Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships and, really, a healthy life. Setting and sustaining boundaries is a skill.

Alcohol and substance use addiction recovery can be a long and challenging journey. If you are reading this and you are currently on that journey, I would love to take some time and provide you with some tools for setting boundaries during recovery.

Recovery can often feel like an endless sea of answering questions, alleviating concerns, and active decision-making.  However, there are tools and strategies that can be used to help set boundaries with yourself, as well as, with others and the various challenging conversations that can arise.  Today I will be showing you how to establish both.


Setting Boundaries

At Social Gatherings and Restaurants

Social gatherings can mean greater exposure to triggers and people offering or using alcohol and drugs. Restaurants can be another challenging place for triggers because most restaurants serve alcohol, and it is not uncommon to see people take smoke breaks outside of a restaurant.

Saying no can be a challenge.  Remember, you do not owe anyone an explanation.   Simply stating and asserting, “I will not be drinking (or smoking, etc.)” is all that is needed to be said.  Do not feel pressured to answer “why” or to explain yourself with a “Because….”

Try looking for another person at your event who respects your choice or is also not drinking (or using another substance) and “buddy up.”  This doesn’t need to be explicitly stated – but being nearby or able to check in with someone who respects your decisions can make the event easier.  If feeling triggered, excuse yourself, take a break, or leave.


Setting Boundaries with Yourself

Setting boundaries with yourself in various areas of your life is an important act of self-care.  If you are in recovery, you have probably heard a lot about setting boundaries with alcohol and drugs.  However, you will also need to set boundaries with your personal comfort during the recovery process.

What does this look like?  Setting boundaries with yourself during recovery may include:

  • How much information about your addiction experience you are comfortable sharing
  • Who you will share/not share this information with
  • What settings you feel comfortable and uncomfortable having these conversations in

The more time you take to think through your comfort level and establish these boundaries, the easier it will be to assert them later with others.


Conversations with Others

Now that we have talked about figuring out where your boundaries are with yourself and what you feel comfortable discussing with others, it is time to put that into practice.  Below I have laid out three strategies to try with others when tackling conversations around addition and recovery: setting boundaries, using gratitude instead of apologies, and taking breaks.


Setting Boundaries

Remember, setting boundaries is a very personal experience, which is why I suggested thinking about the who, the what, and the when.  In otherwards, who you discuss things with, how much you feel comfortable discussing, and what places you feel comfortable having those conversations.  What you may feel comfortable telling your close friend might look different than what you feel comfortable telling your aunt or uncle.  You may also feel differently about having these conversations at home versus in a crowded restaurant.


Putting it into Practice

Make your boundary clear and let other people know ahead of time what you do and do not feel comfortable with.  You may, for example, have to tell your immediate family you do not want to have these conversations around extended family.  Or you may have to let your friends know there are certain places you do not want to have these conversations.

  • If you feel someone is breaking your boundary that you set, let them know. Here are some examples of what you can say, but there are many other options as well:
  • “I am actually not comfortable/don’t feel like talking about ______ at this time.”
  • “While on vacation, I would prefer not to discuss this.”
  • “I am still processing; I don’t want to talk about this now.”
  • “Not everyone knows this, and with multiple people here, I really don’t feel comfortable talking about this.”


Using Gratitude Instead of Apologies

When triggering topics or difficult conversations emerge, especially among family, it can become quite easy to either apologize right away to “keep the peace” or the opposite, becoming easily annoyed or irritable.  To reduce this, try an assertive technique: using gratitude to bring a conversation to a close.  Below are some examples:

  • Instead of saying, “I am sorry to seem upset, but why did you say/ask that right now?” Try > “Thank you for being concerned, but I do not want to discuss this now.”
  • Instead of saying, “I am sorry I make you worry” Try > “Thank you for caring about me, but I am not drinking/using __.”
  • Instead of saying, “I am sorry I will not have a drink”  Try > “Thank you for asking first, but I do not drink anymore, so please do not ask.”


Take Breaks

Taking breaks can be extremely important when spending time with others to reset.  Some ways to excuse yourself and take a break include:

  • Taking a bathroom break and spend some time collecting yourself, taking deep breaths, or use your phone for a few minutes.
  • Tell others you need to take care of a few things in your routine and that you will be back in X amount of time (30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, etc.)
  • Tell those you are around you need to check in with other parts of your life and you need to make a call and will be back soon.
  • Offer to go on an errand if applicable! This is great at casual gatherings with family and friends.  Offer to go on a coffee or food run.  You will get time to yourself as a break, and they are receiving your help. Everyone wins!



Recovery can be challenging, but by having boundaries in place, challenging conversations can become easier.  You don’t, however, have to do this alone.  Did you know that has therapists specializing in addiction and recovery?  If you would like more support during your recovery process, we are here to help.


For more information please check out our website at .