I used to think that confrontation and tough love worked with addicted individuals. That was before I was a substance abuse counselor. That was also before one of my family members became addicted to pain killers after a serious motor vehicle accident and before the need for pain medication became so strong that he was purchasing it off the street from total strangers. During that time he did a great job of hiding his addiction from his family. He was in his early twenties, going to college , working and living on his own. Doing well everyone thought. He battled this on his own for about 6 months before finally going to a loved one and saying he needed help. He was out of money, about to drop out of school and lose his apartment and job (this is what some call rock bottom ). Here was a handsome, strong, healthy young man, looking like a skeleton, haggard, gaunt and gray looking.

He chose to do MAT or medication assisted treatment. This is where you see a counselor at least twice a month. You also receive medication through a medical provider in order not to crave the pain medication and not to go through constant withdrawals. He met a Christian counselor who worked at the clinic he went to that guided him through the entire process. He stayed on MAT for about 2 years. He continued to see his therapist after he was off of the medication for several years. He also attended NA and Celebrate Recovery and still does on a maintenance basis. He also found support through his church .

Before going through this with a family member we were judgmental, blaming, critical and disapproving of others that struggled with addiction and drug use. Its easy if you have never been affected by the disease of addiction and drug dependency.

As difficult as this was to go through, it made us better family members. I left my nursing career and pursued a degree in drug abuse counseling. That has been over 10 years ago. My husband was able to see how support and unconditional love helped not hurt. Our family member is doing well. He was able to stop the medication assisted therapy after about 2 years. He continued individual therapy and NA (narcotics anonymous) for several years after that and continues to attend Celebrate Recovery weekly and finds much acceptance and support through his church family .

So this is what I know as a counselor and a caring family member and why I don’t believe in tough love:

  • it ostracizes the person and is meant to punish in order to enforce something on them
  • it cuts the person off from their main source of emotional support (a family member or non addicted friend or loved one)
  • it gives the addicted person another reason to use (as if they needed one)
  • people recover better when they feel valued and loved
  • rock bottom doesn’t make people want to stop using in fact it’s the opposite
  • tough love sends the message that this is their problem and I’m not obligated or going to get involved
  • many use tough love as a way not to enable their loved ones

So what to do :

  • Do set some healthy boundaries (this protects you so you can help your loved one) don’t give them money, but help them in other ways, housing, food, safety, medical help)
  • Communicate with your loved one in a non judgmental way (its not easy)
  • Educate yourself (read about addiction, read about self help recovery groups such as AA and NA and
  • Celebrate Recovery) learn about Naloxone and Narcan and how to administer it

If your loved one is struggling with drug dependence or addiction call us at Agape Counseling in Morehead City and Wilmington NC at 910-251-7789.  We can help you navigate this difficult journey and work with you on new coping skills and ways to deal with your addiction. If there is a medical emergency you need to call 911 and also your local mobile crisis line (most counties have this free service )