Is Tough Love with Drug Addiction ALWAYS the Answer?


Addiction is a challenging obstacle for any person to overcome. Often times, before an addicted individual decides to take the first steps towards treatment, the biggest impact is felt by the friends and family members of the drug addict. It’s common to experience one of several patterns in relationship to someone with substance abuse disorder. These include enabling, codependency, or even “tough love”. Nobody is perfect, and we all react to life challenges differently. But is tough love with drug addiction always the answer? Is there a healthy balance of being both supportive and drawing boundaries with an addicted loved one?

Let’s Talk About Tough Love.

lock with names on it
It can be difficult to decide the best way to support a loved one with a substance abuse issue. Unconditional love is usually our first instinct, but if our loved one continues to make decisions that are harmful to themselves and others, this concept can feel especially tested. It is not uncommon for family members of addicted individuals to reach a breaking point. Feelings of helplessness, fear, and uncertainty often accompany the overwhelming need to support your loved one.
The need to support yet not be taken advantage of by a drug addicted friend or family member can be a tricky situation. Many of us feel the need to show unconditional love, while others take the painful (but sometimes necessary) approach of tough love with drug addiction.
It’s important to understand that everyone must make their own decisions. It can be hard to step back and create healthy boundaries between the ones we love who are struggling with drug addictions. Many of us simply cannot comprehend how they are blind to the people they are hurting, and the damage they are doing to their own bodies. Keep in mind that you can only control your reactions and behaviors. You can support a loved one but ultimately the choice for them to seek treatment or continuing to use drugs is their own.

When to Use Tough Love with Drug Addiction

If you find yourself enabling the addictive behavior, showing tough love with addiction may be a good option. Providing financial help or making excuses for those who are drug addicted will not do anything to help break the cycle of addiction. In fact, by enabling addictive behaviors we are essentially letting the addict know that we accept their drug abuse. When this occurs, it is vital to recognize that tough love may be necessary.

woman arguing

Tough love with addiction is all about communicating clearly with your loved one struggling with addiction. By clearly communicating healthy boundaries, you can start to establish what will and will not be tolerated. This allows you to still show support, but through this tough love approach, you will need to set consequences for the drug addict and follow through with what you outline as acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
Eventually, a tough love approach may result in no longer having contact with the individual abusing drugs. This can be extremely tough, but it is at this point that sometimes the addict will understand the true impact of their actions and make a choice to seek treatment. Not all families and health professionals agree with this approach. Once you have tried everything and the individual still refuses to attend a treatment program, tough love with drug addiction is sometimes the only effective last resort to steer loved ones towards treatment.

The Intervention Approach with Tough Love

Tough love with addiction is commonly exercised during intervention with the drug addicted loved one. The intervention is usually held by family members and friends that are most important to the drug addict¸ and in some cases a health care professional may also be present.
During the intervention, it is important to be clear and concise with what you are communicating to the drug user. This is the time to discuss the impact the drug abuse is having on the drug user and others around them. It’s a safe place to share your feelings and concerns as you express how much you and your family care for him or her. Most importantly, it is also the time to discuss the consequences the drug abuser will face if they choose not to obtain treatment.

man staring off in contemplation

The consequences you choose to exhibit if the drug addict refuses treatment should be specific to the drug user. Here are a few examples of consequences that a family might list during an intervention:

  • No longer providing financial support such as paying bills, gas money, or cell phone service.
  • Pursuing custody of the addicted person’s children
  • No longer providing a home or place to sleep for the drug addict
  • Discontinuing legal assistance or bailouts of any kind
  • No longer communicating with the drug addict
  • Refusing to make excuses to the friends, employment, or the community for the drug addicted loved one

The goal is to steer the loved one to attend a treatment program. Keep in mind that ultimately the choice is theirs. If they decide to not seek treatment, it is important to be prepared to stand by the consequences outlined during the intervention.

Successfully Showing Tough Love

Once you have made the decision to show tough love to the addicted individual in your life, its important to keep a few things in mind to gauge your success.
no tresspassing sign

  1. Healthy boundaries must be clear. Once the addict understands the boundaries that have been set forth, they are much more likely to take them into consideration when making decisions. It is important that you lead by example and stick to the boundaries and consequences that have been outlined. Otherwise, you run the risk of the addicted loved one to do the same.
  2. Be comfortable with your decision. Have a good understanding that you must live your life to the fullest. Be empowered that you have made a hard decision that is ultimately in the best interest for both you and the drug addict.
  3. Change in the addicted individual. Once the drug addict is no longer enabled, their behaviors and choices often change. In some cases, change doesn’t happen and its important to be mindful of this. Additionally, change may take longer than anticipated. Try to rest easy knowing at this point you have done everything that you can.

Is Tough Love the Answer?

In short, everyone has their own opinion of what tough love entails. If you feel you have done everything possible to encourage treatment and support your addicted loved one, the tough love approach is something that may be successful long term. Every family is different. Ultimately, it is your decision on how to show your support for your loved ones.
If you or a loved one needs help, call us at 949-625-4019.


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