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Setting Boundaries in Addiction Recovery: A Guide to Healthy and Unhealthy Boundaries

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]You have been working hard in your addiction recovery and are finally ready to set some boundaries in your life.

Setting personal boundaries in recovery can be challenging because of the desire for instant gratification that addiction recovery brings up. Here we will discuss what healthy and unhealthy boundaries are and how they are important when recovering from an addiction.

Table of Contents

  1. Healthy Boundaries and Self-Esteem
  2. Heathy vs Unhealthy Boundaries in Recovery
  3. Benefits of Setting Personal Boundaries in Recovery
  4. How to Set Personal Boundaries in Addiction Recovery


In recovery it is important to learn how to value yourself as an individual, not dependent on what other people think of you.

In order for a person in recovery from addiction or substance abuse to heal and develop themselves they need their own personal space where no one else can judge them – including the ones that care about them most. This is sometimes called your “comfort zone”.

The more time you spend in your comfort zone, the less likely it is for someone else’s opinions or desires will affect how you feel about yourself because you’ve taken the time to establish who and what you are. The goal of recovery is ultimately to learn how to love oneself as an individual, not dependent on what other people think about you.

The cornerstone of this idea rests upon everyone’s right to have their own thoughts, opinions, beliefs without needing validation by others first who may disagree with these views.

You may have relationships with others who tempt you with substance use, family members telling you being away from them is too selfish for anyone to be able go through this alone, or people trying to get at the root of why they themselves had an addiction by talking about it all day long.

It’s at these times you will need your boundaries the most. Built on your desire for independence from your addiction, your boundaries will protect you from outside influence and judgement that can undermine your progress and ultimate goal.


Healthy Boundaries and Self-Esteem

When recovering addicts say yes to things they know are bad for them, their self-image is affected negatively. The more uncomfortable the addict becomes with themselves and life in general due to low self-esteem or a lack of boundaries, it’s much easier for an addiction relapse to occur because there was never any recovery process established.

Building healthy boundaries and having a sense of self-worth will allow you to break the cycle of addiction in your life.


Why do addicts tend to have unhealthy boundaries?

When a drug addict has boundary issues, it is usually rooted in their past. As children they may have had neglectful caregivers who set no boundaries and failed to model healthy emotional relationships. This leads them not knowing how to express emotion or ask for help, which makes forming any kind of relationship difficult .

On the other hand, setting too many boundaries can send the message to children that they cannot grow and be independent. This leads them to become overly dependent on others, or codependent, and they lack the sense of self and structure needed to make independent decisions or create internal values that will keep them safe.

However, codependent relationships are harmful; at their worst these lead addicts into being manipulated by those around them instead of taking responsibility for themselves or making decisions independently from outside influences.

In adulthood, an addict may have experienced trauma in their past or even come from a broken home. In these cases they don’t know how to set boundaries and avoid feeling abandoned like before. When trying to get sober the addict will continue to put themselves last because they crave this sense of belonging that has been absent for so long.

An addict who lacks healthy boundaries may not know how to say no to substances that are bad for them. They may also be too self-critical and not know how to set any boundaries due to low self-esteem issues.

It’s important in recovery from addiction for addicts to learn healthy boundaries so they can stay sober, heal themselves emotionally, create healthy relationships, develop strong personal values and beliefs and have a sense of worth in life overall.


What do healthy boundaries look like?

Healthy boundaries are the ability to say no when you need to, but also the desire and drive for growth which leads addicts into saying yes.

Characteristics of Healthy Boundaries

  • Limits are clear and decisive, yet reasonable.
  • Value is placed on your needs, as well as the needs of others.
  • The focus is on authenticity instead of pleasing others or playing the victim.
  • Boundaries are not the result of guilt, worry, fear, or shame.
  • Boundaries help you to channel anger and frustration into helping you determine what is unacceptable rather than moving you to aggressive action or shutting you down.
  • Boundaries are based in what the reality is instead of what you or another person wants reality to be.


To build healthy boundaries, we must first respect ourselves and others. From there springs the ability to take responsibility for our words and actions.

Personal Boundaries are foundational to recovery

The basis of healthy personal boundaries is respect for others and yourself. It means you’re taking a stand for yourself and your personal values, not letting others change who you are just because they don’t agree with it or think otherwise.

Creating and exercising your personal values allows you to be able to express feelings in a calm manner while standing firm when the time comes.  It also allows you to be less anxious and prioritize your own thoughts and feelings equally when interacting with others.

