How to set healthy boundaries in recovery

Myth: Boundaries are walls we put up to keep others away.

Contrary to the popular myth, boundaries are not a wall to keep others out.

Setting healthy boundaries is an important life skill, especially for people in recovery.

Boundaries show you and others that you value yourself enough to protect yourself and your recovery.

Boundaries start in childhood and often continue throughout a lifetime. Perhaps you were raised in a home where boundaries were too strict, which led to suppressed emotions and detached relationships.

On the other hand, you could have been brought up in a household where boundaries were non-existent. In this case, you may have lacked the ability and skills to develop a sense of self.

Learning how to define and implement your personal boundaries is vital to your recovery.

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries are physical, mental, and emotional limits to protect us and others in a relationship.

These limits help us define who we are while letting others be who they are. In other words, boundaries are set to make sure you are physically, mentally, and emotionally stable.

Boundaries are essential to set in any relationship, but especially when you are in recovery.

They keep you safe from being manipulated or taken advantage of while protecting others and their boundaries. When these lines are respected, true recovery can begin and flourish.

Boundaries and Addiction Recovery

Establishing healthy boundaries has many benefits that will help you maintain your sobriety. Here are some benefits:

  • Saying no: It can be so hard to say no, especially in early recovery. You want to feel accepted by others, but deep down, you know you need to say no in some situations. Learning how to say no means you are recognizing your self-worth and valuing your needs and wants.
  • Resisting temptation: In early recovery, people, places, and things can be triggers. Make sure you are honest with yourself about who you can and can’t hang out with and where you can and cannot go. If you set boundaries in the beginning, the temptation will be easier to resist.
  • Improving communication: In early recovery, you may have a roller coaster of emotions, and may not know how to express them with honest, meaningful communication. Establishing boundaries will help you recognize what you want and need and aid your interactions with others.
  • Developing self-worth: Addicts in recovery often struggle with low self-esteem and self-worth, leading them to make decisions that negatively impact them. Setting boundaries will help you create a sense of identity and worth in the way you view yourself and your relationships with others.

Unhealthy versus Healthy Boundaries in Addiction Recovery

Looking at unhealthy boundaries can help establish what boundaries are not. Here are some examples:


  • Beginning relationships with others without thinking about how it may affect recovery
  • Ignoring personal beliefs/values to gain acceptance from others
  • Accepting gifts, favours, and actions that don’t support recovery
  • Expecting others to know what you need and want without expressing these needs/wants
  • Negative self-treatment including thoughts, actions, and words
  • Either trusting everyone or trusting no one


  • Thoughtfully evaluating benefits/drawbacks of having a relationship with someone
  • Maintaining personal beliefs/values despite what others may think
  • Saying “no” to gifts, favours, and actions that do not support your recovery
  • Clearly and respectfully expressing what you need
  • Treating yourself with respect and kindness
  • Developing appropriate trust with others

Setting and Enforcing Healthy Boundaries

There are two parts to this: setting and enforcing. Many people set boundaries but then fail to implement them.

1. Establish a Personal Bill of Rights

Before anything else, you should establish a personal Bill of Rights. You have a right to your own thoughts, emotions, values, and beliefs, and these should be held close.

You have the right to express to yourself and others how you would like to be treated. This may be strange in early recovery, especially if you suffer from low self-worth, but it is a beneficial step.

2. Identify Sobriety Risk Factors

Be honest with yourself about what puts your sobriety at risk. These may be people, places, objects, thoughts, or behaviours.

They may be obvious (I can’t go to the bar), or they may be less obvious (Watching football on TV is a trigger). Your sobriety risk factors are personal to you.

3. Set Boundaries

After identifying risk factors, set your boundaries. Write them down and be as specific as possible. For example, “I must block phone numbers of people who I can’t be around right now,” or “I will not drive down this road because it is a trigger. I will take an alternate route.”

4. Enforce your Boundaries

You can set boundaries all day, but if you don’t enforce them, they are not effective. Enforcing them takes honesty and commitment every day.

5. Remain Accountable  

Healthy boundaries in recovery require being open about your plan and staying accountable to others. This could be a sponsor, a family member, or a support group.

The point is to choose your support group and reach out to them regularly.

6. Respect Other People’s Boundaries

Just as important as honouring your boundaries is respecting other people’s boundaries. It doesn’t matter if they are different from yours or if you don’t agree with them. Show other people the same respect you want.

Setting healthy boundaries in recovery may feel strange or selfish at first, but these lines are vital for your emotional and mental health and your recovery.

The longer you enforce your personal boundaries, the more natural it will become.

David Scourfield

David Scourfield is a Camino Recovery team member since 2017, focused on facilitating communication with Clinical and other professionals to ensure a comprehensive understanding of Camino's program.

Combining his marketing skills and lived experiences, he joined Camino in 2017, contributing to external publications and the Camino website. With a strong belief in solidarity during the recovery process, David helps clients build support networks by connecting them with others in recovery.

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