-host of the Attached Podcast. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org