Tough Love Vs Enabling In Treating Addiction
Some family members are so afraid of enabling their addicted loved one that they take the opposite approach of tough love. However, its important to note that there is a difference between being supportive and being enabling. Enabling someone is when you do things for them that they should be able to do on their own. If you keep doing it for them, or excusing their poor behavior, they will never learn how to improve. Supporting your loved one can include aspects of tough love, since it means refusing to excuse their negative behavior, and being honest with them, even if it might not be what they want to hear. Being supportive also means being empathetic towards your loved one, and seeking to understand their illness and why they act the way they do. Tough love can be controlling if you are using threatening or guilting language to get the addict to change, such as, How could you do this, after everything Ive done for you? or, If you dont quit, youre never welcome back here! Tough love can not only be toxic for the person receiving it, but also for the person giving it, because it puts the needs of the addict above the needs of the other person. The giver thinks that they know whats best for their loved one, so they try to put the addicts best interests first, but they end up hurting themselves and the addict in the process.
Tough Love Or Tender Loving Care A Guide To Helping Your Teen Through Addiction
Helping a teen through addiction is one of the hardest things any parent could have to experience. Yet this very predicament is what a startling number of parents currently face, in the worst addiction epidemic on record. Roughly 5 percent of teens suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, according to 2016 findings by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health . The number is substantially higher among young adults .
From my own experience as an addiction clinician, Ive found that many of the young adult clients I work with first began to dabble with drugs or alcohol in their teens, so that by the time they reach their young adult years, they are battling full-blown addiction.
For the millions of parents who find themselves in the devastating scenario of helping a teen through addiction or a developing addiction, it can be excruciatingly hard to know how to support their loved ones recovery. A very common parental dilemma in these situations: whether to exercise tough love or take a more tender and loving approach. In the advice that follows, Ill propose that the most effective parenting response will be both firm and loving, combining elements of both approaches.
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Where Does The Term Tough Love Come From
The phrase seems to have first emerged in 1968 when Bill Milliken authored a book by the same name. Milliken was involved in street outreach intended to prevent at-risk kids from dropping out of school. He advocated for a no-nonsense, firm approach, while still communicating that the outreach came from a place of concern and love.
From there, the term was applied to elder care, self-help, and other contexts. Its association with parenting, especially related to caring for children who struggle with substance use or other problematic behavior, is the one thats most well-known today.
Tough Love Tips: How To Help A Loved One With Alcohol Or Drug Addiction
When it comes to having a family member who struggles with an alcohol or drug addiction, practicing tough love comes down to setting limits. Its not easy!
The author of Hebrews puts it this way: No discipline is enjoyable while it is happeningits painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.Hebrews 12:11
You must set boundaries with a loved one who struggles with an addiction. And to help you, here are four tips to practicing tough love.
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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.
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.
Tips For Setting Boundaries And Staying Firm With Them
Some family members worry that by setting a boundary, they may offend their loved one and drive them away. You may have to offend them, Jacob said, but you need to tell them this is how its going to be.
Simply put, staying firm with boundaries just means sticking with the how its going to be. Jacob was quick to note that every case is different, and these are general guidelines, but went on to reiterate that whatever you say, you have to stick with it You dont want to go against it, since that gives the addict wiggle room.
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When To Do Tough Love
For parents, the best path to pursue is financial tough love. That means cutting any support that may fuel the childs habit. This may include removing his/her allowance, food source, shelter, and vehicle. However, doing just this can have negative consequences, as mentioned in the dad and son case above.
As such, experts are telling parents to follow certain guidelines whenever they enact balanced tough love. That means setting rules and being clear with whats acceptable and not. Its important to show that youre serious and that youll follow up with the consequences, i.e. kicking out your child for good.
Change The Way You Look At Things
Maia Szalavitz: Yeah. But this is why I’m sort of obsessed with the question of labeling and defining things, because it changes your brain profoundly.
It changes how you interact the world.
Kids pick up these weird little things, and they create a self out of them.
And then you don’t even know, because I didn’t tell anybody this stuff. It was non-verbal.
I think it’s really important to sort of realize that little kids are creating this structure for the rest of their thought, for the rest of their life scarily enough.
And that’s terrifying to parents and obviously nobody can be perfect and you shouldn’t try. But it’s just, this is the way humans grow and develop. And it’s very interesting.
And it’s very sad and painful in some ways.
— Editor’s Note: Dr. Wayne Dyer had similar thoughts on the power of language, labeling, and perspectives:
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” — Wayne Dyer
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What Is Tough Love In A Relationship
Tough love is an expression first introduced in a book published in 1968 called Tough Love by author Bill Milliken. While the term has been used in various situations ranging from parenting to relationships, its not always effective, especially when applied to addiction. Tough love often describes a parenting style in which the child experiences negative emotions as part of a learning process. Parenting styles can range from the healthy boundaries of authoritative parenting to abusive parenting that relies on humiliation or even physical violence.
The use of humiliation, physical violence, belittling, or any other abusive or harmful form of punishment exemplifies why tough love can be bad. For example, a parent may use tough love with their adult child who hasnt gotten a job yet. The parent may allow their child to experience consequences like late payments or bill collections instead of helping them. On the other hand, a more harmful example of tough love is a parent belittling or physically injuring their child for failing to get good grades or to take out the trash or wash dishes. While discipline and consequences can change behavior, this is an extreme example of tough love that can have a negative, long-lasting effect on the child. However, when used correctly, tough love can help the situation and allow the child to learn a valuable lesson in a supportive way that protects their dignity.
