Tough Love


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It is a great saying, “If we concentrate on restoring people’s lives, most of the public health and crime issues will take care of themselves.”

tl1Drug addiction treatment starts from the patient’s family where a drug dependent person is forced to deal with his problem by stop enabling. A person who abuses drugs is transformed into an out-of-control, harsh, and hostile person. Many parents/family members of drug addicts blame themselves and think that that there was some fault in upbringing their child that he got into such a problem. The immediate decisions of desperate parents who can no longer find a way rely on psychological counselor or experts. These ‘experts’ advise them to opt for rehabilitation programs and many of these programs are commonly based on a philosophy of “tough love.” This phrase was coined by Bill Milliken when he wrote the book Tough Love in 1968. It is basically ‘an expression used when someone treats another person harshly or sternly with the intent to help them in the long run.’ It is often adopted in the context of feelings of anger, frustration, confusion and desperation. However there must be some actual love or feeling of affection behind the harsh or stern treatment. It is a term used to describe dysfunctional behaviors by parents that are intended to help the addicted son or daughter, but instead cause harm. It is called ‘Tough Love’ because we make the changes to stop enabling because of our love for the user and because it is extremely difficult to make these changes. Tough Love programs seem to offer a safe respite to addicts from the streets, promising their caretakers to reform them through therapy in an environment where they cannot escape the need to change their behavior. The question arises whether tough love is the right approach itself? The trouble with tough love is toughness that does not begin to address the real problem. Many addicts have long histories of trauma and abuse. However, love often works: most people eventually grow out of bad behavior. Second, the experience of being ‘emotionally tackled’ can produce compliance that looks like real change, at least initially. Tough love may tend to go wrong. Getting tough treatments may make the problem worse even. Hence the strict institutional settings may spoil the individuals. According to psychiatrists, these addicts need to gain responsibility, harness better relationships and learn to think critically, judge reasonably and deal with environment effectively. But tough programs and controlled environment effects growth. Why is tough love still so prevalent? Unfortunately, in the world of behavioral programs, there are no specific educational or professional requirements. Anyone can claim to be an expert. The therapist must possess a professional attitude towards the patient. Tough love is not effective and delays recovery for people living with addiction to heroin. Tough love behaviors are more harmful than the behaviors they replaced. A tough love behavior fails to address real barriers to recovery and then blames the addict for not changing. Many times tough love doesn’t work.

It is vital that family members and close friends do not:

  • Cover up for the family member’s absence from work or missing important social engagements
  • Excuse them for their drinking or using drugs.
  • Threaten them.
  • Avoid talking about the issue.

It is important to remember that we are dealing with an illness that kills. Emotional pain now is better than the pain of grief that may come later. It may also be necessary to seek professional help. A structured intervention is a collaboration of people and resources and is facilitated by a qualified Interventionist. It requires time and commitment.

Basics of Tough Love

Principles of Tough Love

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