4. Communicating Effectively with your Relative and Setting Limits

Activity: Boundaries and limits

Self-reflection activity


self-reflection icon

Think about how you can communicate with your relative in a way that will increase the likelihood of them hearing your message.


Certain factors may influence whether you tolerate or do not tolerate the behaviour, such as:

    your relationship to or history with the person
    the frequency or duration of the behaviour
    your fears for the safety of the person.

Be flexible regarding boundaries, yet remain consistent and firm when setting limits. You need to be flexible because your family member’s comfort level, needs and behaviour might change in different situations (e.g., at work versus at home), at different times (e.g., on the weekend, during the night, during vacations), with different demands (e.g., a request to borrow a car, a spontaneous visit) and with different people (a partner, a child who does not use substances, a child who uses substances). As a result, your boundaries may change.

It is also important to be consistent and firm when setting a specific limit with a specific person in a specific situation. You must also clearly outline the consequences of breaking that limit. For example, you might be willing in general to have your children drop in spontaneously for meals, but you may decide that you will ask your child to leave if she has been drinking.

The reality is that setting limits is difficult and may be risky. You will need to figure out for yourself what risks you are willing to tolerate. Always be cautious about setting a limit with a person who has a substance use problem if you anticipate the person could become violent.