Tough Love For Addicts

Tough Love for Addicts

Many people who are thinking about an intervention are afraid that the intervention is all about tough love. Although fewer than 10% of our alcohol and drug interventions actually go to “tough love” or bottom-lines, many families place a great deal of attention on it when deciding on whether or not to do an addiction intervention. Some family members are simply afraid that when we arrive we will tell a family that they have to throw their loved one out of their life, or the intervention will make the situation worse than it is.

Families can end up being stuck between fear and hope. Fear that they will make things worse if they push the issue and the hope that one day their loved one may “wake up” and want to change. In the worst cases a family will just hang on, unwilling to make a collective move, until that terrible day when they get the dreaded phone call that it is too late.

Sometimes choosing tough love for addicts is the only way to help them face the reality of their addiction.

Tough love is not about throwing someone away

Implementing tough love can be such a scary concept to a family, but once you grasp their true nature, they can be some of the most effective approaches you have in getting your loved one to embrace recovery. Basically, tough love is where we draw a line in the sand with a using alcoholic or addict. It is an acknowledgement that if he or she wishes to continue on a path of their own destruction, we will no longer participate, be negatively affected or dragged down with them any longer.

Won’t tough love push them away? If I kick them out, what if they don’t come back?

It is potentially the final statement in any addiction intervention. Tough love should never be delivered out of anger or spite. Effectively delivered, tough love can be a message of love. It is actually just a setting of healthy boundaries.

Understand that an alcohol or drug intervention is never about us forcing you to disconnect or detach from a loved one addicted to drugs or alcohol. You will only do what you feel you must. We are only there to guide and empower you through the steps that will allow you to see things differently.

Tough Love is about making a few simple changes

If your loved one decides that he or she wants to continue using drugs or alcohol, then changes must be made on our side. If your loved one won’t change, then we must change. During your intervention, your interventionist will help you and each of the family members involved to change two primary aspects of their lives:

  1. Alter your life in such a way so that you are no longer negatively affected by your loved ones drug or alcohol use. Now what exactly does that mean? The best way to do this is to analyze various areas of your life and see where his addiction has been or currently is affecting you financially, emotionally, physically, mentally or spiritually in a negative manner.

    Now try and discover how you can rearrange your life so that the addiction is no longer negatively affecting that area. For example, if coming home everyday to your home and seeing your loved one drunk on the couch is negatively affecting you at an emotional level, then make a change so that you don’t have to see it everyday (i.e. ask him to leave the home until he goes to treatment, or you yourself leave).

    If having him drive stoned in a car that is registered in your name places you in financial liability, then change that area of your life by taking back possession of the car. If your loved one is working for the family business, isn’t an “ideal employee” and is negatively affecting your business, then make a change so that he is no longer employed there.

    If having an alcoholic or drug addict call you repeatedly “with his problems” makes you uncomfortable then you make a change and ask him only to call when he’s ready for treatment.

  2. Alter your life in such a way that you are no longer contributing to the addiction. As long as you are contributing to the addiction of your loved one, then you are mutually responsible for the addiction and the consequences of it.

    If you are giving your loved one money, then you are providing the means for him to continue using. If he is living at your house rent free, then the $500.00 a month he should be paying for rent is now going towards drugs or alcohol. If he is using your car, then you are providing the means for him to continue buying, selling or using his drugs or alcohol. If he is working at the family business, again you are giving him the means to use in the form of pay checks.

    All of these are means of contributing or supporting an addiction and should be eliminated.

    Following the two suggestions above can have a tremendous effect. For some people it can be the first steps toward freedom, not only for you but for your loved one as well.

Read more: Intervention 101

Tough love empowers you to set healthy loving boundaries

Before an intervention, a family is usually unable to set a boundary. During the Intervention Family Day, individual family members find strength and the ability to see things in a different way. Here are some examples of boundaries or bottom lines that some family members have chosen to set as a family as a result of an intervention:

  • “I will no longer give you money.”

  • “I can’t have you calling me any longer unless it is to say that you want treatment.”

  • “If you do not accept help for your drug problem, you can no longer live in my home.”

  • “I am removing you from the will unless you seek help.”

  • “I won’t let you to see your nephews until you get help.”

  • “I’m taking the car away until you get help for your alcohol problem.”

  • “I’m not a liar, so I will no longer lie to people about your addiction problem. When others ask how you are doing, I’ll tell them exactly how you are doing.”

  • “I’ve pretended not to notice your problem in the past. From now on, if you come over when you are high, I’m not going to let you in the house.”

  • “The next time I see you get in a car to drive intoxicated, I will call the police.”

  • “I won’t listen to your problems until you get help.”

  • “We will be changing the trust fund until you complete a treatment program.”

  • “You can no longer work at the family business.”

  • “I will no longer give you rides or drive you to work until you agree to treatment.”

  • “I will no longer pick up your slack at work. When you don’t get your work done, you’ll have to explain to the boss.”

  • “I’m not going to tell your boss you have the flu when you have a hangover.”

  • “I will not invite you to family get-togethers until you get help for your drug problem.”

  • “You can no longer work for me unless you complete treatment and stay sober.”

  • “I’m going to take over custody of your children until you demonstrate that you are a fit parent.”

  • “Your mom and I will quit paying your school expenses until you get help.”

  • “You can no longer be a part of the lives of my children until you go to treatment.”

  • “I can no longer socialize or hang out with you until you seek help.”

Tough love is really about…Love

Basically, each of these “bottom lines” is actually a boundary that a family member sets to prevent themselves from experiencing the continual harm from their loved one’s addiction. None of these are actually punishments, but just a change made in their life so that they were no longer contributing nor feeling the negative effects of their loved one’s addictions. Notice, too, that most had a life-line such as “…until you seek help”.

It is important to always buffer a bottom line with a loving statement that opens the door to recovery. Obviously, bottom lines should end during the time period that someone is actively in treatment and recovery. But do not confuse mere abstinence with actual recovery. Just because your loved one hasn’t had a drink or a drug for “the last couple of days” is no reason to backpedal on the boundaries you have set down.

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