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Supporting Yourself

Boundaries or Limits

When you have a loved one in active addiction, it is easy to become fixated on helping him/her get out of active addiction. However, you need to take care of yourself first. It is the same concept as putting on your own oxygen mask first before putting it on your child.

Self-compassion and self-care requires firm boundaries/limits between yourself and your loved one. People in active addiction can be desperate and often do things that they would never do but for their addiction. It will help you to keep this in mind and try not to take anything personally. It is easier said than done.

Do not allow your loved one to physically, emotionally or verbally abuse you. Remove yourself from the situation. If necessary, call 911. This can be difficult to do, particularly for a parent. It may be necessary for parents to hear this: It is harmful for your child if you allow him/her to treat you badly.

Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream, argues that the opposite of addiction is connection (not sobriety). It is important for families to stay as connected as possible to their loved ones even in active addiction. This is why boundaries are so important. Without boundaries, families can feel used or abused which often generates resentment and anger towards the family member with substance use disorder (SUD).  Proper limits/boundaries help prevent these negative feelings and allow the family to continue to be engaged for as long as possible with their loved one.

The most difficult question may be whether you can continue to live with your loved one. No one can answer this question for you. The principles of self-compassion and self-care can be a guide. In other words, is your loved one crossing the boundaries/limits that you have established for your own wellbeing, or the wellbeing of others in the family home? If the answer is yes, then your loved one may have to move out of your home, but this does not mean that your loved one is out of your life. It just means that, for now, you need to put yourself, and other family members, first.

If you are a parent, putting yourself first will not come naturally.  If your child is young the situation becomes even more complex as you will have an obligation to support your child. In Canada it is rarely possible for parents to require their minor children to get treatment for addiction or other mental health disorders where their child does not see the need for treatment. This means a decision to require the child to leave the home often results in the child going in to the custody of children’s aid societies (where the child will not receive treatment), becoming homeless and possibly living on the street, or ending up in juvenile detention.

Self-Care

There are many ways you can help yourself deal with the stress and anxiety of having a loved one who is in active addiction. Often there is a tendency to isolate due to stress, shame or guilt. Try to avoid isolating. Here are a few suggestions for self-care:

  • Make an appointment with your doctor, disclose the situation and discuss your own mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression or insomnia.
  • Find a support group for yourself and/or your family members
  • Breathing exercises. In an emergency, three slow, deep breaths can be done anywhere
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Date night (no talking about addiction)
  • Maintain friendships
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Limit your own substance use
  • Maintain or develop a hobby
  • Spend time with your pet
  • Listen to music

Family Support Groups

Substance use disorder (SUD) is so common most people know someone who is affected. In a recent survey, 30% of Canadians said they were personally impacted by addiction. Yet many people are still reluctant to discuss their experience with others who are not going through the same thing. Fortunately, there are many different types of support groups available for family members of persons with SUD. Many find that attending one of the following family support groups to be extremely helpful; at the very least you will know that you are not alone.

Al-Anon Family Groups (Al-Anon)

Al-Anon has the advantage of being worldwide. Al-Anon meetings are similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and are based on The 12 Steps of AA, except that Al-Anon meetings are for family members of the person addicted to alcohol, although now many in attendance have family members who are addicted to drugs other than alcohol. Meetings are led by persons with lived experience, not by professional therapists. Attendance is free, with the option of making a donation. There is no “cross talk” in Al-Anon meetings, meaning that comments are made but are not addressed to any particular person in the group. You can find general information about Al-Anon Family Groups on their website. You can find a meeting in your area by clicking here.

Nar-Anon Family Groups (Nar-Anon)

Nar-Anon is also worldwide and is for family members of persons affected by an addiction to any drug including alcohol. Nar-Anon meetings, however, are not based on The 12 Steps of AA. You can find general information about Nar-Anon Family Groups on their website. You can find a meeting in your area by clicking here.

Professional Family Groups

These groups are run by professional therapists with a background in social work or psychology. Some are private requiring a fee and others are public with no fee. You can find public family groups through the Addictions Treatment Helplines in Canada.

Peer-led Family Groups

These groups are run by a person with lived experience who is not a professional therapist. These groups are generally free, with the option of making a donation. You can find peer-led family groups through the Addictions Treatment Helplines in Canada.

FAR would like to thank Dawna Alexander and Karen Shafer for reviewing this section of our website.