Addiction is a complex, chronic condition that is exceptionally hard to treat. Over the past century, a number of interventions and treatment methods have been developed in an attempt to help addicts overcome dependency on drugs and alcohol – one of the most well known, and controversial ones is the ‘tough love’ approach.
‘Tough love’ advocates that friends, family members, and addictions therapists allow the alcoholic or addict to hit ‘rock bottom’ to force the addict to accept help. That means taking drastic, hardline measures designed to stop all enabling behaviors – this could mean cutting the addict off financially, refusing to take their phone calls, or only agreeing to have contact with the addict once they got sober.
Unfortunately, this ‘tough love’ approach to helping addicts is at best risky, and at it’s worst, can have deadly consequences. After all, would you throw your child out in the streets just because they refused to get help for their diabetes or cancer, in hopes they would come to their senses? That’s exactly what ‘tough love’ advocates push for, however, this harsh, all-or-nothing technique can have deadly consequences.
Before the opioid crisis drug overdoses were a relatively rare occurrence, which meant that addictions counselors and loved ones of addicts could take a hardline stance in dealing with addicts – after all, despite the fact that addictions were dangerous, most addicts would actually ‘hit bottom’ rather than suffer from a deadly overdose.
Today’s addiction climate is dramatically different – opioid addicts are dying at alarming rates, and addiction to substances like Fentanyl, heroin, OxyContin, and morphine happens fast. Increasingly, addictions experts, doctors, family members, and addicts themselves are recognizing that the ‘tough love’ approach simply doesn’t work for addicts who are using highly toxic substances.
Why? Because for opioid users, hitting ‘rock bottom’ means they’ve experienced a deadly overdose.
Stories of parents, counselors, and recovering addicts abandoning the ‘tough love’ approach towards helping active addicts in favor of a compassionate, supportive stance are emerging – along with reports that this ‘new approach’ is actually working.
Increasingly, experts and addicts alike are returning to the fundamentals of the disease model of addiction – they’re recognizing that people who are dependent upon substances are ill, and like anyone with an illness, addicts deserve respect, understanding, and a non-judgmental approach.
This means that the addicts are now being viewed as people who have serious, life-threatening conditions that need help – not judgment and shaming. The new approach to addicts involves a combination of behavioral therapy, science, medical treatment, and an understanding of the fact that addicts are suffering from a recognizable, valid disease – much like someone who have diabetes, cancer, or some other life-threatening condition.
By shifting away from the ‘tough love’ approach, family members, friends, and therapists who work with addicts are focusing on a gentler, more empathetic approach to addiction. This takes the shame and judgment away, encouraging the addict to get the help they need.
Of course, that’s not to say that friends, family members, and recovering addicts should enable harmful behaviors of active addicts, but when people who are actively using drugs and alcohol are treated with compassion, caring, and support, the outcomes are better for everyone involved.