Giving Tough Love to an Addict

Giving Tough Love to an Addict

It’s hard to give an addict tough love, especially if that addict is a family member, spouse, or close friend of yours. It is understandably more tempting to be an enabler in order to maintain the status quo and good relations between you and the person concerned. However, this is actually akin to you killing him with kindness in the wrong way. The bitter truth is that in order to save someone, you often have to do something he hates if you know that it’s the best course of action for him. Then again, this is a sensitive matter and you shouldn’t be too tough on him. This is because if you push too hard, he might simply cut off all ties with you.

The struggle is real when it comes to families trying to handle a family member, spouse, or relative that’s an addict. At least with friends they have the choice to drop him. It’s much more painful to deal with an addict who’s your husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister, parent, uncle, aunt, cousin, grandparent, or any other person you consider family. But despite how hard it might be, you should make sure to avoid enabling him as the addiction can ruin not just his home life, but also his career, finances, and health.

Tough Love and Addiction 101

It’s heartbreaking to watch your child or parent to destroy his life no matter how many times you save them by keeping them fed, giving them shelter, and treating them like children. You might even feel helpless to stop this person’s deterioration when push comes to shove. You might have attempted to be reasonable to your loved one, but like many other addicts, he might end up in complete denial that he’s addicted in the first place. Every attempt you make at saving your addicted family member might even seem like you’re making the situation worse because he’s not getting the right kind of help for the root cause of his problem, which is his addiction itself.

There comes a time when your family needs to realize that being nice isn’t working and making things work. Being nice is part of the problem because it makes the addict believe he’s not really an addict or else he’d be in worse dire straits than he presently is. Addicts to drugs and alcohol quickly learn how to manipulate those around them in order to perpetuate their cravings. If an addict trusts his family enough to go into rehab even though he, for example, is a high-functioning addict and doesn’t go through the consequences of being an addict then a simple intervention and talk should be enough to deal with him.

Ditto with the self-aware addict who’s able to see and realize that he’s hurting his family with his addiction either by his own observation or through an intervention where they communicate how much he’s hurting him. However, if an addict is so addicted that he doesn’t realize what he’s doing, then tough love might be called for. By tough love, we mean not killing him with kindness or enabling his addiction. The primary thing to remember about tough love is that you should avoid being an enabler, thinking that you’re saving your loved one from disaster when you’re instead pushing him towards it by allowing him to deny that there’s a problem in the first place.

Being Cruel to be Kind with Addicts


Addicts are seemingly mind-controlled by addiction to use the willingness of other people to help to the benefit of their addiction. They can’t help themselves though because addiction is their sickness. It’s like how someone with the flu can’t help but feel weak and cough a lot. It’s at this point that loved ones conclude that the only option left for them to save their addicted son, daughter, mother, father, grandpa, grandma, uncle, aunt, or cousin is tough love and being cruel to be kind. You need to be cruel to be kind with addicts to save them because you can literally kill them with kindness.

You shouldn’t outright abandon them of course or argue with them and blame them for their addiction rather that recognizing that they should be treated like patients who have a sickness and undisciplined children. Rather, you should avoid enabling them and give them an ultimatum or boundaries to help them overcome their addiction before it comes to the point that they need a 12-step outpatient treatment program like Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous or inpatient treatment in overseas centers like Lanna Rehab in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Show your love to your addicted loved one by being willing to be cruel to him.

Love is usually associated with doing nice things and showing affection to your loved ones. However, when it comes to addiction, there comes a time (ideally sooner rather than later) when you need to prioritize keeping your loved one’s health and long-term recovery rather than simply allowing him to happily keep his addiction. You shouldn’t serve as his safety net because this only encourages his addiction to remain and even worsen. As any parent should understand, truly loving someone requires telling the truth as it is. This tough love helps people who are addicted to get their wake up call prior to hitting rock bottom. Otherwise, they might actually hit rock bottom before they realize what’s wrong and start their road to recovery.

How Families Use Tough Love with Addicts

A family should resist the temptation to be kind in order to truly be kind and helpful to the black sheep of the family who’s currently undergoing a difficult situation and condition. He’s sick and he needs immediate help in the form of rehab and therapy. Tough love is needed. But what is tough love? It can be defined as affection or love that’s expressed in an unsentimental or stern way. Tough love is needed when kindness isn’t working. It’s the carrot or the stick with both beasts of burden and the most highly evolved beast on planet earth, which are humans.

