The Key to Dealing with My Son’s Drug Addiction? Setting Boundaries for Myself

I am a hard-headed stubborn guy with the propensity to be a control freak. It took me a long time to learn that my anger was a result of myself not being able to control my son’s addiction. Eventually, I learned that at most, I have a small measure of influence over him. The only real control I have is over my own self.

When Mom and I first began this nightmare of addiction, we heard about boundaries. In my mind, that was an easy one. Rules are rules; follow the rules and there would be no trouble. Unfortunately, I learned that that was untrue — the hard way. Addicts have no concept of rules and how they provide structure to society. If parents of an addict rely upon a set of rules to manage their addict’s behavior, they will live in an angry and frustrating world.

My famous directive to my son (usually delivered at the top of my lungs) was: No Lying, No Stealing and No Drugs. JUST WHAT THE HELL IS SO HARD ABOUT THAT?!!

I am finally beginning to understand, “just what the hell was so hard about that.” This has caused me more anger and frustration than just about anything else I’ve dealt with about his addiction. With me, anger and frustration nearly always dissolved into me hollering at him and anyone in the vicinity. This resulted in more anger and hurt for all. In a hurting family, that is the last thing you need —  hurt compounded upon hurt.

I have learned that there is a big difference between rules and boundaries. Rules are easy. They are set and everyone follows. Boundaries are not rules. Boundaries help direct  your universe when the rules do not apply or are not relevant. My lack of clear boundaries for myself allowed me to justify enabling my son’s drug use. This has probably prolonged his addiction and is a regret I live with every day.

Boundaries are healthy for you and those surrounding you. I cannot change my addict’s behavior by setting rules. Any success for me in dealing with my son’s addiction is a result of setting good boundaries for myself.

I choose where I want to go —  I no longer allow my addict to take me where he wishes to go. In a simplistic form, I can make a rule directed at my son that he cannot use drugs in my home. The reality is that he is an active addict; he will use drugs in my home. I will become angry because he violated my rule. I have a right to be angry, right? Did it make anything better or change anything? No, we are still at square one. I am angry that he is using drugs in my home and I feel out of control and helpless. He is feeding his addiction.  All of this happens because I am trying to control something that I have absolutely no control over.

But I can establish a boundary – like this: I do not wish to live in a home were drugs are being used illegally. This actually puts everything on me; there is really no reason to become angry. I now have complete control of the situation and I have several options. I am not trying to control him. I get to decide on the actions in my life.

Boundaries must be set after much calm and reasoned thought. Setting boundaries with my addict in the heat of battle resulted in failure every time. Especially because those “boundaries” (really rules) I thought I was setting were being hollered at him and not being set for me. If you are setting boundaries for yourself and using a calm deliberate approach, success can be more easily achieved and you can control your own actions. That works well with the “control freak” in me. I set my boundaries to match my values.

To be clear, I do not see boundaries as a solid impenetrable barrier like the Berlin Wall, with heavy life-or-death consequences. I see the boundaries that we set for ourselves more like a rope line. There is a clear demarcation of where we decided we should not go and there is self-imposed security to make sure we know there are consequences for crossing the line. But there may be circumstances that make crossing the line necessary and there may be consequences that you or your loved one has to pay for crossing that.

For example, Mom and I have set a boundary about not visiting in jail because jail is punishment. However, our son is in jail and we went to visit him. Why would we go visit and violate our own boundary? Actually, we went for Mom. Mom had been having bad dreams about Alex and in all of her bad dreams Alex was with all of her dead friends and relatives. She was troubled by this. I’m not sure if she puts much stock in that sort of thing as a premonition or something but she was worried. I just look at it as a dream, but it troubled mom so that troubled me. We visited Alex in jail and the visit calmed her worries. She could once again sleep peacefully. If there are consequences to stepping over our boundary, we shall deal with them when and if they arise.

Setting good boundaries for yourself allows you, the loved one of an addict, to bring a measure of control and sanity into a truly insane situation.

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128 Responses

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    Tom

    February 7, 2018 at 7:00 AM

    I am sitting in my car at 6am across from the methadon clinic waiting to talk to my son. Maybe he will show up. I miss him

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      Pat

      February 16, 2018 at 4:29 PM

      Hi Tom,
      Your words touched my heart wanting to connect with your son. I hope you got the opportunity.
      Pat

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    mary ann parker

    August 17, 2017 at 4:57 AM

    my nephew has been a drug addict for years. he loved crack so much. rehabilitation never worked for him. i so much thank God for newgracefoundation prayers on him and that of everybody’s. he’s a good man now and doing so fine. i know a lot of people out there are facing hell just as i did.

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    Pat

    March 30, 2017 at 12:28 PM

    Hi Star Lane,
    I am so sorry that you’re struggling with your son’s use and the hurtful comments he makes. While I’m sure it hurts right down to your soul, it can help to keep in mind that he is unwell and not making rational choices and decisions.

    It’s so easy to isolate as a parent and I’m wondering if you have tried attending a support group like Nar-Anon or Families Anonymous. They can be very helpful in terms of helping you process your emotions and focus on your own well-being so that if your son chooses to reach out for help, you’re equipped to do so.

    It might also help you to read Beyond Addiction by Dr. Jeffrey Foote. It’s a wonderful book that guides families as to what to do to influence a loved one struggling with substances. He uses an approach based upon compassion and empathy, that focuses on how to make conversations better and how to reinforce behaviors that you want to see more of. In your case, when he is kind, it might mean pointing this out, while setting boundaries and consequences for when he is making comments that are so hurtful. You can find out more about the book in our bookstore at http://drugfree.org/article/amazon-book-store/

    I hope you find peace and that your son finds his way to recovery.
    Pat

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    Star Lane

    March 28, 2017 at 4:39 PM

    I also have a 27 year old son who is addicted to meth and possibly heroin. I have done everything in my power to try and help him, guide him but no matter what he always goes back to it. He has lost everything, his children, relationships, his home, his job, everything he owns except for the clothes on his back and it still isn’t enough. He is living on the streets now and once again using and dealing dope. He always tells me that he hopes I die, even after I help him. He calls me the worst names you could possibly imagine. No son should ever talk to his mother like that or anyone else! I honestly don’t know what to do. If he doesn’t get help he is going to die or end up in prison. Someone please help me!!! I can’t even think anymore

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      darlene

      September 12, 2018 at 8:19 AM

      I know its been a while since you wrote this? How is your son today. I am going through the same exact thing? today im saying I definitely had enough and trying to figure out how to handle this. It is definitely the worst thing in life I have to deal with

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