Dont Cover Their Consequences
One of the most difficult things youll have to do is let your loved one face the consequences of their actions. Naturally, youll want to protect them from the pain, but it will only enable the addiction.
Letting them hit rock bottom may be the only thing that will help them realize they need to change. For instance, if they dont have money to pay rent, dont give them. If arrested, dont bail them out of jail. Its hard to see them suffer, but it may be the only thing that will help them turn their life around.
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How Tough Love Makes Addicts Feel
When you treat your addicted loved one with tough love, they will likely become more reserved and closed off towards you. They will feel reluctant to be honest with you about their recovery and relapses out of fear of being faced with scolding or disappointment. Addiction is usually a result of emotional pain and trauma, which is why shutting out people who already feel ashamed and damaged will only fuel their addiction more. They will feel the need to continue in their addiction as a way of coping with their situation and how they feel about themselves.
Addiction alters the person, and is a very controlling disease, but addicts are still human, and they need to be reminded that they deserve love and comfort, and tough love usually does not give them what they need. The effectiveness of tough love is dependent on the situation, but it can often do more harm than good, and end up destroying your relationship with the addict. If implemented, it should be with the help of an addiction specialist.
Preventing Enabling With Tough Love
Parents of addicted loved ones are sometimes encouraged to use tough love to prevent enabling their children. Theres a big difference between enabling and supportive behavior. Enabling is when you do something for someone that they can or should do on their own. For instance, when it comes to enabling an addict, loved ones may make the individual the focal point of their attention and sympathy. An addicts parents may put their own needs aside to constantly take care of them. However, theres a fine line between helping and enabling. Many enablers often behave this way with the right intentions. They may believe that covering up for the persons behavior or lying for them to avoid getting into trouble is helpful. Enablers often act this way out of genuine love, but their intentions, unfortunately, are misplaced. Tough love is the opposite of enabling and is, therefore, thought of as an effective preventative measure. However, this approach can do more damage than good when unregulated.
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Common Issues In Relationships Affected By Addiction
Enabling, which Jacob defined as doing things for the alcoholic or addict that they can do for themselves, is very common in relationships affected by addiction. Here is how he described it:
You never want to do for an addict what they can do for themselves, so if you do things for them, thats enabling. I dont consider it enabling to help the person into treatmentthats not enabling. Enabling would be buying them a car when they complete treatment or, while theyre in a halfway house, paying all of their bills.
Jacob said the biggest question he had gotten from families vis-à-vis loved ones was whether to pay their credit card bills, out of fear their loved one might ruin their credit.
Other common fears among families, according to Jacob: fears of their loved one overdosing or losing their job. In the second case, for example, a wife whose husband is an alcoholic and who is dependent on him for his income might worry about the financial fallout of him getting fired.
Here again Jacob emphasized the importance of being in a 12-step group or seeing a private therapist so you dont enable your loved one.
When Is Tough Love Effective For Addiction
There is no evidence that tough love is effective for addiction. In fact, it may actually make the situation worse. When someone with an addiction faces ultimatums or feels like they are not supported, they may feel hopeless and turn to their addiction as a way to cope. This can lead to a stronger addiction and more negative consequences.
If you consider using tough love with someone you love who is struggling with addiction, it may be wise to reconsider. There are other, more effective ways to help them get the treatment they need.
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The Popularity Of Tough Love
Tough love came into the collective consciousness of people in the year 1968, many thanks to the similarly-titled book by Bill Milliken.
Used in contexts such as parenting and relationships, its all about setting boundaries. It should preserve the persons dignity, without outright abusing the person. For example, a parent with a jobless soon may refuse him shelter unless he promises to seek work.
While tough love aims to make the person responsible, it can have dire effects when done wrong. For example, a child who is often belittled by his parent may end up with emotional or trust issues.
Tough Love And Addiction
In their story in People Magazine, the couple explained what happened when one child was caught robbing a cocaine dealer. Instead of bailing her out like most parents, the coupled refused to come to her aid. Even though she was cleared of the charges, the Yorks refused to take the daughter back unless she underwent addiction treatment.
This tough love proved to be effective for their daughter. After spending some time in a halfway house, she was on her way to complete sobriety. To honor this monumental event, the parents founded the organization Tough Love.
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Why Tough Love Doesnt Work In Addiction Treatment
Understanding this to me was a revelation because it’s like wow, how dumb is this? We’ve been using punishment to try to treat a condition that is defined by its resistance to punishment.
Like, what? Why would we do that?
And so, I got interested in that, and then when you learn the history of our drug laws and you see the utter racism and complete lack of science in them, you understand why that occurs. Once you get that, and once you get that that really is the essence of addiction, then you cannot support our very stupid and cruel drug policy.
We’ve been using punishment to try to treat a condition that is defined by its resistance to punishment.
Caroline McGraw: That was going to be my next followup question, talking about addiction and recovery, and how does this model change the way we look at treatment?
Maia Szalavitz: Sure. Basically, treatment that is punitive, shaming, and humiliating is not good for addiction.
It is not good for children. It is not good for anything.
Those tactics are not to be used in medical care.
They do not help.
They do a tremendous amount of harm to people with addiction.
And all those tactics are aimed at making you hit bottom and experiencing consequences and all this stuff like this, because clearly the problem is that you just haven’t suffered enough yet.
It is not.
Treatment that is punitive, shaming, and humiliating is not good for addiction.
And that gets more difficult when you are talking about a person whose life is in bad shape.