Tough love is called for when kindness will only make things worse and you know that being stern or cold will help your loved one for the better, especially when it comes to staging interventions or waking him up from his denial. Showing tough love to friends and family members suffering from drug addiction might mean or not mean the following things:

  • The Government Version of Tough Love: In most nations, tough love for alcoholics and drug addicts usually means arrests, incarceration, public humiliation, beatings, hard labor, and so forth, up until the (threat of) death penalty. As for families with addicted family members, these addicts should be shown tough love in a multitude of methods in order to wake them up and compel them to seek help from professional rehab specialists.
  • The Family Version of Tough Love: For instance, a parent scolds his child when they’re doing something naughty because being kind instead of stern to them at this point will only encourage them to keep doing those naughty things. Sternness can encourage people to follow the rules even though excessive sternness presents a whole other kettle of fish in terms of problems.
  • Kicking Addicts Out of Their Homes: This is one of the cruelest things you’ll have to impart on your loved one in order to help him straighten out his life. It’s one of the most common reactions you’ll have once you realize that your loved one is an addict. It might be taking things too far though. It’s better to help him seek treatment or agree to go into rehab that to kick him out.
  • The Cold Shoulder Treatment: Being kind to an addict is cruel in a certain point of view. However, you shouldn’t go overboard and behave unsympathetically towards them to the point of cutting ties altogether. You shouldn’t enable them and act like nothing’s wrong either. Instead, you should set boundaries and implore him to seek rehab in a stern manner because you love him and you want what’s best for him.
  • Cutting Ties with Addicts and Threatening Them: Some families mistake tough love with outright malice and cruelty. They might excommunicate their drug addict family member altogether without lifting a finger to help them. They might even threaten them to stop using drugs instead of sending them to rehab to get professional help. These are not the way. This sort of tough love is as harmful as being an enabler.

According to studies, addictions often come with the baggage of self-stigmatization or shame due to negative views on addicts. When deciding to offer tough love on your family members or circle of friends who are addicts, keep in mind that going overboard can make or break them. They’re sick people who need treatment. You shouldn’t cast them out like they’re lepers in ancient times. You should give them an ultimatum to take rehab instead.

It’s Hard for the Addict’s Family to Admit The Truth

male alcoholic drinking brandy at home

Some might think it’s hard for addicts to admit the truth that they’re addicted and his close friends or family should stage an intervention in order to keep him from living in denial. However, usually, it’s well-meaning family members that are in denial or refuse to admit that their addicted loved one is actually addicted. This leads them to enable his addiction, giving him money for his alcohol or drugs or offering him a place to stay after he has lost his job.

In turn, the addict will have a harder time admitting that he’s hurting people or that he needs help. Both should be able to face the truth and music in regards to the addict’s condition. The family especially should stop being in denial because they’re the ones expected to stage an intervention with their loved one who has a problem.

  • Often The Major Enabler: Alas, instead of intervening with an addicted loved one, the well-meaning family is usually the major enabler for his vices. Why? It’s because they don’t like conflict with him and he seems happy the way he is. They’re unaware or unwilling to admit that their kindness is killing him. Literally. The family tends to cook, clean, do laundry, offer money, and overall keep the addict safe, clean, and healthy, so the addict is unable to fully feel the consequences of their actions and addiction.
  • Tough Love Defined: The addict sees the family helping and enabling him as tolerance or acceptance of his drug addiction, such that he can now deny it’s an addiction or serious problem in the first place. Enabling seems like the kinder thing to do for an addict whose life is unraveling. The first instinct of a parent or sibling when it comes to a loved one who’s addicted is to save him. However, not catching him when he falls is instead what he needs in order to kick his vice or bad habit of smoking, drinking, or taking drugs. That’s what tough love is all about.
  • The Motivation to Stop or Go to Rehab: If an addict’s actions don’t come with consequences then he won’t learn to stop using drugs or apply for rehab. Why should he? For him, life is good: The drugs keep him happy and he might have a family who keeps on babying him with the wrong assumption that they are actually helping him. The motivation for him to stop taking drugs should start with him realizing that there’s a problem in the first place and caring enough to do something about it.
  • Consequences Compel Addicts to Act: Usually, in order for an addict to take the first step to recovery, he should drop straight to rock bottom. It makes sense. Humans are usually reactive instead of proactive with their life more often than not, particularly when it comes to troubles. They won’t act upon anything until they’ve faced the negative results of their addiction. As long as their family is enabling them, we can’t expect them to change their ways. Their safety net forces them further into worsening their addiction until it’s too late for rehab.
  • Tough Love Isn’t in the Form of Arguments: Staging your intervention will be painful to the addict and in his eyes it’s like a reverse celebration or inverse surprise party. Instead of people close to him gathering around him to celebrate his milestones or successes, it’s them telling him that he has a problem and he’s at his low point. The intervention is there to drag him out of his denial that his drug addiction is a minor issue. However, shouting, fighting, and screaming at the addict often raises barriers and causes more resistance on behalf of the problematic loved one.
  • The Smarter Ways to Deal with Addiction: You should use tough love in a smart, kind, yet firm way in order to deal with your loved one’s problem. Families need to put in place boundaries for the addict in regards to what’s acceptable and what isn’t. The addict should feel the ramifications of the addict breaking those boundaries and the consequences of his addiction from his family so that he doesn’t have a wrong impression from them in regards to his sickness. They should tell him he’s sick, it’s not his fault, but it needs addressing or else he’ll only get worse and worse.
  • Brace Yourself for Strained Relations: While it’s better that a family doesn’t end up split up by an addict and his vices, sometimes the family members need to take care of themselves and leave the addict to his own devices. As he suffers from being abandoned by you, he can hopefully realize that he’s in need of assistance and rehab in his lonesome. Although it doesn’t look like it, abandonment of an addict is a lot better than the family being together and seeing the addict destroy his life inch by inch until even their help isn’t enough to save him and his condition.
  • What If the Addict Is The Breadwinner? What if the addict is an alcoholic father or a single mother who gets a regular dose of painkillers from an old, torn-up prescription that’s many years old? What if the family has no money and the addict is the breadwinner? It’s tougher for the family to split-up in that regard, with it having no local support. However, there’s also no reason to go on for three decades until he dies from an overdose or complications from addiction then say “We should’ve left him 30 years ago.” Splitting is both for your own good and for his own good.
  • A Heartbreakingly Common Family Problem: Alas, what to do with a family member who’s an addict is a common family problem. You’ve probably heard your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents the need for tough love when dealing with problematic relationships or addiction. Being tough on a loved one is an effect method of intervention for people who are addicts or alcoholics. It’s just one of many ways to approach interventions and addiction, so you should know when to apply tough love on an addicted loved one.
Tough Love in a Nutshell
Drinking problem drunk husband man in a young family concept
There are those who are gifted genetically to resist addiction and it also helps that their environment makes the drugs less available than in order environments, such that they’re protected in both ways. You can learn to become an addict by your surroundings or peers or you might have “talent” when it comes to developing an addiction because you have a predisposition for it. Regardless, biological psychologists are zeroing in on a solution to addiction by paying attention to individuals who heavily use drugs yet aren’t addicts to help out those more vulnerable to the temptation of addiction.

