Is tough love the right way to treat an addict?

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This is such a hard question. But one thing’s for sure, you’ll get an answer one way or another when you set your boundaries.

Someone asked me if I felt like I should have approached my son’s depression and addiction differently?

Is tough love the right thing to do?

Keep in mind that I encouraged her to ask the question she was wanting to ask because she hesitated. It’s a good question with no “right” answer. Given that my son’s rock bottom was suicide, I’ve asked myself this a hundred times. But here’s what I can tell you.

No addict makes a change unless they are uncomfortable

If you have a teenager that is using and has everything paid for and just has to put up with the hassle of your nagging– it’s unlikely anything will change. They have to feel personally uncomfortable.

I have never heard of an addict that gets a moment of divine intervention and out of the blue simply decides to go into recovery. It’s usually a pretty ugly back and forth process.

Something happens and the addicted person finally hits the point that they can’t live like that any more. It’s the something “uncomfortable” that typically inspires recovery. And often that “uncomfortable” thing is the result of a boundary you set because you can’t take it any more. I so wish it wasn’t that way because it’s seems so cruel. Throw in a mental illness like bipolar or depression, it gets even more complex and harder. It works against our nature as parents.

Remember that the hallmark of addiction is that the drug takes over the mind and makes addicts do anything to satisfy their craving and keep withdrawal at bay. They are not doing this to get back at you. It’s an urge so strong, even a mom that once loved her child will leave her child for the sake of her habit.

After 4 years at Families Anonymous  (highly recommended support group), I can’t tell you the right thing for you to do, but I can tell you that not setting boundaries means more of the same.

So at the very least, you have to set boundaries

If you don’t, you’ll lose yourself in the chaos of someone else’s addiction. At some point you have to realize that this is their journey, not yours.

Does that mean you should throw them out? Of course that carries a risk. But keep in mind they can die in your house and they can die outside your house. I am still not advocating that this is the move you need to make.

All I am saying is that their being at home doesn’t necessarily mean they are safe.  And most likely if you are living with an addict, you too, are at risk.

Drug dealers are not known to be stable people, they often carry weapons and they often make home deliveries right to your driveway. It might be your loved one is the dealer to support his/her habit.

Addiction is a deadly illness

Sufferers either find recovery. Or they die.

And only you know when you are at the point where you can’t live with it any more and what exactly you are going to do in terms of setting and sticking to boundaries. Our stance? It was that we’d support recovery, but we wouldn’t support a habit.

I would recommend a support group to work that out for yourself. And for getting on the same page if you are a couple –which is very hard. You will hear what others have done in terms of setting boundaries and that is helpful.

If you are in an area that doesn’t have a support group, there are online groups. Our son obviously did not make the choice we hoped.  He died by suicide while involuntarily going through withdrawal. That is not the norm.

I have heard amazing stories that would make your toe nails curl back yet that child not only survived, but managed to recover and thrive. Truly. You have to wonder how some addicts manage to survive and make it to recovery. It happens all the time. It can happen with your child and you cannot lose hope.

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Is tough love the right thing to do?

Published by

Anne Moss Rogers

I am the mother of two boys and the owner of emotionally naked, a site that reached a quarter million people in its first 18 months. I am a writer and professional public speaker on the topics of suicide, addiction, mental illness, and grief and currently working on getting a book published. I lost my youngest son, Charles, 20, to suicide June 5, 2015. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory.

4 thoughts on “Is tough love the right way to treat an addict?”

  1. When we understand that addiction is a chronic brain disease, it becomes obvious that “tough love” doesn’t help. In fact it leads to alienation and isolation at a time when connection is most needed. There are measureable changes in the pre-frontal cortex of the brains of those who are addicted. The hormones and neurotransmitters are affected. This affects impulse control and sets up vicious cycle of craving. We do not use tough love for heart disease or diabetes.

    You can google articles on the myths of tough love, or the myths of rock bottom. A quote from one of the articles I read recently: “We’ve been using punishment to try to treat a condition that is defined by its resistance to punishment.”

    1. I hope so Liz. Fills that hole in my heart. It will never be completely filled up but it helps the emotional healing

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