Tough Love in Addiction Recovery

By October 5, 2018Food for thought
tough love

In June 2018, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released the World Drug Report 2018. The report stated that opioid drugs are responsible for 76 percent of drug-related deaths. Even young people are not spared from the opioid crisis. With millions of people affected by drugs all over the world, many countries have devised their own antidrug campaigns. Many countries take a hard stance in dealing with the drug problem and criminalize the mere possession and consumption of illicit substances.

Some countries take a decriminalization approach to fight drugs and aim to create a greater welfare state. Some advocates are using these countries as examples. They hope to shift their government’s punitive actions against drug users and hope to help people find treatment. This leads to the issue of whether tough love can encourage addicted individuals to seek alcohol or drug treatment.

How Families Use Tough Love with Addicts

In various governments, tough love for drug and alcohol abusers can mean arrests, hard labor, beatings, public humiliation, incarceration, and even the death penalty. In families, however, family members show tough love in various ways in order to punish relatives for the perceived bad behavior of abusing drugs or alcohol.

Showing a tough love approach to friends and family members who are suffering from substance abuse disorder might mean:

  • Kicking addicts out of their homes. Refusing to provide shelter to family members is one of the most common reactions of relatives once they learn those family members have substance use disorders.

  • Giving them distant treatment. If the people who have substance use disorders remain at home, their relatives and friends might behave unsympathetically toward them.

  • Cutting ties. Relatives and friends might view loved ones who abuse drugs and alcohol as disgraces and stop communicating with them. They might see the people as threats to their security. Instead of offering to help the people, they might avoid them.

  • Threatening them. Some family members threaten people with substance use disorders, thinking that intimidation will help the people end their addictions more easily and quickly.

Studies show that addictions often come with shame or self-stigmatization due to negative perceptions of drug use. But, our attitudes toward alcoholics or drug addicts in our families or circles of friends might make or break the people who are suffering from substance use disorder.

What You Should Understand About Drug Addiction

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is a “chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.” Like other diseases, addiction disrupts the person’s normal and healthy functioning and can be fatal if left untreated.

In a 2017 study, researchers referred to addiction as a “person-level phenomenon” which brings two normative failures, including the failure of self-control and the failure to achieve the standards of a good life to which a person aspires.

People who are addicted to substances often feel ashamed of these failures. This could drive them to heal themselves and restore the normal functioning of their lives. However, coping without any outside intervention is difficult.

Drug use affects the brain’s proper functions. It affects the brain’s reward circuit and floods it with dopamine, a chemical substance which causes pleasurable feelings. People want to replicate these feelings, so drug and alcohol users might consume these substances again and again until the cells in the brain are unable to respond to the reward circuit. By this time, the person forms tolerance and would need to consume larger amounts of drugs or alcohol to feel the same type of pleasure.

Can Tough Love Help a Person Recover from Drug Addiction?

Some people believe that using tough love, or pushing the emotional limits of people with substance use disorder, can help them recover. However, if the perception and attitude that people show to drug addicts are not geared towards helping people find medical help through drug or alcohol rehab, a tough stance on dealing with the drug problem cannot help people recover.

Research funded by the NIDA indicates that prevention programs that involve families, schools, communities, and even the media can be effective in preventing and reducing drug use and addiction. And since drug addicts’ brains might be already affected by drug and alcohol abuse, their behaviors and judgment might clash with the opinions of others. Using purely emotional tactics might not be as effective as guiding people toward treatment.

What Can Family Members Do?

If your family member is suffering from a substance abuse disorder, the first thing to do is to understand the reason behind the addiction. Educate yourself about the possible reasons why your family member might be into drugs and alcohol, and study the effects of such abuse.

A study published in the Journal of Systemic Therapies in 1996 proposed to combine new approaches in dealing with drug addiction, including acceptance and systemic therapy.  This type of approach looks at the bigger picture of why a person uses drugs.

There are factors which increase a person’s risk of addiction, including the users’ home and school environments. If family members expose children to drug and alcohol use early in their lives, it greatly increases the risk that the children will develop drug addictions. The same is true for the people’s peers who might influence them to use alcohol or drugs. If people do not resolve these factors, then the cycle of drug and alcohol exposure can affect other family members.

Family and friends can show people that they do not need to go through their problems alone. Encouragement and patience can help an addicted people to find the medical interventions they need.

If you do not know how to talk to a family member or friend who is addicted to drugs, you might want to find help from counselors at drug rehab facilities. These facilities offer multiple types of addiction treatment to address different clients’ needs. After your loved one enters rehab, he or she will be equipped with knowledge on how to prevent relapses, identify triggers, and develop coping skills.