The Basics of Boundaries for the Codependent

I have received a lot of activity on my last two blogs on Codependency.  Codependency is a hot topic and can create passionate, oppositional views.  If you have read my previous posts explaining Alcoholism you will see that discussing Codependency with the family is one of the most powerful ways we can help the Addict/Alcoholic.

After I left my job in the treatment industry, I saw this disease in an entirely different light  Working with the individuals was similar to working with the newcomers in 12 step meetings, but working with them and their families together shed a whole new light on this disease.

I believe if we really want to make an impact on the drug/alcohol crisis in America we would provide treatment for the Codependent as well as the Alcoholic/Addict.  I’m not talking about a week of family therapy.  I’m talking about intensive work with Codependents and after care programs to help support the road of recovery.  It seems to me that as soon as there is no safety net left for the Addict/Alcoholic, and all the unlimited understanding and support have been used up,  there is finally space for recovery to begin.  There is absolutely nothing more motivating than sheer desperation.

The first thing you want to do when dealing with an Alcoholic/Addict is to find out if they think they have a problem and then see if they want help.  It may be that you are well past this stage, but I need to start at the beginning to cover the entire spectrum.

If they admit they have a problem the first thing they will want to do is try to resolve it themself.  You might ask what their plan is.  Have them tell you, and then suggest that you will help anyway that you can, but if it is not successful then you’d like them to seek outside help.  It is always a good idea is to put a time frame on it.  Instead of a length of time, perhaps an event.  The first time “it happens again”…. or whatever that is for you.

Remember you won’t be able to stop them, so don’t try.  Just try to wait and see what happens.  Let it play out.  If they do have a problem they won’t be able to stop.  Don’t be surprised and don’t say I told you so.  Just wait until the moment is right and remind them of your conversation.  Ask them if they would consider outside help.  Outside help could be an AA meeting, an addiction counselor, a family doctor ( the latter two will most likely recommend AA meetings).   Any of those three options will be able to discuss the problem and evaluate the best course of action.  It might be that the recovery needs to begin with a medical detox accompanied by inpatient or outpatient treatment prior to attending meetings.

If you are thinking that this is the direction you are headed, you might want to go ahead and contact your insurance company and get a referral for the addiction counselor, a medical detox and treatment centers in your network.  Hopefully you won’t need it, but if you do, you’ll be ready.  If they don’t have private insurance than this gives you time to contact State Insurance and get list of State providers, or perhaps you need to sign them up for State Insurance so your covered if they need it.

In the meantime, you should be going to Al anon or Nar anon meetings and if you have the means perhaps see an addiction counselor yourself.  Trust me, this will be the best thing you could do for yourself and for your loved one as you begin this journey.

Regardless of what they decide to do, you should proceed with your own recovery.  Go to Al anon or Nar anon and learn more about the disease, your part in it and healthy boundaries and reactions.  This is paramount.

If the scenario outlined above, has come and gone and you are further long on this “journey” then what you just read, then you might need to level up.  Perhaps your loved one has been in treatment, perhaps they walked out of detox after 5 or 7 days because they were better and they could do this on their own.  Or maybe they have been to several treatment centers in and out, over and over, never following thru with the after care plan they were given while in treatment.  Perhaps they are going to meetings but you know they are still drinking and using on the sly.  Well, then I assume you are fed up. You are probably exhausted, sad, scared, financially drained and angry.  You might even feel some guilt for feeling angry.   You can’t afford any of that right now.  It’s time for action.

If you are not going to Al anon or Naranon go today.  If you are helping the Addict/Alcoholic, then be smart about it. If you do not help in the right way then you will end up being resentful and feeling like a victim.  For example if your loved one, who is in his disease, tells you they need money for cigarettes then buy him cigarettes, don’t give him the money.  When you buy cigarettes for them they will want the $11 a pack of course, since you are paying for them you can decide if you will buy the $11 premium cigs or the $5 pack they sell at smoke shops (usually a native brand).  That is if you even want to buy cigarettes.  There is nothing wrong with just saying no, especially if you have other family members you are trying to care for or bills that need to be paid.

That example works with anything.  Example: If they need to stay at your house, put the rules down first.  this is very important. It’s easier to set expectations before the fact than after the fact.  Your idea of them staying at your home might be different from their idea. They might be thinking it’s a good place to crash, sleep all day, drink, drug, entertain a friend. It’s beneficial for all to lay down some guidelines first, such as…No alcohol or drugs in the house.  No guests. They must go to two 12 step  meetings a day or attend your required outpatient treatment program or DUI course.  You must be in by 10 p.m and stay in! They need to do thier own laundry, take out the trash, or whatever makes it easier on you and others in the house.   Make it perfectly clear what will happen if those expectations aren’t met.  Then the hard part, you must enforce the consequence.  That is why sometimes it is easier to just say no.  It’s easy trying to help someone by letting them stay in your home but when things go off the track it is difficult to get them out.

Boundaries and consequences are things you will learn about in Alanon or with help from an Addiction Counselor.  The most important thing for you to realize is that you must take care of yourself.  Also, remember that an Alcoholic/Addict will only want help and be willing to consistently take the action to treat their disease if they have no other choice.  If there is  even a little wiggle room they just won’t change.


As you can see, there is a way you can still be helpful without harming them or yourself. It’s difficult to figure out what is helping and what is harming.  Just like the Alcoholic/Addict it is so difficult to see these things in ourselves and our own situation but if you can attend a support group and listen to others in similar situations you can easily see the dysfunctional dance of the disease.  You might even see it so clearly in another family you think “I know what they should do”  or “I wouldn’t put up with that for a minute” and that’s when it will hit you.  A shift in your perception.  You will see your own situation in an entirely new light.

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God Bless 🙂





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