Tough Love and Enabling During Addiction: Why They Don’t Work

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According to the Encarta Dictionary, tough love is defined as a caring but strict attitude adopted toward a friend or loved one with a problem, as distinct from an attitude of indulgence.

The term enabling is defined as the ability to provide somebody with the resources, authority, or opportunity to do something.

People often display these two common behaviors when trying to help an addicted loved one. Here is a look at why tough love and enabling don’t always help when you’re dealing with someone who has a drug or alcohol addiction.

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Showing Tough Love

Tough love is sometimes encouraged in family members as a cure for enabling an addict. The problem with tough love is that it often backfires. People can find themselves torn between the act of enabling an addict or using tough love. Without knowing it, they can create a vicious circle of the two extremes and increase the likelihood of a relapse.

Some of the reasons that tough love is not effective are:

  • Tough love is often used simply out of anger, confusion, or desperation
  • Tough love behaviors are often poorly enforced by family members
  • Tough love behaviors can be mistakenly used instead of setting healthy boundaries
  • Tough love can deprive an addict of their source of support
  • Tough love behaviors do not allow an addict to address the root problem

Enabling an Addict

Many family members enable an addict by making them the focal point of their sympathy. In essence, they simply feel sorry for the addict. The problem is that sympathy and enabling are never beneficial to someone who suffers from the disease of addiction. The constant pity showered on an addict does nothing but make them weaker when it has all been said and done.

Family members can also enable an addict by constantly jumping in to solve the addict’s problems. The family can become overly involved with the drama and constant state of crisis that is so often found in the life of an addict.

Unfortunately, it is common for some parents to go against the instructions of addiction treatment professionals and give in to their children who are using manipulation to get their way.

Some of the problems with enabling an addict’s behaviors are:

  • Enabling can create a sense of low self-esteem
  • People can become very angry and resentful
  • Addicts may become martyrs who are constantly seeking sympathy
  • Family members can develop traits of the very problems they resent

A Healthy Future

It is imperative for the family and friends of an addict to understand that tough love and enabling behaviors are not needed to coax their loved one into addiction treatment. On the other hand, tough love and enabling are not enough to force a family member into seeking help to treat an addiction.

It is always a better idea to avoid the destructive behaviors associated with tough love or enabling, and instead, embrace the type of behaviors that are based on healthy boundaries and sensible support for their loved one suffering from an addiction.

Contributed by Nikki Seay

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3 thoughts on “Tough Love and Enabling During Addiction: Why They Don’t Work

    1. Elizabeth

      As a parent that is walking journey with my DTR and her addiction I can definitely say if I did not change my ways she wouldn’t have had a chance. Addiction is tricky. It will rob you of everything in life. It will win. Unless we change. As we change the addiction can’t feed off of your enabling behavior because you simply won’t allow it to. As time goes by you actually begin to let your kid grow. Because all along you inadvertently you took away that growth from them by solving every single problem. It takes real hard work and it will challenge you. I know that my DTR is better today because I stopped talking and having a relationship with the disease

  1. Ollie Pollard

    I have a daughter that is staying with me that is on drugs. She keeps our household in a disruptive manner all the time. I can’t handle it any more. What can I do?

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