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Does Tough Love Work for Treating Addiction?

does tough love work for treating addiction

Tough love is a common expression used to describe firm or cold behavior approaches to managing someone’s actions.

When treating addiction or helping someone in recovery stay sober, our Massachusetts drug treatment center knows that the tough love approach doesn’t always work. Or does it? Does tough love work for treating addiction? Keep reading to learn what we think.


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, it’s 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 hasn’t 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.

Here at Banyan Treatment Centers Massachusetts, we understand how difficult it can be to help someone with an addiction. On the one hand, you may be afraid of enabling or spoiling them to the point where you indirectly encourage their drug use. But on the other hand, you may be worried about pushing them to the point where they don’t want your help at all. The truth is, addiction affects both the individual and their loved ones. Addicts in recovery have the highest chance of long-term sobriety when everyone is on board. Being the spouse, parent, or family member of an addict is difficult. We offer a family program that provides loved ones with therapy and counseling that promotes healing. Only when you make amends with your loved ones can you truly be there for them.


Preventing Enabling with Tough Love

Parents of addicted loved ones are sometimes encouraged to use tough love to prevent enabling their children. There’s 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 addict’s parents may put their own needs aside to constantly take care of them. However, there’s 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 person’s 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.


Does Tough Love Really Work for Helping Addicts?

The tough-love approach can backfire if misused and can be dangerous in handling teens or adults who engage in substance abuse. Some treatment centers encourage using tough love to break down the individual’s will and get them to comply with treatment, but this does more harm than good. You can’t force a person to go to rehab. Even if they complete treatment, those who do so without the genuine desire to stay sober will relapse.

So, does tough love work for treating addiction? It can if it’s done with the input or guidance of a physician or therapist. Parents of addicts should seek advice from these trained addiction treatment professionals to learn the healthiest ways to utilize the tough love approach without breaking down their loved one’s dignity or discouraging them from seeking support.


If your loved one is battling addiction and you don’t know what to do, we can help. Call Banyan Massachusetts now at 888-280-4763 for more information about our outpatient drug treatment programs in Boston.


Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.