At any rate, tough love is at times required to get addicts to go into rehab, whether they’re genetically predisposed towards addiction or they’ve become addicts through enforcement and environment (usually it’s a mix of both). Tough love involves setting boundaries for addicts in order to modify their behavior. In terms of genetic predisposition, it’s more about avoidance and abstinence since by now you’re aware of how weak your addicted loved one is from mere exposure or usage, so they should avoid using drugs in the first place. Don’t enable him if you truly love him. Let him go and allow him the opportunity to help himself because you can only do so much without him doing something about his addiction himself.

Tough love isn’t knee-jerk anger or malice. It’s all about good intentions and careful consideration of the situation so that you won’t accidentally make things worse with tough love that comes off as contempt.

Lanna Rehab Supports Those Who Give Their Loved Ones Tough Love

The Lanna Rehab Center offers inpatient treatment for addicts undergoing substance dependence through abuse. Lanna offers a more cost-effective alternative to your more expensive local rehab centers because Lanna is located in Chiang Mai, Thailand and provides lower rates in that area. Even though it’s cheaper it’s not more low-grade. It provides the whole holistic shebang when it comes to addiction treatment ranging from detoxification to psychotherapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy and individual therapy).

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Martin Peters

Martin Peters has a BA (Hons) Dip HE Dip RN CSAT III and is the Group Program Director Lanna Healthcare. He is a Registered Nurse and Certified Substance Abuse Therapist working in the mental health field since 1994; Martin has had a wide range of experience in management and supervisory roles within established healthcare systems, and has provided consultancy services to a number of private and public sector organizations in the UK and Asia in terms of management, policy writing, accreditation and recruitment. Martin’s addictions experience has been in developing inpatient services in Thailand since 2009, both clinical and operational. He has been instrumental in expanding and developing a non 12 step inpatient treatment centre and opening a further inpatient centre with a 12 step approach, implementing KIPU Electronic Records, strengthening hospital partnerships, introducing a Scholarship for students under the Masters in Addiction Studies Program at The ASEAN Institute for Health Development and working with an international accreditation body. Martin has also been a speaker at several international conferences on addiction, including ASEAN conferences and has also guest lectured at Mahidol University (Thailand), University of Sarghoda (Pakistan) Institute of Medical Sciences (Pakistan) and has been a representative on the CARF Standards Advisory Committee for 2016.In 2015. Martin became a Co-Founder of Lanna Healthcare, launching Lanna Rehab in March 2016 and opening Jintra in January 2018. In June of 2018, Martin was involved in the merger of Lanna and DARA, becoming Thailand's biggest private licensed operator. Martin is currently a Joint and Asia Health Co Ltd Owner Operator of Lanna Healthcare Co Ltd, which under its umbrella manages Lanna Rehab in Chiang Mai, Jintra Rehab in Chiang Mai and DARA Rehab in Koh Chang - all Thailand MoPH Licensed Addiction Facilities providing world-class treatment in Thailand.

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