What’s the Point of “Tough Love”?

women angry at man

Trying to get help for someone struggling with addiction can be challenging and quite frankly a headache sometimes. If you have ever reached out for advice on how to deal with someone you know who is addicted, you may have heard of using “tough love.” What exactly does that mean though?

To put it simply, this means laying down the law and doing things that may be difficult to do when dealing with an addict and especially with someone you love. For example, letting the person know they cannot continue to live with the family if they are not going to get help or cutting them off financially. This serves two purposes: one, it pushes on the person struggling with substance abuse to do something about their problems and seek help and two, it also safeguards the family.

Enabling can do serious damage to both the family and the addict. I have met countless families over the years who kept feeding their loved one’s habits until they themselves are under financial stress. Likewise, I have met families who must live with the terrible fact that their enabling contributed to their loved one overdosing and passing away.

There is a limit to tough love, however. If you are going to confront your loved one about going to treatment, here are some things to keep in mind:

Start talking to them from a place of love and tell them about how you are worried about them and that you just want to see them get help and get back to their old self. If they agree to go, move on getting them help straight away as that is enough and there is no reason to go into using “tough love.” However, if this doesn’t go anywhere and they are still refusing, this is when tough love can be useful.

Tell them if they are not going to go get help, this is what is going to happen… Go over the ultimatums you are fully prepared to follow through on. The biggest three I have seen be effective are cutting financial support, kicking them out of the house, and family and loved ones cutting ties with the individual unless they get help. Here is the VITAL part of doing this. The second (and I do mean the very second) they agree to go to treatment, two things need to happen; you stop applying tough love and get them immediately into treatment.

Tell them you will help them get into treatment and how you love them and how you are glad they are making the right choice. Then get them into an addiction treatment facility immediately. Plan ahead and have one already picked out. Wasting time once they have agreed to go is your biggest enemy at that point. Don’t waste time by days of research in finding a facility. Have the facility already picked out. Also, don’t add time until they get into treatment. Many times, I have seen families say things like, “oh we want to spend the weekend with them and then they will go.” During the weekend, the addict can (and most often will) go back to being unwilling to get help or manipulates the parents into them not needing treatment. Then in a month or even a few days later you’re back in the same place. The quality time you will want to spend with them is better left for once they have completed treatment and are sober.

It does not happen often, but we have had the sad experience, more than once, of an addict agreeing to go to rehab and the family decided to send them “after the holiday weekend” so they could enjoy the time together. During that holiday weekend, the young man overdosed and died and on the day they were to bring him to treatment, they were burying him. Again, this does not happen often and since no family plans on their loved one overdosing, it is better to take this possibility off the table.

Another side note is that if they refuse the help, even if you don’t want to follow through with the stipulations, you must follow through. Those stipulations are there for everyone’s good. I have seen it occur countless times where families follow through and after a week the addict changes their mind and wants help.

If there are any added tips you have had success with or found helpful, please message us and leave comments.



Aaron has been writing drug education articles and documenting the success of the Narconon program for over two years.