Being Cruel to be Kind with Addicts

Loving other people usually means showing affection and being nice to them, but this is not always the case. Sometimes loving somebody can mean treating them in a harsh or stern manner – this is often referred to as tough love. When dealing with those individuals who have become addicted to alcohol or drugs it may be necessary to act in a way that might be perceived as a bit cruel – but people may feel the need to this out of a desire to be kind.

Tough Love Defined

Tough love can be defined as love or affection that is expressed in a stern or unsentimental manner. The usual motivation for acting in such away is to promote good behaviour. For example, if a parent speaks in angry tones to their child they are likely doing so to encourage this young person to follow the rules. With tough love the individual is treating the other person harshly out of a desire to help that person – they are not acting that way out of malice or knee-jerk anger.

Tough Love and Addiction

Sometimes family members and friends may need to employ tough love when dealing with an addict. It can be heartbreaking to watch this person destroy their life, but loved ones may feel helpless to stop the deterioration. 

They will likely have tried being reasonable, but the addict is often in complete denial about their problem. In fact helping them may seem to be making the situation worse. There often comes a stage when family members realize that being nice just isn’t working. In fact being nice can be part of the problem because it could be enabling the addict. This is because such those who have become dependent on alcohol or drugs quickly learn how to manipulate other people in order to get their way. They can use the willingness of other people to help against them. This is why loved ones come to the conclusion that the only option left open to them is tough love.

Enabling an Addict

Enabling an addict occurs when family and friends protect this individual from the consequences of their actions. Such protection can be detrimental for a number of reasons including:

  • Most addicts will become willing to escape their addiction once they have hit their personal rock bottom. If loved ones protect the individual from the negative consequences of their actions then this is likely to delay the arrival at the point where they are ready to quit.
  • Enabling an addict means that other people suffer the consequences of the addict’s behaviour while they remain untouched by these consequences.
  • Some individuals become so wrapped up in sorting out the mess of the addict’s life that they become co-dependent. This means that their own identity becomes lost as they are so focused on the behaviour of this other individual – it is like they become addicted to the chaos.
  • The addict will often have no scruples about manipulating those individuals who are trying to help them. This can be summed up in the saying that, if you give them an inch they will take a mile.
  • By enabling the addiction it is almost like giving consent to the behaviour – or at least it will appear that way to the addict. Those who fall into substance abuse get completely caught up in denial and delusion, and anyone who enables them may be just reinforcing this departure from reality.

Dangers of Co-dependency in Addiction

Addicts tend to attract certain type of individuals into their life – spouses and partners that could be described as co-dependent. Those who develop co-dependency tend to come from dysfunctional families, and they believe that it is their job to fix the problems of other people. The co-dependent person tends to suffer from low self esteem, and they may believe that they deserve to be treated badly. Such individuals are more likely to fall into a relationship with an addict because they believe that this is the type of relationship they deserve.

  • The dangers of co-dependency include:
  • They will enable the bad behaviour of the addict. They will devote their life to cleaning up the mess created by this other individual.
  • They will cover up for the addict.
  • This individual may be willing to put up with a great deal of mental and physical abuse. They may believe that they deserve this type of treatment.
  • If their partner gives up the addiction the co-dependent person can struggle to cope. This is because their identity depends on looking after this other person.

Using Tough Love When Dealing with Addicts

  • Employing tough love with an addict involves:
  • No longer allowing the addict to manipulate those who love them.
  • It may involve giving the substance abuser an ultimatum – for example, either they get help or they stay away.
  • It means making decisions and sticking to them no matter how much the addict pleads or cajoles.
  • In some cases it can mean breaking off all contact with the addict.
  • Refusing to enable the addict in any way. This means ensuring that they are not spared the consequences of their actions.
  • It can often mean cutting the purse strings – this means no longer giving or lending any financial assistance.

Sometimes an intervention can be used to attempt to coerce the individual into getting help for their addiction. This usually involves family and friends getting together to confront the addict – the power of numbers can make a difference.

Tough Love and Addiction