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  • Jason McCarty

Boundaries with Addictive Behaviors

I’ve written a lot about having compassion toward those struggling with addiction and that we need to remove a lot of the moral judgment. This perspective comes mostly from the actual process of addiction, not necessarily all the behaviors that might go along with certain addictive lifestyles. Although I believe that all struggling human beings (who may even be bringing pain to others) should receive compassion in the truest human sense, I also believe in boundaries, consequences, and the rights of others to speak when being hurt by another. My perspective around addictions and how to treat them is not about being dismissive. It is not about writing off all hurtful behaviors to families and societies to that of one’s addiction or inner pain. One can have compassion and understanding as to why someone might be acting the way they are but still draw boundaries, saying, “it’s not okay for you to do that to me/family/society.” We all need boundaries at many levels, but we also need understanding and compassion.

Many of the behaviors and lifestyles that occur in the midst of drug addiction are not okay. They hurt individuals, families, and communities in ways that can often seem irreparable. Many of these behaviors and activities are not just within the community of addicted persons but a larger community of crime and disrespect for social contracts and human beings in general. Addicted persons and criminal activity are not one and the same, but they can often be close bedfellows. The type of narcissism that occurs in the addicted individual due to putting everyone and all else aside for their next fix, can easily become anti-social behavior out in the community. They begin to blend together and for some, become a part of their addiction. Their addiction is no longer just about getting high but about engaging in an anti-social culture where one might find status, power, and what they might perceive as freedom.

Keeping an addiction going can make people do things they would never do otherwise and this is where addiction and anti-social activity meet. This is where loved ones are amazed at what their son/daughter/father/mother/spouse/etc would do. This is where people feel they lost their loved one to addiction. They changed, became a different person, someone who only thought of him/herself and neglected or hurt others.

Addicted persons need to take responsibility for this type of behavior. We all need to take responsibility for when we hurt others. Even while people are addicted, they need to take responsibility and stop hurting other people. The only way to ensure one who is addicted does not hurt you is by drawing boundaries. Individuals need to draw boundaries with loved ones, as do families and the general community. You do not need to put up with hurtful behavior from someone who is addicted because you are hoping they will get better and change. If you have set boundaries and that person is not changing, you need to set firmer boundaries. You do not need to hate them, although you will be angry for legitimate reasons, but can understand that they have chosen to go down a path that brings out the worst in them, and until they are willing to change that you cannot be around them.

Lastly, many loved ones continue on in hurtful relationships, or imbalanced relationships, with addicted persons because they believe they can change them. This is not helpful to either of you and often just perpetuates a push-and-pull dance that only goes in dysfunctional circles. You are not going to save them. You are not going to fix or change them. They must do that for themselves. Can you be there and ready to help when they want it? Definitely. Can you let them know you still love them but will not be treated that way? Definitely. Drawing boundaries does not mean you have given up on that person, which is something many people feel when looking to draw the most needed boundaries. Looking out for your own mental, emotional, and physical security is your right and more than okay. The interesting thing about what I am saying in this essay is that most people in addiction understand this, almost appreciate it. Once they have stopped using and come back to their senses, they wonder why their loved ones put up with so much. They know they hurt people and know they deserved boundaries.

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