Is tough love the best way to treat addiction?
What is ‘Tough Love?’
Tough love in addiction treatment is very much from the viewpoint of the non-addict. For those who do not know what addiction is first-hand, as an addict, it can be difficult to understand the mindset of someone who continuously uses a substance or engages in a behavior that causes negative life consequences. Addiction is seen as a moral issue and a matter of self-control. It is thought that the addict should simply just to stop using.
Tough love has been the prevailing opinion in addiction treatment as a way to almost coerce the addict into first admitting to having a problem and then to somehow force a path to sobriety. The idea is, by letting an addict hit rock bottom they will finally be able to emerge from denial and ask for help.
Tough Love versus Compassionate Care
In some places, the tough love treatment has been taken to extremes. Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international organization that works to protect and defend human rights around the world, issued a report showing that drug addiction treatment centers in Asia were actually torturing patients and forcing them to do hard labor, all in the name of a cure. The United Nations has called on these centers, which are found in Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Malaysia, to be closed, but that has not yet happened.
More and more research into using more compassionate treatment methods for addiction, however, is showing that when tough love is abandoned, addicts are more likely to be successful in recovery and that more lives are saved. A leader in the compassionate movement is Dr. Gabor Mate, who works with people suffering from some of the toughest addictions possible.
In his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, which was a No. 1 bestseller in Canada, Dr. Gabor Mate advocates for the compassionate treatment of addiction, a position that is increasingly receiving international attention.
“I worked for 12 years in the Americas’ most concentrated area of drug use, the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. People live there in the street with HIV and hepatitis and festering wounds: what more of a bottom can they hit? If hitting bottom helped people, there would be no addicts at all in the Downtown Eastside.”
He goes on to say that “bottom” is a relative thing, so it’s a meaningless concept. “What is a bottom for a person who has been abused all her life and lives on the street? It’s meaningless and false. People don’t need more negative things to happen to them to give it up. They need more positive things to happen.“
In recent decades, new ideas about how to best help addicts, especially those who abuse drugs or alcohol in order to self-soothe or self-medicate, have been developed by therapists, counselors, and other addiction specialists. These take a turn away from the idea of tough love and instead consider the idea of compassionate care and even harm reduction. Changing the traditional order is never easy, but proponents of showing kindness rather than toughness are working hard to do so. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-888-672-4435. The Orchid Recovery Center can help.