Does Tough Love Actually Work for Addiction?

What Is Tough Love?

In most cases of tough love, there is a genuine feeling of love and concern behind any harsh or stern treatment. For example, genuinely concerned parents may refuse to support their drug-addicted child financially until he or she agrees to drug rehabilitation. While sometimes seen as cold, tough love is meant to teach a valuable lesson. Tough love in addiction recovery can be seen as controversial, which leads to the question: Is tough love effective for someone addicted to drugs?


Is Tough Love Effective for Someone Addicted To Drugs and Alcohol?

It can be challenging to watch someone you love and care for struggle with drug addiction. To cope, many people turn to tough love. According to the dictionary, tough love is the “promotion of a person’s welfare, especially that of an addict, child, or criminal, by enforcing certain constraints on them, or requiring them to take responsibility for their actions.”

Studies show that compulsory drug treatment may not improve outcomes, so tough love in addiction recovery may not work unless the drug addict opts for recovery themselves. In fact, one study found that confrontational approaches, such as tough love, are often seen as unhelpful by people experiencing addiction. Instead of tough love, focus on interventions that offer practical support. If you think a loved one is in need of some tough love, consult a medical professional or therapist to find out how you can best help your loved one recover in a sustainable way. 


One alternative to tough love in addiction recovery is establishing healthy boundaries. Your boundaries are the limits to what you’re willing to accept in a friendship or relationship. To set boundaries, make sure you clearly communicate them to the person who needs them and follow through with consequences when broken. For example, if a loved one is dealing with addiction, you may set boundaries that include: 

  • Not allowing drugs or alcohol in your home
  • Not giving another person money to pay for drugs or alcohol
  • Prohibiting driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Refusing to make excuses for another person’s actions

What It Means To Enable Drug Addiction and How to Recognize It

It’s natural for people to want to help someone they love and care about. But when your loved one struggles with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, or substance abuse addiction, trying to force your help can do more harm than good. Oftentimes, we may think we’re helping loved ones with an addiction when, in reality, we’re enabling their behavior. 


Although some believe that they’re only enabling bad behavior when they provide an addict with a place to stay or with money, enabling goes deeper than that. Any time you act in a way that delays the moment where the addict is forced to confront the full gravity of their addiction, you’re enabling them and their addiction. Common signs of enabling addiction include: 

  • Providing the addict with money to support their habit
  • Providing the addict with shelter
  • Downplaying the severity of the problem
  • Providing emotional support
  • Lying on their behalf to shield them from consequences
  • Rationalizing their behavior or making excuses for them

Oftentimes, people who enable bad behavior have good intentions. Regardless of intention, it’s important to pay close attention to how we treat loved ones who struggle with addiction. 

What is the Best Way to Help A Loved One Struggling With Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is a substance use disorder where individuals become addicted to a particular drug, whether that’s prescription medication or illicit substances. While symptoms of drug addiction may vary based on the individual, common symptoms include: 

  • Intense urges for the drug
  • Taking larger amounts of the drug
  • Ensuring a constant supply of the drug
  • Not meeting work or personal obligations because of drug use
  • Continuing drug use even though it causes issues
  • Doing abnormal things to obtain the drug
  • Withdrawal symptoms when without the drug


tough love in addiction recovery It’s tough to help someone you love overcome addiction. While tough love in addiction recovery may be your first instinct, studies show there are more effective methods of support. For example, research shows that a program known as Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) can help promote treatment to loved ones struggling with addiction. CRAFT uses behavioral principles to reduce substance abuse, encourage recovery, and reduce the stress on all individuals affected by the addiction. Using this approach reinforces positive behaviors, instead of reinforcing negative ones, to get the person dealing with an addiction to admit they have a problem and to seek help. 


Other ways to help a loved one experiencing addiction include:

  • Remembering that addiction is a disease of the brain, not a choice or a moral failing
  • Recognizing that you cannot fight the addiction for your loved one
  • Setting boundaries and sticking to them
  • Encouraging your loved one to seek drug rehab
  • Setting a positive example of healthy living
  • Being supportive, but not enabling
  • Being optimistic and hopeful

What If An Addict Doesn’t Want Help or Recovery?

Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s up to the person with an addiction to seek help. If an addict doesn’t want help in finding the road to recovery, it’s not up to anyone else to force help upon them. In fact, pushing someone towards something they don’t want to do will only increase the likelihood of their negative or dangerous behavior. The only way an addict will receive help is if they truly open up to drug rehabilitation on their own. Keep in mind this may take time and moral support. 


If an addict doesn’t want help, don’t force them into accepting it. Instead, consider their perspective by asking questions and actively listening without expressing judgment. Consider their reasons for drug use and try to remain empathetic. Ask them what they think are the downsides of their drug use and reassure them that you want to offer a helping hand. Only when they’re ready will they accept help and seek treatment from a drug treatment rehab facility. 

Start Your Recovery at TruPath

If you have a loved one that struggles with addiction and is ready to seek help, TruPath Recovery is here. At TruPath, patients have the option between inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment to ensure each individual gets what they need out of the program. No matter which type of treatment you choose, patients will go through drug detox, receive the highest quality therapeutic services–such as individual therapy, family therapy, trauma-informed therapy, group therapy, and more– and participate in holistic interventions at TruPath Recovery. Here, helping people achieve sober living is a top priority. 


There’s a reason patients choose to complete rehab services at TruPath Recovery treatment centers. It’s because, at TruPath, you’ll receive comprehensive care, including intervention support, medical detox programs, residential treatment, partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient treatment, day treatment programs, aftercare, and then some. Through medically sanctioned therapies and holistic treatment, TruPath clients are sure to achieve and maintain a sober living. 


There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, studies show that supportive and compassionate environments can help people who experience addiction find the road to recovery. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, consider seeking help from a trusted rehab facility, like TruPath Recovery. 

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