Setting Proper Boundaries with a Loved One’s Drinking Problem

You already know the reality. Loving an alcoholic is challenging, no matter how you look at it.

The most important thing you can do to ensure your mental health and safety is to establish boundaries with your loved one. Unfortunately, the process of setting those boundaries is fraught with challenges as you seek clarity about what you need.

While you can offer your loved one support for sobriety, setting proper boundaries keeps you safe emotionally and physically. Start by identifying unacceptable behavior, communicating clearly what you need without getting defensive, and setting consequences for any crossed boundaries.

You can set healthy boundaries one step at a time, and these set the stage for your loved one to understand their actions have consequences,

Please keep reading for more tips and guidelines on how to set boundaries with your loved ones, and remember, when they are ready for support to get sober, we are here to help at Changes Healing Center!

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Why Should You Set Boundaries with Family Members and Friends?

Please excuse us for reviewing some elements of living with (and loving) an alcoholic that you might be familiar with, but they bear mentioning, and may sound all too familiar.

We can see it for ourselves: there are serious consequences for the family unit when one person refuses addiction treatment and continues to drink. Studies conducted conclude that substance abuse treatment is necessary before a family can have healthy relationships with one another, but it might start with setting boundaries.

Even if your loved one doesn’t exhibit abusive behavior while drinking, boundaries are designed to keep you safe physically and emotionally. They let your loved one know what you will and won’t tolerate, and you allow them to do their own decision making.

Some of the issues that can be resolved when you have clear boundaries for someone with alcohol use disorder include:

  • Resentment toward the person who continues to drink
  • Conflicts within the family unit about what is and isn’t acceptable
  • Drains on your own mental health or a serious mental illness
  • Issues with broken promises

Boundaries are lines drawn that hold someone accountable for their actions. You will no longer enable a loved one to drink, giving them ample opportunity to contemplate quitting. If they don’t want to face the consequences of alcohol addiction and the loss of the relationship, they may be motivated to stop, or at the very least, to respect your rules.

How to Set Boundaries with a Loved One’s Alcohol Addiction: 7 Best Practices

Alcoholic Partner

When someone is in the throes of alcohol abuse, it can be challenging to set proper boundaries with them. They are constantly pushing back and many family members rush to make excuses, trying to remedy the situation at hand.

Here are some guidelines from our clinical team at Changes Healing Center that we have seen work in action and that will help set you up for success.

1) Identify Problematic Behaviors

The first thing you need to do if you have an alcoholic partner or family member is to identify when they cross the line into something that you aren’t comfortable with. Some people have no problem with mild alcohol consumption, limiting it to one or two drinks. Others may want their loved ones to abstain from all drinking.

At this stage, you simply want to be aware of what crosses the line into unhealthy behavior for you. This may be different for everyone who has a loved one in active alcoholism.

A support group for family members of alcoholics like Al-Anon or even Alcoholics Anonymous meetings themselves might help guide you toward identifying these problems and drawing clear lines around what you will and won’t tolerate. The goal is usually total abstinence, but you can define what works for your family.

2) Clarify What You Want and Need for Your Mental Health

The truth is that you can’t convince someone to stop drinking, no matter how hard you try. Instead of persuading them to abstain, you need to be clear about what boundaries you should put in place for your mental health. Dealing with a loved one’s behavior can be exhausting and frustrating. Take care of yourself with boundaries.

The best thing you can do to get clear on your boundaries is to write them out. You may decide to do this as an exercise with your mental health professional like a therapist or counselor. List out the reasons why you set that boundary so that you can clearly explain them to your loved one.

Be crystal clear on what actions you can no longer tolerate, even if they don’t relate to drinking. This is an exercise that can help anyone to set healthier boundaries.

3) Don’t Get Defensive About Your Boundaries

Oftentimes, someone struggling with an alcohol use disorder will push back on the boundaries you are attempting to put in place. You won’t be able to have a healthy relationship until both of you can agree to the terms of your boundaries.

If they argue with you to keep themselves comfortable with enabling behavior, don’t get defensive. Take a deep breath and remain as calm as you can, confident that you set the right lines in the last exercise when you wrote them down.

It might help to explain to your loved one why you set each of your boundaries but don’t fall into the trap of bargaining with them. You know what you need to stay healthy while they are caught in their substance abuse, and you don’t need to modify your boundaries to appease them.

4) Set Consequences for Alcohol Abuse

Healthy Relationships

It isn’t enough to simply have your boundaries in place. You also need to know what is going to happen if your family members or friends cross those lines that you drew in the sand. Every time their behavior crosses the line, it should be clear what you will do in response.

