Why "Tough Love" Doesn't Work

Updated: Mar 5, 2020

"Tough love" sprung out of the "Just Say No" era of our nation's attempt to deal with the growing epidemic of drug and alcohol addiction. As addiction began to affect more and more families, the problem started to leak out of the closet and peek out of the shadows. Families were at a loss about how to deal with their loved ones' addictions, and a new specialty was born: Drug and Alcohol Counseling. We learned all about enabling, co-dependency and tough love: it was a clear directive to treat our addicts sternly or harshly with the intention that it would force them to take responsibility for their actions and help them in the long run. It felt awful, but the well-meaning experts assured us it was a loving path forward to sobriety. Tough love means giving no help whatsoever to someone in active addiction. The idea is to tell your loved one that you will only help them if they stop using. The dictate is to provide no money, housing, food, rides, attention, or help of any sort, because if you are providing the basic needs when they are using their resources to get drugs/alcohol, then you are enabling them. In the abstract, it makes sense to not make it easier for your loved one to procure the substances that can kill them. It's a no-brainer, really. In practice, it feels like abandonment to deny your homeless child a shower, the safety of shelter, or a hot meal. In reality, the desperation of addiction leads people to get frighteningly resourceful in scoring their drug of choice (DOC,) and many are driven to commit dangerous and illegal acts that put them at-risk for injury, incarceration, and death. If you are one of the many people whose loved one's "rock bottom" is death, you are left to grapple with the grief, guilt and self-doubt of "what could I have done?" We should have listened to our intuitions; this brand of "tough love" felt wrong because it is, and it doesn't work in light of what the science of addiction has revealed in the decades since: addiction is a chronic brain disease caused by substance use disorder. Choice, decisions, will-power and personal responsibility are incapacitated for those in the throes of addiction, especially if the root of the addiction is trauma or a co-occurring mental health issue such as depression or anxiety, which is very often the case. A New Approach

Thanks to advances in science and increasing interest in the neuroscience of addiction, we have learned that substance use disorder (SUD) is far more complex than any amount of "just say(ing) no" can defeat. The medical view is that addiction is a disease of the brain, with disordered brain circuits and disordered behaviors. This view is accurate, yet hopelessly narrow. It is accurate because the addicted brain is demonstrably a physiologically dysfunctional brain, with damaged neurotransmitters and biochemical imbalances. But, it's also a narrow view because it explains the dysfunction in strictly physiological and biological terms, without recognizing the emotional and social inputs into how the brain operates. The mainstream view of addiction (as compared with the medical view) is that addiction is a matter of individual choice, moral failure, or weakness. Thus exist the approaches aimed at deterrence or punishment. Different as they are, these two views share a lack of understanding that addiction is a product of and a response to life experience; in fact, it’s neither a conscious choice nor an inherited illness. This is why so many treatment programs ultimately fail.

Certainly, we have come to realize that every individual struggling with SUD did not choose that path in life, and is grappling with out-of-control fear, regret and self-loathing on top of a driving physical urge to self-medicate with drugs/alcohol.

Moreover, every person in active addiction is a human individual, with unique needs and perspective. An individualized approach to recovery that addresses the particulars of a person's history, health, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs,) and inherent strengths and motivations is required to adequately address their addiction and create an authentic path to recovery.

Trauma-Informed Recovery Care at Greener Pastures

Dr. Gabor Maté , an expert on addiction and recovery, author of the award-winning book "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction," says, "All addiction is an escape from pain. All addictions come from emotional loss, and exist to soothe the pain resulting from that loss." Many who struggle with addiction have self-tormenting thoughts about how weak, flawed or somehow defective they are for having this problem. Being non-pathologizing means seeing the person recovering as a human being in pain facing great challenges, not a defective person. We help people find wellness within, and empower them to build on that.

The Greener Pastures program embraces trauma-informed therapy that creates a space to recognize and claim the innate worth and human dignity of the person in recovery. It does not mean turning a blind eye to substance abuse. Rather, we see people who have tried to numb themselves to feel less badly, not because they are bad. Our non-pathologizing approach of trauma-informed care helps build the trust and safety needed for healing. This is so important because it offers survivors a valid self-caring way to see themselves. They can see that they turned to self-harming addictions because there was nowhere else to turn to feel less, or to feel less badly. But now we can find a healthier path. There is hope! If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction and feel that our personalized and respectful approach to recovery is a good fit for you, we invite you to book a free consultation to answer any and all of your questions. Questions? Send us a message!

#trauma #dualdiagnosis #greenerpastures #recovery #harmreduction #gabormate #depression #anxiety #addiction #substanceusedisorder

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