Is Tough Love the Right Approach for Addiction?

Is Tough Love the Right Approach for Addiction?

You may have heard the term “tough love” tossed around in relation to how one should deal with addiction in a loved one. But whether or not tough love is the “right” approach for you and the person you are concerned about depends how exactly you define the term and what actions you are considering taking. 

This is because it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish setting appropriate boundaries or ceasing behaviors that may be enabling a loved one’s addiction with a more punitive or demeaning approach. 

While the former may be necessary for your own or your family’s physical safety or emotional health and could spur your loved one to seek treatment, the latter is unlikely to be productive and is far more likely to be harmful. 

When Tough Love Might Be Appropriate

One instance in which tough love may be the way to go is when it refers to the loved ones of an addict deciding to stop behaviors that may have been enabling them. Though it may have been done with the best of intentions, providing an addict with money that they can use for drugs, excusing their bad behavior, or even just giving them a roof over their head, may allow an addict to continue to abuse drugs without experiencing the repercussions that might help them realize that their lifestyle is not sustainable. 

Thus, if you have their best interests at heart, doing something as harsh as monetarily cutting a loved one off or kicking them out of the house until they can get clean may be an appropriate action, especially if their behavior while intoxicated poses a safety risk to you or others in the family. 

Other examples of this kind of tough love could include a refusal to help the addict with legal problems, alerting the addict’s employer or anyone else their addiction is affecting, or alerting the authorities so that they may prosecute the addict for any crimes committed or ensure the safety of any children the addict’s behavior may be putting at risk. For some addicts, it takes measures like this to get them to come to their senses and agree to get help, though they are likely to react with anger before submitting to this help.

In these cases, you should state the tough-love boundaries you plan on enacting clearly and directly, and in a calm, rational manner instead of impulsively and emotionally. Setting these clear boundaries may spur your loved one to consider recovering, or, in sadder situations, it may be the beginning of the process of disentangling yourself from a family member who is unwilling to change. 

When Tough Love Might Not Be The Best Approach

Though tough love can sometimes refer to the boundary-setting practices described above, they can also describe efforts to break down a person’s will and spirit in the hopes of making them so desperate that they will recover. As opposed to protecting them, this type of tough love has the aim of shaming, punishing, and humiliating the addict, who is likely already in an incredibly fragile mental state. 

While anger and resentment of an addicted loved one are completely valid emotions you should take the time to work through on your own, they are unlikely to be productive when directed towards the loved one in question. Likewise, while a reasoned discussion of the risks of drug use could be persuasive to your loved one when they are in a sober and calm state, emotional scare tactics may simply drive them further into denial

On the other hand, making it clear to your loved one how much you still value and care about them and that they will have your full support if and when they decide to seek treatment could be incredibly powerful.

Someone who is suffering from addiction is struggling with a complex disease, which means that the actions they undertake during the course of that disease are not fully their fault, nor are they necessarily a reflection of the person underneath that may have a chance to reemerge if your loved one chooses recovery.  

While giving an active addict material things or practical help could be an enabling slippery slope, giving them compassion costs nothing, and can do no harm. Even if someone is dangerously out of control, you can still for example, take their phone calls, communicate with them virtually, or meet with them in safe, public settings. 

In general, tough love should only be used after gentler approaches have failed. However, each person and situation is different, and a threat that could motivate one addict to recover could be the thing to send another into a dangerous downward spiral. Thus, the safest thing to do when wondering how or if you should use tough love when dealing with an addicted loved one is to contact a professional, such as one of our skilled intervention counselors.  

Using The Marchman Act To Force A Loved One Into Treatment

No matter how much you care about an addicted loved one, there is no surefire way to “make” them stop using drugs. However,  if a loved one’s behavior is so out of control that you believe they may be a danger to themselves or others, you can attempt to invoke the Marchman Act, a Florida statute that allows for the involuntary commitment of someone whose substance abuse has reached such a threshold provided that other criteria are met. 

Though it should always be used as a last resort due to the potential that such a harsh measure could cause lasting damage to your relationship with your loved one, the Marchman Act is an example of the right kind of tough love, as it is invoked with the intention of preserving their well-being rather than punishing or shaming them.

To learn more about the Marchman Act, addiction treatment, and how one of our skilled intervention counselors can help you find help for a loved one, feel free to reach out to us today at 833-497-3808.