Sat. Oct 16th, 2021

Tough Love for Addicts – Why It Does and Doesn’t Work

We’ve all heard our grandparents and maybe our parents talk about “tough love” when dealing with problematic relationships, but is this an effective intervention method for addicts? Since there’s no end-all answer when it comes to getting between a drug addict and their substance of choice, it can be easy to rely on older methods of coping with this situation.

What is Tough Love?

The Opposite of Tough Love: Enabling and Addict

Enabling a loved one with an addiction can be extremely detrimental to both the addict and your shared relationship. Enabling feels like helping, but it’s not. Enabling is a compromise. For instance, your wife may be takingpainkillers before she goes to work. Instead of letting her suffer the consequences of her actions, you make excuses for her. Perhaps you tell a lie to her boss when she doesn’t arrive on time. To you, you may feel like you’re saving their job, but what you may be saving them from is an incentive to get clean.

The Opposite of Tough Love: Enabling and Addict

As an addict’s brain changes due to drug abuse, they can begin to take advantage of the fact that you and others will go out of their way to clean up their messes. This is how the enabling cycle progresses, and stopping is even harder. Enablers experience a negative change in habits as well – it does not bring out the best in people as you become an accomplice to the risky behaviors you’re attempting to prevent.

It comes down to coping with long-term anguish versus short-term pain. The pushback from your loved one, and even family, may be rough, but living a lifetime with a co-dependent substance abuser is much harder. It’s important not to let the addict and their addiction victimize you or manipulate you. Not sure if you’re an enabler?

Signs You May Be Enabling an Addict or Alcoholic

Enablers have a tendency to deny the fact that their loved one is struggling with addiction. Are you an enabler? Here are some common characteristics of an enabler:

  • You’re ignoring your loved one’s risky behavior even though it may cause them and your family great harm.
  • Taking care of the addict’s needs before your own. This can take an incredible emotional and physical toll.
  • Acting out of fear instead of love. Addiction is a scary experience, and it can change how you react to events.
  • Giving your loved one money when you know it’s likely being used for drugs.
  • Blaming everyone and everything for mistakes the addict makes because you want to “help” them
  • Lying to cover for your loved one when they’ve done something wrong despite their need for real consequences.
  • Ultimately resenting the addict for victimizing and taking advantage of you. Love can turn to hate in these conditions.

Tough Love When Your Loved One Hits Rock Bottom

An older method of dealing with addicted loved ones is the tough love method of intervention. It’s a stark contrast to being an enabler. Tough love is the act of sternness or unsentimental demeanor toward an addict and their addiction.

Perhaps it is fear of enabling that causes some people to approach addiction with the tough love method. However, once an addict hits rock bottom, tough love is probably too little too late. Addicts need more support earlier in their addiction to be effective, and for some, rock bottom could be deadly. Tough love may have some merits when addressed at the earlier point in order to stress to the addict that, as their loved one, you will not be an enabler.

Hallmarks of the Tough Love Method

Here is how the tough love method manifests in most relationships and households:

  • Don’t let the addict manipulate you by shutting them out.
  • Making decisions that may be unpopular and sticking to them (like refusing to allow the addict to come into your house).
  • Completely breaking off ties with the addict.
  • Not giving the addict any money. This gives them the resources to buy more drugs and alcohol.
  • Refusing any request by the addict to make sure you are not enabling them in any way.
  • Getting friends and family together to host a group intervention.

Tough Love and Adolescents: Guidance for Young Minds

Tough love may not be the best for young minds. What is needed is guidance and empowerment, and tough love has a tendency to remove power from the equation. What remains may be a dejected, young addict that feels like they have little to live for except their high. In young adults, their brains are extremely susceptible to the chemical effects of drugs on the brain.

According to a study entitled “The Influence of Substance Use on Adolescent Brain Development” by the University of California San Diego, Department of Psychiatry, “While the developing brain may be more resilient to neurotoxic effects, exposure to alcohol and drugs during a period of critical neurological development may interrupt the natural course of brain maturation and key processes of brain development. In fact, adolescence may be a period of heightened vulnerability for alcohol’s effect on the brain. Cognitive deficits resulting from these alcohol and drug related neural insults have potentially harmful implications for subsequent academic, occupational, and social functioning extending into adulthood.”

It’s incredibly important to remember the fragility and nuances of the adolescent brain. What teens and young adults need is the support of friends and family, as well as medical professionals to help get the job done. Tough love is only one option among many to help your child. It’s best to get help from teachers and healthcare professionals to get them the proper care they need to begin a successful recovery.

Does Tough Love Actually Work with Addicts?

Short answer: maybe. Long answer is it’s not likely to work, and time is of the essence when it comes to helping someone overcome their addiction. The idea that pain somehow pushes people toward growth may be a truism for many non-addicts, but applying this logic to someone suffering from addiction may not hold true. If you view addiction as not a disease but a symptom of laziness and weakness, then if might makes sense that you think tough love would work. However, other than anecdotal evidence, there is no actual data that confirms whether tough love is actually effective in a clinical sense.

Tough love doesn’t make people act like their best selves, instead, it makes them closed off. The person practicing tough love has to to be detached and cool, and the person receiving tough love may shut down and feel isolated. Real love, however, forces people to act out of goodness and from a place that helps, but somewhere in the addiction cycle, is there a place for tough love?

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