As a family member, parent or friend of a loved one struggling with addiction, you’ve probably heard others tell you to practice ‘tough love.’ Tough love, in a traditional sense, is when you treat someone in a strict and harsh manner while having the intention of helping them. Tough love can involve humiliation and stern punishments, not allowing any mistake to slip through the cracks. And, in some contexts, tough love can work. Yet when it comes to addiction, the tough love mentality takes on a different approach.
In addiction recovery, tough love includes stripping the individual of everything they have – money, freedom, respect – and putting them on severe restrictions. The goal is to help the addict over the long term since the behaviors, albeit harsh, are done out of love. Tough love has been used in many contexts throughout history, but it has changed over time. While people once believed that punishment and humiliation were part of the tough love mentality, we know now that this is not effective.
Why Tough Love Should be Less ‘Tough’ and More ‘Love’
When studying tough love in the addiction community, there is no evidence that shows that tough love absolutely works. Every person is unique, and this approach works for some and not for others. Looking at things in an overall context, it’s much more productive and healthy to treat addiction with a kind and compassionate attitude while setting boundaries and encouraging accountability. And, it’s clear why this type of behavior would break through the barriers of an addict and help them to accept their diagnosis and work on changing their behaviors.
First of all, addicts often have low self-esteem and self-worth to begin with. They’re not proud of their behavior or what they have become, but their addiction is now in control and taking over their mood, their choices and their existence. By belittling the addict and making them feel worse about their situation, it adds to the image of being hopeless. In fact, for some people, tough love can make them feel less understood and will drive the behavior even more.
Secondly, if you are too tough on your loved one as they deal with an addiction, there may be harmful consequences. For instance, if your child is abusing drugs, locking them out of the home and cutting off their financial supply can mean that they will be living on the streets and supporting themselves through dealing drugs or prostitution. Addicts who live these lifestyles are much more likely to contract HIV or Hepatitis C. Some people feel that addicts need to hit rock bottom before they can change, but does hitting rock bottom mean contracting HIV or AIDS?
Also, the word “bottom” means something different for everyone. For addicts who have been abusing for years, they may have no real concept of the word bottom. Instead, they need to see some positive changes. The bottom line is this: Addicts use drugs to self-soothe. By punishing them for self-soothing, they in turn want to self-soothe more. It’s a dangerous cycle that can be broken, at least for some.
A New Kind of Love
Nevertheless, all addicts can use, in fact, a little bit of tough love in certain instances. They need to show their addicted loved one that while they support them, they are not going to support their habit.
For the sake of your loved one and your family, you don’t want to be an enabler. But this doesn’t mean that you have to automatically resort to humiliating or punishing your loved one because what they really need is compassion and understanding. Perhaps we can say that most addicts will benefit from “kind love.”
When choosing an addiction treatment center like The River Source, you can be assured that your loved one will receive the kind love that they need. Going through the phases of recovery are trying, and without a level of compassion, more addicts would fail. For instance, detox is one of the most difficult parts of the recovery process as it involves physical, emotional and psychological effects. Yet we don’t just leave our clients lying in a bed, suffering from withdrawal symptoms.
Instead, we provide a comfortable environment that includes supportive staff members, natural therapies and conventional medication. By keeping our clients as comfortable as possible and providing them with a strong support network, they have more motivation to get the drug out of their system and develop the strength and determination that is needed to go through treatment. At the same time, we teach our clients about being accountable for their own choices and actions.
Tough love can be a great tool for handling addiction, but it should also involve a supportive environment that sets recovering addicts up for success, not failure. By establishing boundaries and encouraging accountability, recovering addicts learn that they must take responsibility for their actions.