Creating Boundaries with Well-Intentioned Family and Friends


Sober Recovery Expert Author

Congratulations! You are sober and officially in recovery from your addiction. The most difficult part of your journey is behind you and you’re likely experiencing mental clarity and energy unlike anything you have experienced in years. You probably feel like you are in optimal health, or at least on your way toward it. The kind of work you have left to now is the kind of work that goes into maintaining sobriety. This work can be much more nuanced than a physical detox, for instance, but it is important work to do. One of the most challenging hurdles you are likely to encounter is learning how to deal with well intentioned, but ultimately unhelpful family members and friends.

You might be lucky enough to have people in your life who have provided a strong foundation for you during the shaky road toward sobriety. But regardless, you will find that not everyone in your network is helpful, even if they mean to be. Some people simply don’t understand the process of recovery and others might think sobriety is an extreme measure. Some people might think your struggle has roots in something other than substance abuse and others might unintentionally create a tempting environment for you. Learning how to navigate these situations and create clear boundaries can make life easier for you and the person involved. With careful attention, there is hope that you can keep those who aren’t naturally helpful in your life.

With a little bit of intentional and results-oriented communication, you should be able to come to a point of resolution with better relations with those around you.

Talk About It

As with most issues between people, communication is often at the root of the problem. Here are a few ideas of how to communicate with specifically unhelpful folks and create boundaries that can help you to move forward in your relationship:

  • Set aside time to talk to the person one-on-one about the issue you are having.
  • Openly discuss, if you’re able to, what sobriety means to you and why complete sobriety is the solution to your problem with substance abuse. Talk about how your life has improved now that you are sober and where you hope this path leads you.
  • Once you have explained your relationship with sobriety and the role it plays in your life, take this opportunity to talk to the person kindly and to explain why you are having problems with your interactions. Be sure to not talk accusingly or defensively during this time. Keep your focus on talking sincerely and openly.
  • Provide your family member or friend with suggestions on how he or she might make you feel more comfortable and make your sobriety a bit easier. Be flexible in this way. If your friend or family member doesn’t want to scale down the booze at his or her parties, for instance, consider suggesting that the two of you find time for each other outside of a party environment. If your family member or friend is having difficulty understanding your addiction and solution of sobriety, consider suggesting some reading material that he or she would be open to that might shine a helpful light on the issue.
  • Give your family member or friend an opportunity to explain his or her point of view. Your emotions and experience matter, of course, but the people in your life will view your recovery from a different vantage point, one that is worth learning about.
  • When you both feel heard and understanding of each other, agree on some boundaries that will help you to continue the relationship in a healthy and helpful manner.

With a little bit of intentional and results-oriented communication, you should be able to come to a point of resolution with better relations with those around you.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-891-8171 to speak to a treatment specialist.

Stay Connected
Subscribe to our newsletter to get addiction help, recovery inspiration and community tips delivered to your inbox.
No Thanks. I'm not Interested