Although no one really has a true definition of tough love, presumably this is when families cut off their loved one so the addicted loved one experiences consequences and sees the error of their ways and turns things around.

Living with someone who is addicted or dependent on drugs and/or alcohol is helplessly frustrating. You get to a place where you have had enough. The lying and manipulation are bad enough. Your loved one swears they are not using but you know the signs. They are not going to rehab as they said, money is missing, rules are broken and your trust along with it.

The intent by families is not usually to be cruel. The desire to do tough love can be fueled by exhaustion, by the addicted loved one’s actions such as stealing. It can also be that family and friends have run out of the emotional bandwidth to manage it and the money it requires.

You give, and you love until you are spent, and then one day you have had enough and you do a 180. You feel unappreciated and angry. Nothing has worked or gotten better.

And here’s where it gets tricky

While some might define “tough love” as the moment you “kick them out” and let them learn from consequences, I believe it is actually the moment most people withdraw love. (By the way, remove “kick them out” from your vocabulary.) You don’t have to live with them but asking them to leave with love versus “kicking them out” with anger, are not the same thing.

The difference between setting boundaries and “tough love” is the withdrawal of love which can include cutting off communication. Barring certain circumstances, this won’t help you reach your goal of getting your loved one into recovery.

Basically, tough love, or what everyone kind of thinks is the definition of it, is weaponizing your love. And our love shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip to push someone into recovery. Because it won’t work.

What has been their coping mechanism when things get rough?

Drugs and alcohol right? So the withdrawal of love is the ultimate pain and it is likely to drive them toward using more than it will incentivize them to go into recovery. I trust that is not your goal.

It’s so difficult to navigate between support, love, and so-called, enabling. The line is thin, hard to define, and always shifting. And when you are emotionally spent it’s hard to see which way to go.

When someone feels abandoned by their loved ones, even if they’ve been totally deserving of it, it can drive them to use more of their drug of choice because they want to numb the hurt and shame. They already feel like garbage and now they feel worthless.

And this is a dangerous place for your loved one to be

Because that can lead to suicide.

Sometimes they need to live elsewhere for the safety and sanity of the family. Younger kids in the household can be at risk due to the drug user who lives in it. And the threat of fentanyl being in your loved one’s drug supply either knowingly or unknowingly is definitely a danger to everyone since it takes so little to inadvertently kill someone.

Now I will say that asking someone who is using and has not followed house rules or contributed to leave your does not mean you are exercising “tough love.” Not when it’s worded like this: “I love you so much. But I fear and I feel that your drug use is threatening the safety of the rest of the family, particularly my grandchild, your nephew. I feel so conflicted and with a heavy heart I have to ask you to find somewhere else to live.”

They will push back with everything in their arsenal including emotional buttons to challenge your love. But it may be that is the place you have come to and you have to lovingly hold that boundary. Nothing about this is easy.

I know that those who are addicted are 15 times more likely to die by suicide. I wish I had known that when Charles called me one last time before he died by suicide. I wish I had any of the information I have now.

So if you don’t do tough love, what do you do?

Don’t be a doormat.

Stealing is wrong. Having strangers sell drugs to the person in the car in front of your house or having any substance brought in can’t always be tolerated.

This is where we set boundaries instead. You don’t withdraw love. Instead, you say and do that which can help them choose recovery. Because anger never helps you reach that goal.

Boundaries are limits or guidelines that define the physical, emotional, psychological, and social space between individuals. They serve to establish what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of behavior, interactions, and expectations. Boundaries are essential for maintaining healthy relationships, self-respect, and personal well-being as well as your own safety and that of other loved ones.

Setting boundaries for a loved one struggling with addiction can be challenging, but it’s an important step to both protect yourself and create an environment where your loved one is more likely to seek help and for you to maintain sanity.

Here are some steps to help you in your journey to setting healthy boundaries:

While this is not a list of boundaries per se, it is the path to setting them.

1. Educate Yourself:

Learn about addiction and their drug of choice. Read books by those in recovery. (Ryan Hampton’s American Fix is a good one). Read about the effects and available treatment options. Understanding the nature of the problem will help you make informed decisions if and when they decide they are ready for recovery.

Ultimately, your loved one’s recovery is their responsibility, and you can only provide support and encouragement along the way. Do know they are not the only ones who need recovery. You do, too.

2. Seek Support for You:

Connect with support groups, therapists, or counselors who specialize in addiction. They can offer guidance and emotional support as you navigate this difficult situation. You aren’t the expert and those support groups aren’t some kumbaya, tree-hugging get-togethers but it is where you will find the best treatment options, the therapist that comes highly recommended, and that connection with others who get it. Let your loved one know you are seeking help for yourself because you want to understand more. When you seek help, you model help-seeking as a sign of strength.

3. Communicate Clearly:

Let your loved one know that, “As much as I want you to get well I love you even if you don’t.” That doesn’t mean you have to stay married to an addicted spouse if the situation has become intolerable, toxic, or violent. You can still care about someone and not be married to them. I can’t make that decision for you. Express your concerns, feelings, and the impact of their addiction on you and your relationship by using “I” Statements to avoid sounding accusatory. For example, say, “I feel hurt when you lie to me” rather than “You always lie to me.”

4. Learn about the CRAFT model.

(Community Reinforcement and Family Training) Books and groups focused on that model help you regain your sanity make the choices and set the boundaries that work for your family. Addiction resources for families below.

5. Set Specific Boundaries:

Clearly define what behaviors are unacceptable that you need your loved one to respect. For example, you might decide not to give cash but you are more than willing to meet them for lunch or take them food. You don’t want to cut off the phone and all contact but you don’t want to make it easy for them to buy drugs. I know the phone is how they get them but taking the phone away cuts you off completely. They need to get in touch in case of emergencies. Sit down with another family member, and work with your support group to figure out what your boundaries are.

6. Be Consistent:

It’s crucial to stick to the boundaries you’ve set as much as you can. Consistency is key in helping your loved one understand that you won’t be that doormat. But also understand that if you’ve said “We’re not going to rescue you,” but they are suicidal, that you come to their aid in some way to prevent that. And that’s not always so easy to tell or see.

7. Offer Support, Not Judgment:

While setting boundaries is essential, it’s equally important to convey your love and support. Let your loved one know that you care about their well-being and want to see them get better. Never ever withdraw love to punish them into doing what you want because it will not work.

8. Take a breather if possible:

Sometimes, you may need to distance yourself emotionally to protect your own mental and emotional well-being especially if the relationship has become toxic. If has become dangerous, you might need to detach with love for self-preservation. This can be a painful but necessary step in certain situations.

9. Practice Self-Care:

Don’t forget all your friends and activities. Those relationships and escapes are important. And it’s hard not to make their problem the center of your universe. After all, this is life or death but you can’t fix this. All you can do is provide an environment in which they are more likely to choose recovery for themselves.

10. Be Patient:

Recovery is often a long and challenging process. Part of recovery can include lapses, as they are common in addiction recovery. Encourage your loved one to keep trying.

Resources for Families:

  • CRAFT-based resources – CRAFT = Community Reinforcement and Family Training is intended to help family members of people with a substance use disorder/substance misuse and other addictions (e.g. gambling) learn how to steer their loved ones away from the behavior by changing our communication patterns and understanding their loved ones motivation to use or engage in those behaviors.

Support Group Resources

Related Post:

Should You Kick Your Child Out of the House?

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