For example, you may leave the house for a few days or a week. You could require them to attend more support groups for substance abuse disorder or limit contact with them until they sober up.

The important thing here is to be as clear as possible on the consequences of their actions. Note that your goal isn’t to punish them for mistakes. Rather, it’s designed to get them the support they need so that they can have healthy relationships moving forward.

5) Know What Resources are Available

Of course, the best thing for your loved one who struggles with alcohol misuse is to get them into a treatment program that caters to this chronic disease. It will help both you and your loved one to have some physical distance while they work to gain control of their own life.

A medical detox and a stay in an inpatient facility are often considered the gold standard of care.

Changes Healing Center can help your loved one stop abusing alcohol. Not only do we provide one-on-one counseling, but we also include family therapy in our robust treatment options. This allows your friend or family member to take responsibility for their behavior while supporting healing for all.

Keep in mind that family members are substantially improved with substance use treatment options in place. Less than 10 percent of people seek professional help, so be sure to encourage this option.

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6) Don’t Neglect Self-Care

The desire to stop drinking lies personally with your loved one. There is nothing you can do to force a person to minimize their consumption of alcohol which means you need to cope with your own pain in the here and now. It’s emotionally taxing to deal with an alcoholic you love, so prioritize your care and learn coping strategies when things don’t go as planned.

This might be as simple as engaging in a hobby that brings you joy like painting, writing, or dancing. It could also mean doing the things you know you need to do to be healthy such as exercising, keeping up with a spiritual practice, and attending your support group.

The more you can connect with your sense of inner peace, the more effectively you can uphold the strict boundaries you put in place for your loved one.

7) Get Help for Yourself

While you can’t force your loved one to get treatment and stick with it for themselves, you should know what treatment options are available for you. Seek professional treatment for yourself from a counselor who understands alcoholism and the lifelong process of setting boundaries.

They will help you stop making excuses for a partner’s addiction and help you come up with a solid plan. Their professional guidance will help you to untangle yourself from a codependent relationship and give you a much-needed support system before you hit a crisis point.

You can’t force someone else to maintain sobriety, but you can do your part to ensure your health.

And a Trio of Benefits You Reap from Setting Boundaries with a Loved One’s Drinking

Improves Communication and Lowers Stress

Alcoholism is a progressive disease. If they continue to abuse alcohol, they will suffer consequences and you can play a key role in bringing that world into order. How can you benefit from setting those important boundaries early on in the recovery process?

Minimize Negative Feelings

If you set a reasonable expectation for your loved one, you can slowly begin to avoid the negative feelings that come up when they drink. Your levels of resentment toward them and burnout from constantly trying to minimize the outcomes of their drinking are drastically reduced each time you refuse to enable them.

Improves Communication and Lowers Stress

Not to mention, it improves your communication. You let them know what you find totally unreasonable and stick to it, no matter what. As you grow more comfortable setting these boundaries, you also grow in confidence that you can affect change in your life.

It may not always have the desired outcome of convincing them to go to treatment, but it can alleviate the stress for you.

Improves Mental Health

Last but not least, it also improves your mental health, especially if you seek out professional help. You know what you need to do to take care of yourself and you start understanding alcoholism at a deeper level. This also helps to keep you from destructive paths that you might use to cope with daily life in a frustrating stalemate with a partner, child, or family member who is an alcoholic.

Reach Out For Help At Changes Today!

Offer Your Loved One Support to Get and Stay Sober at Changes

When your loved one is ready to stop alcohol abuse or drug abuse, you should try to get them into a comprehensive treatment program rather than a simple support group like Alcoholics Anonymous. While these can be helpful, they lack the intensive care that they would receive from our team at Changes Healing Center.

We offer assistance at every level of care from residential to intensive outpatient. This allows them to have the perfect level of support for destructive behavior and allows you to rest easy knowing that your partner’s drinking is under control.

Reach out to our waiting enrollment team today to learn more, verify insurance benefits, and get help for an alcoholic you love today!


  1. Lander, L., Howsare, J., & Byrne, M. (2013). The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: from theory to practice. Social work in public health, 28(3-4), 194–205.
  2. McCrady, B. S., & Flanagan, J. C. (2021). The Role of the Family in Alcohol Use Disorder Recovery for Adults. Alcohol research : current reviews, 41(1), 06.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-a). Alcohol treatment in the United States. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.