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Tough Love Intervention Approach

When you’re dealing with an addict in the family, regardless of that person’s age, it is sometimes difficult to know what to do. It’s hard to know when to draw the line, and where to draw it.  Perhaps you’ve pleaded with the person to stop destroying their life.  You may have pointed out repeatedly how their decisions are affecting the rest of the family members.  The situation can be made even more tough if the addict in question has children of their own.  You’ve bargained.  You’ve made threats.  You may have even thrown your hands in the air with every intention of giving up. But you can’t.

You can’t because you love this person and you know you will stop at nothing to help them; even when they can’t seem to help themselves.  Of course, love is not easily defined.  You can’t touch it.  You can’t even explain it when a situation has become so destructive that you find yourself feeling completely helpless.

Tough love is just as difficult as “regular” love.  When tough love is applied correctly and with true, unconditional love at the center of the effort, however, it may prove to be a deciding factor in whether your loved one finally makes the decision to get help by entering a treatment program with serious intention to follow through and find their sobriety.

A Brief History of Tough Love

According to an article published in People Magazine in November of 1981, Phyllis and David York had three daughters, all of whom had fallen in the perils of drug addiction.  In the mid-1970s, one of their daughters was arrested for robbing a cocaine dealer.  The Yorks had had enough. They refused to bail their daughter out of jail, and they refused to visit her.  Several weeks later, their daughter was found innocent of the charges and released, but the Yorks refused to allow her to return home until she agreed to seek help for her addiction.  After four months in a halfway house, the Yorks’ daughter was on her way to recovery, and her parents founded the organization Toughlove.

In many cases, the original concept of tough love has changed over the past decades.  As organizations like the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a department of the National Institutes of Health, have studied addiction, we understand more about how drugs affect the human brain and behavior patterns than ever before.  We now understand that addiction changes the human brain in such a way that the addict cannot, in most cases, simply stop taking the drugs or drinking the alcohol to which they have become addicted.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic disease of the brain. One of the defining characteristics of this brain disease is a compulsion to find and use drugs, no matter how destructive that behavior is.

Today, many psychologists believe that implementing the tactics of tough love should be used as a last resort, for those addicts who are facing death and absolute destruction if their disease is left unchecked. As reported by ABC News, the experts they interviewed suggested a balance in the implementation of tough love as a practice, and that individuals should always seek professional help rather than trying to produce results by themselves.

*You Are Not Alone

Each year since 1975, the Monitoring the Future organization conducts a nationwide survey of American youth.  The study, conducted in a wide range of school settings, including private and public institutions, cover children from the 8th through 12th grades.  In the last study, conducted in 2011, there were some disturbing results; for instance:

  • 49.9 percent of high school seniors reported using an illicit drug during their short lifetime – an increase of 1.7% over the previous survey.
  • 51.8 percent of high school seniors reported using an illicit drug including inhalants (a dangerous practice that has been known to cause instant death) in their lifetime – an increase of 1.8% over the previous year.
  • 1.4 percent of high school seniors and 1.2 percent of 8th graders reported using heroin in their lifetime.
  • 70 percent of high school seniors and 33.1 percent of 8th graders said they had consumed alcohol, with 51 percent and 14.8 percent of students, respectively, reporting they had “been drunk” in their lifetime

When you are considering whether it is time to set hard and fast rules for your children, ask yourself whether it might be time to create authentic and enforceable consequences with the help of an intervention specialist who is trained in the implementation of tough love.

What Does It Mean to Apply Tough Love Intervention for a Family Member?

An intervention is an organized confrontation with your addicted family member.  The goal of the intervention is to place your family member into a safe and effective treatment program immediately following the intervention event, before the addict has time to change his or her mind.

Tough love is a harsh and painful tactic to apply to your family structure, and you should seek the help of a professional interventionist to help you plan and carry out the actual intervention.  When you choose this route, you must also be prepared to honor the consequences you’ve set for certain behaviors.

A few of the tactics used in an extreme tough love situation may include:

  • Removing children from a parent’s custody for the protection of the children
  • Locking adult children out of the home if they break curfew
  • Refusing to pay debts or expenses for a child or other family member who has refused to seek help for an addiction, particularly if they are spending the money they need for those expenses on drugs or alcohol
  • Refusing to provide shelter for a family member who has arrived intoxicated or high

If your family member is unwilling to enroll in the treatment center program you’ve set up for them and the consequence of choosing not to seek help is that you will file suit to gain custody of their children, you should do so.  If you have told your family member that they must leave your home immediately if they choose to live with their addiction rather than seek help, they must leave your home.  These are incredibly hard decisions to make, but if the situation of addiction has progressed to this point, some believe that raising the “bottom” that an addict typically must reach before they will seek help may, in the end, save their life.

*Why Won’t My Family Member Stop Using Drugs?

The human brain is a complex organ that works diligently to control every aspect of the body from the rate of our heart to the emotions we feel – even the number of breaths we take every minute of every day.  The impulses in the brain tell us how we feel and control all of the myriad designs of what makes us individuals. When those impulses are changed, we may no longer have control over the decisions we make.  Drugs change the way the brain works by flooding the brain with a neurotransmitter called dopamine.  Dopamine is highly involved in the pain, pleasure and reward functions of our brain chemistry.  The drugs increase the amount of dopamine, effectively flooding the system.  After consistent use, when the drugs are removed, the brain is no longer capable of producing the dopamine it needs to function properly. This produces a craving for more drugs in order to spur the creation of the dopamine, so we can feel good again.

What Does a Professional Interventionist Have to Offer My Family?

A professional interventionist has been trained in the behaviors of drug-addicted individuals. They know what to expect in the way of resistance and they understand the intricate science behind addiction diseases.  According to the Association of Intervention Specialists, the professional you choose to help your family should be in a position to pick a group of friends and family members who will be most influential on the addict.  He or she will then train the intervention team concerning what to expect during the process, how to handle resistance and argument, and offer support during the intervention event.  When it comes to tough love, a professional interventionist has the experience and know-how to simplify the process and create effective change.

Being tough with your family member may be challenging, but remember the opposite of tough is the process of enabling.  When you continue to offer physical or financial support for your family member, you are, in essence, purchasing their drugs and giving them a place to use them.  Ultimately, should your family member choose to get help and conquer their addiction disease, they will have you to thank for no longer giving them permission to self-destruct.

If you have questions about how to approach your loved one with a tough love intervention, contact us today. We can also help connect you to a treatment program that can help your loved one once they decide to get the help they need.

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