Setting Boundaries With Your Addicted Child That Strengthen (Not Damage) the Relationship

October 11, 2023

Expert Advice | Barbara Decker

  • Home
  • >
  • Blog
  • >
  • Expert Advice
  • >
  • Setting Boundaries With Your Addicted Child That Strengthen (Not Damage) the Relationship

Key Takeaways

  • Boundaries are important for protecting oneself and one’s relationships with addicted children.
  • Signs that it’s time to create boundaries include a child using drugs/alcohol, changed behavior/appearance, frequent crises, hiding the situation from others, feeling responsible, and failed attempts at setting boundaries.
  • Bargaining, pleading, and avoiding conflict are common but ineffective approaches to dealing with addicted children.
  • The key to setting effective boundaries is learning how to communicate one’s own needs calmly and clearly.
  • A 5-minute daily exercise can help with practicing clear communication.

Take a minute to think about fences. Many times these fences are created for protection; they keep pets from running away, guard your home and possessions from damage or theft, or stop unwanted visitors from entering your property.

They’re clearly visible, and those who cross these boundaries do so knowing there may be consequences -- but you can unlock the gate to let in those who you trust to respect your space when you’re ready.

Now think about your adult child struggling with addiction. You open your heart and your house to them, without any fences or boundaries, and they continue to take what they can without thinking about the consequences; that’s not unusual behavior for those deep in the throes of addiction.

They’re already struggling so much; it only makes perfect sense that you don’t want to build a fence around your life and close yourself off from continuing a relationship with them. You want them to continue to feel welcome, you want to do what you can to help and support them. You don’t want to do anything that makes them feel rejected, hurt, alienated, or adds to your pain, and you also know you can’t keep letting them in uninvited.

The truth is that you need these boundaries to protect yourself as you find the strength and empowerment to help your addicted child inch toward choosing recovery. With some guidance and the right approach, these — the RIGHT boundaries — will work to strengthen your relationship with your child instead of damaging it or pushing them further away.

Have you recognized these signs that it’s time to start thinking about boundaries?

Often, mothers of addicted children are too close to the situation to understand that it’s time to start creating boundaries. Consider these symptoms:

  • Your child is using drugs or alcohol and may be addicted.
  • They no longer look or behave like the child you raised.
  • Your child faces crisis after crisis in their life and can’t find ways to navigate through them.
  • You hide what’s happening from close friends and family.
  • You feel responsible for their addiction and like a failure as a parent.
  • You’re frustrated because you’ve put what seem like boundaries in place before and your child agrees to respect them, but ends up ignoring that agreement later. (Think about all of the meetings they’ve promised to attend in order to live in your house.)
  • Your feelings are frequently hurt because every time you challenge your child on what he or she didn't do, they respond by getting nasty or retreating into silence.
  • You walk around on eggshells; you are often afraid to share what you feel in your heart because you're worried your child may explode or storm out and you'll never see him or her again.

Have you found yourself trying these approaches?

  1. 1
    You think bargaining will help. For example, you tell your addicted child that you'll provide them with a car to use if they look for a job or go to work.
  2. 2
    You plead with them to change. You say, "Honey, I love you so much and it hurts to see what's happening to you. Please go get help -- it would mean so much to me and your family."
  3. 3
    You think silence is the best way to keep peace and say nothing. You avoid turmoil deliberately because you know so much conflict isn't good for anyone.

I want to recommend trying another approach — learn why.

Conversations with addicts almost never go the way the parent wants them to go. Every conversation with an addict always comes back to the disease trying to get from you what it needs.

As you may already know, your concept of logic and reason doesn’t get you anywhere. When you state what you think is a “boundary,” the disease will try to figure out a way around it. You can do nothing about how the disease behaves.

You do have 100% control over how you behave in your end of the dialogue, so let’s focus on that. One of the keys around how to set boundaries that strengthen your relationship instead of harming it is in how that boundary is expressed.

