Setting Boundaries in Recovery

October 30, 2023 | Addiction Treatment Center

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Addiction recovery is a life-changing experience. The freedom and happiness of those who complete a recovery program experience are hard to describe, but they feel accomplished while taking back their lives and rebuilding their relationships.

Unfortunately, not everyone who starts their recovery journey finishes it. There are many reasons for this, but one of the missing key components is one that every successful patient makes sure to implement. This crucial yet overlooked aspect of recovery is the ability to set boundaries.

What It Means to Set Boundaries

Recovery is like embarking on a new journey. You’re navigating unfamiliar terrain and might sometimes need a map. That map? It’s your boundaries. Maps help us get from place to place, avoiding hazards and even saving time along the way.

In the same way, boundaries can help us anticipate and avoid certain roadblocks or hazards to our recovery process, saving us time from cycles of relapse or even giving up on our recovery journey altogether.

Boundaries Are Unique to Everyone

The tricky part about setting boundaries is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. That’s because everyone’s situation is unique. Sometimes, setting boundaries can mean avoiding certain places.

Other times, boundaries involve avoiding situations of isolation or certain environments where people initially contributed to one’s alcohol abuse, prescription medication abuse, or any other substance use disorder (SUD)

With that in mind, boundaries can include places, social situations, and our overall pattern of living from day to day. In short, boundaries help distinguish your needs from others, ensuring you prioritize your well-being.

Why Boundaries Are Crucial in Recovery

Patients undergoing an addiction treatment program should always remember they are not alone. Whether someone is undergoing an inpatient treatment program, an intensive outpatient program (IOP), or another treatment, the ability to think through and establish boundaries is something any reputable treatment facility can assist with.

One way this can be done is by taking advantage of the support systems offered within your treatment plan. Some people tend to think of addiction treatment simply as the detox process, but this is just one small part of the big picture of recovery.

Why Therapy Is an Important Piece of the Puzzle

Addiction treatment also provides important guidance through mental and emotional support systems that can help patients begin to think through their boundaries. This can take place by providing individual and group therapy sessions, as well as other support structures. Patients will have a frame of reference for their lives before recovery, helping them know where to look and what changes to make when setting boundaries for ongoing recovery and sober living.

Boundaries and Mental Health

The connection between therapy and the ability to understand how to identify and establish necessary boundaries can be overlooked. However, the connection between the two is like the connection between substance use disorder and mental health disorders. At one time, it was assumed that these two things were separate, unrelated medical conditions. However, that is no longer the case. In addiction treatment, this is called co-occurring mental health disorders or dual diagnosis.

The point is not that a mental health disorder causes all forms of substance abuse, but one or more mental health disorders accompany many instances of substance abuse. In the initial evaluation process of addiction treatment and the continual care of patients in therapy sessions, patients can identify triggers that may have led to substance abuse or worsened the situation over time.

These triggers include environments, people, social situations, and more. In other words, these are the same things that must be thought through when setting boundaries for lasting recovery.  

The Core Elements of Healthy Boundaries

Setting boundaries is a collective process that may change several times. Just as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to boundaries, it is also true that setting boundaries is a constant process of learning and adjusting to the situations in our lives.

But despite this, there are some core elements or key components of establishing healthy boundaries that can guide us along the way. These elements will continually apply whether we make frequent or infrequent changes to our boundaries.


Self-awareness is an invaluable part of sober living. During the addiction cycle, self-awareness is impaired and compromised. Part of the recovery process involves learning and retraining ourselves to operate with self-awareness. In the case of boundaries, self-awareness means recognizing your limits and understanding what you can tolerate.


Boundaries need clarity. This has two components: you and those around you. First, you must ensure you understand your boundaries clearly. During recovery treatment, medical professionals in therapy can provide you with helpful feedback and direction along the way.

Second, once you understand your boundaries clearly, those around you must also understand them. Friends and family can help you reinforce and stick to your boundaries best when they understand them clearest.


Being assertive doesn’t mean being aggressive. It’s standing firm in what you believe is best for your recovery. It’s like having a sturdy fence around your house, not too high that no one can see in, but just high enough to keep the unwanted out.


Stick to your boundaries. For this to happen, the previous elements must be in good order, strengthening one another and working in harmony to support your life of recovery. If consistency isn’t happening, there is a strong likelihood that one or several key components need to be revisited and adjusted. Remember, this is done best when it’s done with the help of others who support you.

Tips for Setting Effective Boundaries

Setting boundaries isn’t like trying to find a mystical creature but requires determination. Remember, boundaries are your road map toward a lifetime of sober living.

Establishing effective boundaries equates to knowing yourself well. It’s pivotal to identify what makes you vulnerable. By doing so, you can set boundaries to steer clear of those triggers.

Open communication is also key. Discuss your boundaries with your loved ones, and make them allies in your journey. This can be as simple as communicating that your recovery is paramount. Sometimes, this might mean distancing yourself from certain people or situations that cannot prioritize your health or respect your established boundaries.

Setting boundaries in recovery isn’t just essential; it’s crucial for sustained success. They act as protective barriers, ensuring your journey remains unhindered and fruitful. Remember, it’s your recovery, and you hold the map. Avoid hazards and roadblocks to continue your recovery journey and arrive safely at your destination.


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Medical News Today. (2023 March 01). What to know about intensive outpatient programs (IOP) and their uses. Retrieved

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2023, July 26). Co-Occurring Disorders and Other Health Conditions. Retrieved

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Highlights of the 2021 National Survey on Durg Use and Health. Retrieved

National Institute of Health. (2014 December 18). Impaired self-awareness in human addiction: Deficient attribution of personal relevance. Retrieved