What is ‘Tough Love’ for Loved Ones with Addiction (and Does it Work)?

When people talk about ‘tough love’ for loved ones with addiction, it can be a challenge. There is no one way to love someone through addiction. It is hard on everyone and everything. People may talk about best therapeutic practices for engaging with loved ones who have an addiction, but most loved ones are doing their best to support the person and still feel like they failed them somewhere on the journey. When it comes to ‘tough love,’ there are some things that can be helpful to know, especially if a loved one is still struggling and family or friends want to know how to help them find treatment.

Enabling Behavior

Enabling happens when a loved one tries to help someone with an addiction, but they end up hurting them, instead. They let go of the consequences to make excuses, pay their bills, give them money for food (when they know they have used it on drugs or drinking in the past), and continue to support them regardless of the outcome. Saving them from themselves is not the point; enabling actually allows the cycle to continue and it is very hard to get out of it without support. When the brain desires drugs, it will do all it can to seek them out. Enablers experience negative consequences right alongside their loved ones. It becomes a situation where it is tough to love them without causing more harm. Some typical signs of enabling:

  • Caring for a person with addiction’s needs ahead of the family (or self)
  • Blaming others for mistakes made by the loved one with an addiction
  • Lying to cover for them
  • Ignoring risky or dangerous behaviors
  • Resenting the loved one for taking advantage of everyone but not changing behavior that is enabling
What is Tough Love

Tough love is a method that focuses on relationship building and better management of relationship skills. It puts a stop to enabling and still supports the loved one (with boundaries). Some key things to note about tough love:

  • Making healthy choices will be unpopular with the loved one (for a while)
  • May require breaking ties to a loved one
  • May mean refusing requests to make sure is not taking place
  • Stop giving money to a person with addiction
  • You are not enabling them in any way.
  • Hosting an intervention with family and loved ones may be supportive

Whether or not tough love works depends on who a person asks. Time is usually critical and there isn’t space to recreate relationships using a new strategy all a sudden. Applying this to someone with addiction may not hold water and they will go do what they want anyway. However, it may drive the family towards doing an intervention and seeking outside support that can result in the best outcome: the loved one seeking treatment. Tough love is almost a last resort for people with addiction because it comes at the tail end of a long journey of struggles for everyone involved. With the right resources, intervention specialists, therapists, and others, there can be hope for light at the end of the tunnel by encouraging treatment and supporting this new journey with them together.

The Last Resort provides a space for you to support a loved one through whatever they need to heal. Whether it is tough love, a new approach in therapy, or just getting them in the door for the first time, we are here to help. Our team will determine an individual plan that works for your loved one’s needs and help them detox, do therapy, and seek a way out of addiction. Call us to find out more: 512-750-6750.