Enacting and Enforcing Personal Boundaries

Boundaries are about separating yourself from your addiction which may include removing old friends who tempt you with substance use or even loved ones or family members who want validation for their own personal problems by talking incessantly about them all day long. When a person has healthy boundaries they are able to say no, create healthy relationships and only expose themselves to situations that will help them get better on their journey of recovery.

On the outside, it may seem like a simple idea to say “no” when someone asks for something that runs up against a personal boundary. But this is not so easy in practice because being assertive can make people feel uncomfortable or even guilty themselves. However, if you set healthy boundaries then there will be no guilt associated with saying “No” and your self-respect stays intact as well.


What are healthy vs. unhealthy boundaries?

Healthy boundaries are the ability to say no when you need to, but also the desire and drive for growth which leads addicts into saying yes.

Unhealthy boundaries are the inability to say no, which leads addicts into saying yes.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Boundaries in Addiction Recovery

Unhealthy Boundary

  • Jumping into a new relationship impulsively without thinking.
  • Ignoring your own personal beliefs and values to make someone else happy.
  • Accepting gifts, favors, and actions even when they are unwanted.
  • Indirectly expressing your needs and wants or expecting others to automatically know what they are.
  • Saying negative things about yourself or thinking harmful thoughts about yourself.
  • Trusting everyone or trusting no one.

Healthy Boundary

  • Thinking about the benefits or drawbacks of a relationship with someone.
  • Saying “no” when someone offers you a gift or a favor that you do not want or acts in unwanted ways.
  • Maintaining your own personal values despite what other people may think of you.
  • Clearly expressing what you need and want from someone and responding respectfully if you are declined.
  • Treating yourself with dignity, respect, and kindness.
  • Developing an appropriate trust over time.


Benefits of Healthy Boundaries in Addiction Recovery

Resist Temptation – Decide who you will or won’t spend time with, locations you’ll avoid and items that are off-limits to manage temptation more effectively.

Protect Yourself – The process of recovery is naturally a vulnerable one. Establishing and enforcing boundaries during this time can protect you from outside influences, impulsive behavior and relapse.

Gain Confidence – Gives a sense of control over one’s addiction and life in general.

Better Odds – Helps addicts stay sober, heal themselves emotionally, and have more self worth overall.

Assertiveness – Reduces guilt associated with saying “No” to others or things that are bad for them.

Mental and Emotional Health – Reduce stress, conflict and confusion that leads to that leads to diminished mental and emotional health. Adds stability, improves self-esteem and awareness.

Growth – Promotes personal and emotional growth by creating a sense of self and strength when boundaries are communicated, enacted and enforced.

It’s crucial to have healthy boundaries in recovery in order to stay sober during and after your addiction treatment , but it can be difficult and even scary. It requires you to take a step out of your comfort zone without feeling guilty about who you are becoming and create new healthy personal beliefs, values and relationships.


How to Set Personal Boundaries in Addiction Recovery

Setting boundaries in addiction recovery is a crucial part of staying sober and healing. It can be difficult to set healthy personal boundaries, but it’s absolutely necessary for any addict who wants to recover from their addiction. Here are some ways you can learn how to create boundaries that work for you:

Decide what your limits will be – Some people in recovery may want an absolute ban on drugs or alcohol while others may be able to tolerate it’s use in their presence. Either way, deciding beforehand will help you know when you should avoid a situation that has crossed the line into unhealthy territory.

Know what your triggers are – Triggers are things that trigger an addictive response. Sometimes your triggers are obvious… your favorite bar or friend… while others are harder to identify. Stress, hormones, diet or even tv shows can be triggers that can endanger your recovery. If you know what your triggers are then you can avoid them preemptively and in the moment when they pop up unexpectedly. Read more about the most common relapse triggers.

Get support – Talk to a therapist about boundaries if it’s still hard for you to figure out how to set healthy ones on your own. They’ll be able to help keep you accountable as well give insight into what might work for someone with addiction recovery goals similar to yours.

Talk back – Recognize uncomfortable feelings associated with setting boundaries and have a plan of action before these feelings start taking control of who knows where they’re going next which leads many addicts back down their path towards relapse . Some ways this could go is either

Be assertive – If someone is pushing you to drink or do drugs when you don’t want to, be firm and say “No” instead of trying to justify yourself. That way they know what your limits are and can respect them from now on.

Remember recovery isn’t selfish – You have the right to choose yourself and a sober life during and after recovery.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]