Tough Love: Does It Work?

Parents and loved ones at the end of their rope concerning a teen or young adult’s drug and alcohol abuse may be searching for new ways to handle the situation. The “tough love” approach is often one of the considered choices, but many parents have strong opinions about the tactic based on what they’ve heard rather than a true understanding of what it entails.

What is tough love? Is it helpful or damaging? Most importantly, is it something that will work for your family member who is fighting a drug and alcohol dependence?

Tough Love

Tough love is defined as a style of parenting that focuses on limiting behaviors that are inappropriate or dangerous. Drug and alcohol abuse and any addiction falls into the category of behavior that some parents believe is best dealt with through “tough love” principles. These principles are based on taking a hard line, zero-tolerance attitude to the behavior by developing strong limits that come with serious consequences.

What Tough Love Is Not

Because tough love means following through on rules and implementing consequences for behaviors that cross boundaries, many view it as heartless or cruel. But tough love is neither of those things. It is also not:

  • Disrespectful
  • Angry
  • Vengeful
  • Spiteful
  • Malicious
  • Aggressive
  • Unfounded

What Tough Love Is

Tough love, in action, is you making your expectations very clear to your teen or family member. For example, “We expect that you will not drink or use drugs of any kind while you live in our home.” This is a clear boundary and limit.

Follow that up by stating clearly what the consequences will be if your loved one chooses to cross that boundary. For example, “If you drink or use drugs, you will no longer live here. You will go stay with your aunt/have two weeks to find another place to live/must move out by the end of the month. We love you and respect the fact that you want to make your own choices for your life, but we ask that you respect our ability to choose the kind of environment we would like for our home. If that doesn’t work for you, we want you to know that we will never stop loving you but that you will not be able to live here anymore.”

Tough Love Is an Intervention

One way to lovingly help your family member understand that his or her behavior is self-destructive and damaging to the family is to stage an intervention. Past boundaries may have been crossed in regard to drug and alcohol addiction, and an intervention is the final one: “We love you and want the best for you, but if you choose not to accept treatment, you will need to move out.”

Would you like to learn more? Contact us at the phone number listed above to find out how we can help you stage an intervention for your loved one.