Tough Love

Proper Use of Tough Love and the Abuse of Tough Love

What is Tough Love: There really isn’t an accepted definition for the term: “touch love”, but it has come to be defined as: Tough love is an expression used when someone treats another person harshly or sternly with the intent to help them in the long run… according to Wikipedia.

We Are Talking About Another Type of Tough Love

In the addiction field, like many of the definitions in this field, “tough love” has as many different interpretations as it has authorities using the term.

Usually it means that one’s need to love their child, in this case an addict, is misguided. Tough love should be firm instructions, directions and an uncompromising attitude that drug use is not tolerated. Instead, sympathy and a willingness to do whatever their child request is too many times how parents of addicts related to their children. Too many parents “enable” their children that are addicted by:

1. Making them the subjects of their sympathy (Feeling sorry for them.)

(Sympathy kills and there is never a place where it is beneficial. There are places where it is socially more acceptable than others, like funerals, but the act of actually feeling sorry for someone else only makes them weaker.)

2. Believing that the parents can solve the addict’s problems and becoming overly involved in their lives.

It is sometimes extremely difficult for parents to allow their children to experiment on their own with the challenges of growing up. These children are protected from having to confront unpleasantness of life, with the idea that the parents are being the ultimate caretakers by keeping hardship and pain away from their son or daughter’s world.

Unfortunately, this makes children feel more fear of the world and they usually resent the parents that are keeping them overly sheltered. These kids could probably use some “tough love” because the fear they is being fostered is many times handled with the use of drugs, if not illicit, certainly drugs from the family doctor or, much worse, from a psychiatrist.

3. Bargaining and being reasonable when it comes to setting rules about the use of drugs and the consequences if those rules are violated.

This reasonableness can happen at any time from the first signs that drugs are being used and abused to when the addict comes back from treatment. At any time, parents can sabotage the good work of treatment professionals by “giving in” to the whining and cajoling of their children.

It is common experience in the treatment field to see parents that will go completely against the advice and recommendations of professionals by giving credence to their children’s request that are obviously being driving by manipulation to get what they want…continued drug use.

These parents don’t realize how difficult it is for their child to confront and learn from the lessons of life. They will come to the treatment center when their child is in detox or just finishing detox and go into agreement with the addict (their child) that they are not going to do drugs again; that they are well and don’t need to stay in treatment any longer. The children are very convincing and they know every button to push to get the agreement that they need to leave treatment.

The parents truthfully know that they “may” relapse and that their child isn’t thoroughly done with rehab, but they delude themselves to have peace in the family and allow their child to leave treatment before it is recommended and before they are actually at a point where they can handle the cravings and temptations of using drugs again.

This is a very common and sad occurrence in treatment centers and families. Many times we find that fathers are weakest with their daughters and mothers with their r sons, but the results are the same; a failed treatment episode.

Not only is this tragic for the families, but it actually makes it harder to enlist their children back into treatment when they discover that they again relapsed.

So, Tough Love, was a term that was created to use with these parents so that they can have a succinct message to not give in to the desires of someone that is addicted to alcohol or other drugs.

Sometimes, treatment professionals carry “tough love” too far by making blanket rules that are to fit for everyone and every situation. For instance, parents will be told that if their child doesn’t go to treatment then they are to disconnect from them at every level. They are told to not speak with their child again, give them no financial support, do not let them live at the home, do not provide other housing, etc. In other words, to divorce themselves from their unwilling child unless the addict will go or reenter treatment.

Most of the time, these instructions are what is needed to send the message that there is only one course of action that is acceptable and that is to stop using drugs, period!

This becomes excessive when parents blindly ignore the life-threatening dangers that can accompany addiction. Sometimes an addict completely unable to control their lives to the extent that they will put themselves in harm’s way if not given some support. Parents need to be aware that some addicts have died while a family was enforcing “tough love”. This is very rare, but it should be kept in mind whenever a family is giving the ultimatum of either go to treatment or you are totally on your own.

Some young addicts haven’t gained any survival skills and to be at the mercy of the streets is more than they can confront or survive.

It is recommended that parents that are dealing with situations of non-compliance with a loved one and are applying the principles of “tough love”, they should enlist the advice of a skilled alcohol and drug counselor to help them know how far to go when forcing the treatment issue.

There are many skilled interventionist that can help families get their children into treatment and take away the insecurities of how far to push someone that is already impaired on alcohol and other drugs.

Our helpline can certainly help you find a qualified interventionist or help you make good judgements when confronting these types of problems.

More often than not, it is the opposite that is the case. Parents are entirely too weak when it comes to insisting on the well being of a child that is addicted and is presenting them with “logical” arguments on why they need to leave treatment or not go at all. It is asking too much of parents to navigate these waters without professional help.

That is one reason that we are here. Our years of experience have when to act and when to be more passive; how far to push the “tough love” rules and under what conditions are they allowed to be broken.

Basically, a contract should be written that will describe what the addicts needs to do to regain their rightful position as a member of the family. Let us help you help your addicted love one regain their lives.

How Important is it to find a treatment program that has a family therapy component?

In looking at the influence that families have on the behaviors of an addict, there is a school of thought called systems theory where the belief is that no one operates on their on decisions outside the influence of their loved ones and other significant people in their environment.  It is impossible to find a “perfect” family, and all of us come from some dysfunction, it is just a matter of the degree of dysfunction.  In addiction studies, it is found that families that have member that abuse or are addicted to drugs are more likely to have other members that do the same.  However, we can also find many more severely “dysfunctional” families where no one needs alcohol or drug treatment.

Those treatment programs that subscribe to this “systems theory” of behavior development will many times have a portion of their program dedicated to treatment for other members of the addict’s family.

This being the case, then how important is the role of the family in treatment?  In the beginnings of residential treatment in the U.S. having family therapy was one of the unquestioned tenets of a 30-day treatment program.  Many of these programs have a “Family Week” where the family members of the addict were asked to come to the treatment center and join in daily education and group “therapy” exercises that were to expose the pain and conflicts that the addict had brought to the family, as well as what behaviors exist in the family that are adding to the need to escape through alcohol and drug use.  These family sessions were meant to help the addict understand what they need to confront and handle within their families.

In looking at the end result of these types of family interventions, it has been proven that the little therapy that can be done in a week or less is insufficient to change dysfunctional behavioral patterns and the amount of unresolved conflicts that are brought to the surface is actually doing a disservice to the addict and his family.

It is obvious that an addict’s family is an important part of his life and the numerous ways that most addicts have violated the norms of the family leaves a situation that needs to be handled if one can hope to have some level of sanity at home.

So, how does one handle these problems best?  First of all, you need to recognize whose problem is it, meaning the conflicts brought up by the drunkenness and other forms of acting out when an addict is loaded.

Programs with the best outcome recognize that the addict is their client and he is, at this time, the identified patient in the family as well as being the one that is causing the most dysfunction.  Therefore, the addict must take responsibility for being able to either live in close communication with other family members or to have the strength to be socially polite.  The addict needs to accept his responsibility for the thefts, fights, screaming and other acting out that has come from his addiction.  He needs to address these past transgressions, make amends and live happily with the family or disconnect.  The treatment program is in the business to make capable adults that can assess problem situation and make things go right and his family is usually his first test case.

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