Here’s something you can do today.

I have something I want you to try, and it involves learning how to communicate your own needs, calmly and clearly. It is 100% about you. Mastering this is a critical step towards creating “real” boundaries, transformative boundaries. Which are very different from wishes or fantasies. Here’s a guide to take you through this.

Set aside just 5 minutes of quiet time on your calendar for the next 3 days in a row; consider this as an appointment with yourself. Put your phone in another room, turn the notifications off, and document the results of your experiment here, on the 5-Minutes of Quiet worksheet.

Download "I Will Communicate My Needs (calmly)"

Ready to learn the next step towards setting boundaries?

Want to go deeper into how to deliver truly “Transformative Boundaries” with love and support? And want to get some guidance on how I chose my actual “Transformative Boundaries?”

Click below to watch my workshop. Listen in as real Moms apply this approach in their own lives with their addicted adult children.

Watch my workshop on setting Transformative Boundaries

I hope you find a pocket of joy in your day today.
Reach out anytime, because I care.


Certified Family Recovery Specialist (CFRS)

You may also like...

The Burdens of Recovery

The Burdens of Recovery
  1. I have twin boys (adopted) both addicted to pot with emotional problems. I find your info very helpful

  2. This is very well said about boundaries. Have heard about boundary setting for years but the example of a fence is excellent. Thank you.

  3. Your emails are a comfort! This is the most painful experience.
    My daughter won’t speak with me.

    1. HI Suzanne, I’m glad the emails are helping. Your “daughter” not speaking to you is not actually your true daughter. It is the disease of addiction, which behaves in ways unimaginable to those of us who don’t have it. -Barbara

  4. I am so thankful for this program! Transformative Boundaries has truly transformed me!
    Whether or not the change comes sooner or later for my adult son who is struggling with addiction behaviors, I have experienced more positive change in the past 12 weeks, than I have in the past 12 years! The new mindsets and new skills developed for me have been truly transforming!!
    I am still amazed at the power of applying the truths in this program, and how they really have given me back peace and joy that I wasn’t sure If I would have ever again!!
    Thank you so much!!
    Raquel McQueen

    1. Thank you so much Raquel! You are a person who has dug right in from day one and, one step at a time, made every concept your own and applied it to the unique circumstances of your family. So, thanks for your kind words AND please also give yourself a great big pat on the back for courage and a job well done. Barbara

  5. Just found you… nice to know there are others that understand. My daughter is 54 live way. we don’t talk about her addiction , she denies it.. her children hurt … it is in my heart all the time

    1. It’s wise of you not to talk about her addiction. Instead focus on doing what you can (if anything) for the kids – being their strong role model, Mary.

  6. Dear Barbara
    Just want to thank you very much for this helpful website. You have explained it in a better way. Thank you again. Love maria

  7. I like how the blog gets right to the heart of transforming your relationship with your addicted child which is by setting boundaries with them. It’s a great blog!

  8. The fence brings me a visual imagine in my mind that allows me to see protection around myself. Boundaries for ourselves are so important and I will remember this image.

    1. Thanks so much, Cathie. That was exactly what I was hoping might happen – that the fence would help clarify who boundaries are for.

  9. I am learning how to take back my life, taking care of my needs and clearly stating what I will accept and what I won’t. I am regaining control of my home and living with less stress. So grateful for Barbara’s teaching, wisdom, and dedication to my growth and the growth of her clients

  10. In the world of addiction where I didn’t know what to do next, Barbara showed me how to change my approach to this terrible disease that possessed my daughter. I am living my life again after so many years ,despite whether she is in active addiction or not. She has noticed a change in me with this course and with the constant support of Barbara and the other parents in the group. My daughter has the responsibility for her life back where it belongs…in her own hands.

    1. Thank you so much, Pat. Your relationship with your daughter is indeed stronger than ever, and we see that so often.

Comments are closed.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}