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Is tough love the best way to treat addiction

The ‘tough love’ mentality

The old thought and prevailing opinion of addiction treatment was that tough love was necessary to get an addict to admit to having a problem and then to beat a way to sobriety. By letting an addict hit rock bottom, or pushing them into rock bottom, the idea is and was, that they will finally be able to emerge from denial and ask for help.

‘Tough love’ literally means to treat someone harshly with the intent of helping. ‘Tough love’ methods of treating addiction will use humiliation tactics, punishments and not let any mistake slide. Some ‘tough love’ treatment centers will strip the addict and alcoholic of everything they have, ask them to perform humiliating tasks or activities in groups, and put them on severe restrictions.

In recent decades, new ideas about how to best help addicts and alcoholics have been developed by therapists, counselors and other addiction specialists. These take a turn away from the idea of tough love as the best way to treat addiction and instead consider the idea of compassionate care and even harm reduction.

Many people believe that tough love is the best way to treat addiction but the evidence doesn’t support this. Researchers have found that tough love methods can create traumatic experiences that actually increase the chances of relapse.

Opinion on ‘tough love’ being the best way to treat addiction

In Maya Szalavitz’s article ‘The Trouble With Tough Love’, in the Washington Post, she really puts it into perspective what is wrong with the ‘tough love’ approach to beating addiction and she is a recovered addict herself.

“…the very notion of making kids who are already suffering go through more suffering is psychologically backwards. And there is little data to support these institutions’ claims of success.”

“As a former addict, who began using cocaine and heroin in late adolescence, I have never understood the logic of tough love. I took drugs compulsively because I hated myself, because I felt as if no one — not even my family — would love me if they really knew me. Drugs allowed me to blot out that depressive self-focus and socialize as though I thought I was okay. How could being “confronted” about my bad behavior help me with that? Why would being humiliated, once I’d given up the only thing that allowed me to feel safe emotionally, make me better? My problem wasn’t that I needed to be cut down to size; it was that I felt I didn’t measure up.”

Merely looking at the research about whether or not tough love is the best way to treat addiction there are no real answers on whether it works. What I do know though is that some things work for some people and not for others. Some addicts and alcoholics may benefit from the ‘tough love’ approach to treating addiction but in the overall scope of things I feel as taking a more kind and compassionate approach is the best way to treat addiction. Addicts and alcoholics need to be seen as whole people that have good in them and not just seen for what they have done in their past that was so “wrong”. When it comes down to it; whatever can get an addict or alcoholic sober is a good thing and if the ‘tough love’ approach works for some people then, great! If not, then luckily today there are other options to treat addiction and if those work, great!

So is ‘tough love’ the best way to treat addiction? It isn’t the best way to treat addiction, it is just a different way to try and help.  There really in all reality is no “best way” for treating addiction, just ways that work or don’t work for each individual.

If you or someone you love is in need of drug addiction treatment, please give us a call at 800-951-6135.


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