“Many parents hold off taking action or getting help because they feel like anything they do is dangerous. What they forget is that the situation they’re in is terribly dangerous…you have to say , ‘We love you very much, but we’re not going to spend money so you can go buy drugs and end up in a worse predicament. We’re not going to support your habit. So it means no money, no car, no food, no shelter, because ultimately, these are the things that can be converted into drugs.’ “
~board-certified psychiatrist Dr. David Sack, speaking to ABC News
They call it “being cruel to be kind”. Even though it is meant to be non-confrontational, and even though it is done with love, it is still the equivalent of drawing a line in the sand. It can seem harsh, but often, tough love is the only thing that will save the life of an otherwise hopeless addict.
Supporting a Loved One Through Addiction
When a family member has an addiction, it can be an incredibly challenging time for the family. This may be something you’re going through right now. You’re not sure what you should do, or even if there is anything you can do. You want to offer support, but you have no idea where you should even begin. Please know that your concerns are valid. You should also know that there is a lot that you can do. You can begin by following our helpful advice:
- Know that you can’t force your loved one to quit. Even if they’re a teenager, kids who want to use will find a way to use. That’s just the way addiction You need to accept this fact before you can move forward.
- Take good care of yourself. This might seem counter-productive if you were hoping to focus solely on your loved one. However, you need to be sure that you’re OK first. Otherwise, how can you help anyone else? Go to counseling if you need to. Talk with a trusted friend about the situation. Get the emotional support you need.
- Educate yourself on addiction overall. If you’re new to this subject, there’s probably a lot that you don’t understand. Your loved one might tell you that quitting is impossible, and this seems difficult to believe. In part, he or she is right. Quitting an addiction without professional support is next to impossible. There is a lot more that you can learn as well.
- Talk about the problem with your loved one. It’s not going to be a comfortable subject to bring up, but nothing changes if you don’t. Express your concerns with love and caring. Never place blame, and always indicate that you’re there to help.
- Maintain your boundaries. Addicts like to push boundaries, and this is something you need to be aware of. Don’t tolerate any violent or emotionally destructive behaviors. You don’t have to accept the way that your loved one behaves, and you shouldn’t.
What to Do if Your Loved One is Facing Addiction
If you have a loved one facing addiction, there are some steps that you should take. Keep in mind that some of these may be hard for you to do. However, they are very necessary if you want to see your family member make some changes. Don’t Enable the Addict – Enabling is a behavior that a lot of families of addicts do. It feels completely harmless. However, what it’s really doing is allowing the addiction to continue. You could enable your addicted loved one in many different ways. Perhaps you pay their bills because they’re not able to go to work. You might offer to watch their kids because they’re too high or drunk to do it themselves. Enabling is hard to stop, but you need to set boundaries. This is so important, but it will only benefit your loved one in the long run. Discussing Addiction Treatment – At some point, you’ll want to bring up the thought of addiction treatment. You may want to do some research early on so that you have some options to present. Your loved one might not like the fact that you’re talking about treatment. Still, it needs to be brought up. Be sure to be kind in the words you use. Talk about the different benefits of getting help for an addiction. Scheduling an Intervention, if Necessary – Sometimes addicts will make grand promises to recover. They’ll promise that they’ll go to rehab after the holidays, or when they get through a stressful time. They usually don’t have any intentions of making good on these promises. In cases like these, it’s time to schedule an intervention. This is a meeting that will be held between you, your loved one, other friends and family and an interventionist. You will all have a chance to talk with the addict and ask them to get help.
What is tough love?
In a very general way, “tough love” means when one person treats another person sternly – not out of malice, but in an attempt to help. Speaking in terms of an addict, tough love means to stop any and all behaviors that enable the addict. It is the withdrawing/withholding of any and all support and interaction until the addict has agreed to seek professional treatment and shows progress in recovery. Some examples of support/interactions that may be withheld from an active addict include:
- stopping financial support – no paying for their rent, car, utilities, healthcare, phone, etc.
- divorce/breakup/purposeful distance – this could mean that the addict is no longer welcome in the home of the person who is practicing “tough love”. This can include not only spouses/partners, but parents, siblings, children, and other family members.
- loss of custody/termination of visitation with children/contacting of Child Protective Services
- no assistance during legal entanglements – no payment of bail, attorney’s fees, or fines
Why does tough love work?
Addicts are skilled at manipulation, and are very adept at using someone’s willingness to help against them. They will lie, concoct any tale, and break any promises, just to get their way and just to get their drugs. And, because the other person still holds out hope, the addict is able to lie and manipulate again and again and again. There are never any consequences, because the other person is still always there, always trying to help.
This is what is known as “enabling” the addict.
When tough love is practiced, the endless cycle of betrayal and manipulation that leads to more drug abuse is broken. Perhaps for the first time, the addict is forced to actually live their true reality. Their bad choices impact their own lives, not someone else’s. They are forced to clean up their own messes, instead of someone else doing it for them.
The addict will wheedle. They will beg. They will threaten. They will promise. They will lash out.
Every word will be a lie. Initially, this will just be another attempt at manipulation, because all of these tactics will have worked in the past. When tough love is practiced, however, mere words from the addict will no longer suffice. The clear message being sent is the only way to regain the support and interaction and everything that comes with it is to agree to accept help in the form of drug rehab. They may do so against their own wishes. They may resent having to go. They may even agree facetiously, intending to use on the sly. But more often than not, they will agree to go to rehab.
And THAT is the goal.
Recovery is a step-by-step process, and right now, the focus is on getting the addict into a drug rehab program. There, professionals who are trained and experienced in addiction treatment will be able to closely work with the addict to maximize his/her chances of a successful long-lasting recovery.
Helping a Loved One Going Through Addiction Recovery
More than anything, you want to support your loved one as much as you can. You may or may not be familiar with the process of addiction recovery. If you’re not, it can be hard to know where to start. There are actually several things that you can do.
- Talk with them about ways you can help – Addiction is a very lonely condition, by definition. You feel like you’re the only one going through it, and no one could possibly understand it. You might not understand it, but you can be there for your family member. Ask them for what they need, and help as much as you can. Sometimes it’s good just to have someone listening.
- Stay in touch – Someone in recovery can easily feel abandoned once the recovery process starts. You want to avoid this. You can do so by keeping in contact with your loved one. Let them know they’re not forgotten and that you’re always there.
- Ask your family member if you can give honest feedback – This will allow you to encourage them, or even offer suggestions if the situation calls for it. They’ll appreciate that you want to be involved.
- Encourage responsibility on the part of the addict – Try as you might, you can’t recover for your family member. These are steps that they have to take themselves. This means you can’t rescue them if they get into a bad situation. They need to know there are consequences for bad decisions.
- Don’t give up hope – An addiction is a relapsing disease. You should expect relapses to occur. If they don’t, that’s wonderful! However, you need to know that this is quite rare. Even if your loved one suffers a relapse, remain supportive. Let them know you believe in them, and that tomorrow is a new day.
Have you had to offer support to a loved one recovering from addiction? We’d love to hear your story in the comments below!
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