Practicing Tough Love with an Alcoholic

on Friday, 24 October 2014. Posted in Breaking News

Seeing someone you really care about in the middle of something as intensely all consuming and harmful as an alcohol addiction can sometimes be excruciatingly painful. A life built around nothing but drinking can brings a lot of harm with it.

Your first instinct may be to try to protect them from the negative consequences of their actions and try to keep them "safe." However, this can often turn into "enabling" an addiction, failing to let someone fully realize the harm they are causing to themselves and others, and therefore making it harder for the alcoholic to realize his or her need for help.

"Tough love," is a way to extend a sense of compassion rooted in honesty about how your friend or partner's addiction is hurtful to you, and is most likely to be effective in helping him or her seek out treatment for recovery.

What tough love is

Addiction is often rooted in, and promoted by, denial. The person addicted has created a lot of mental gymnastics and distorted ways of seeing themselves and the impact of their behavior on others that make them think they don't have a problem. Sometimes, being "nice" and sweet to a person in the throws of such denial, or "helping" them by doing their work for them while they're hung-over, can simply further their belief they don't need help or have everything under control.

In this case, speaking harshly and honestly about how addiction is disturbing you, not letting their sporadic and unpredictable behavior disrupt your own plans, and letting the addict suffer for their actions (for example, by not giving money to someone's who lost their job because of something caused by drinking), can be the most loving thing you can do for them. It may be hard to do, or feel "mean," but it is actually giving them a push that can be the deciding factor in helping them save their own lives.

People often don't realize their addiction is a problem until they hit a "bottom," or something that makes them realize their addictive behavior is creating problems. Even though being with someone when they hit bottom may be very hard, in the long run, it is going to be the best thing for them.

What tough love isn't

The phrase "tough love" can sometimes be misunderstood, as some people simply see the world "tough," and pay less attention to how their actions must still be loving and rooted in compassion. Simply humiliating, abandoning, or punishing an addict without cause can create feelings of shame and hopelessness that can cause them to turn back to the bottle, feeling that everything is lost anyway.

Even when confronting an addict or treating them harshly, communicate it with a sense of understanding and kindness, and let them know that things don't have to be this way – that help is available, and that you will encourage them if they do decide to take a step towards recovery.

Getting help for yourself, too

Ultimately, you won't be able to change the alcoholic's behavior yourself. The decision to peruse recovery and sobriety is one that an individual will have to make for him or her self.

You cannot be totally responsible for the actions of another person, and it can be harmful to yourself to expend all your energy helping someone who does not want to be helped. No matter what, make sure you are still taking care of yourself.

As much as possible, take time for healthy eating, regular sleep, enjoyable hobbies, and supportive friendships. If you are worried about abuse or violence, work out a plan to escape and a place you can go to for your safety.

You can look into and decide to join a support group for friends, children, or partners of alcoholics, where you can gain from the shared wisdom of others who have faced similar issues. Even as you put a lot of time and energy into helping someone else, make sure you are still taking care of yourself, and never forgetting to hold out hope that one day, things will be better for the person you care about who is suffering so much.


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