Does a "Tough Love" Approach Work in Recovery?



Does a "Tough Love" Approach Work in Recovery?


There are various "schools of thought" regarding treating those with addiction, and some of the oldest and most well-known are based around rhetoric that may not always be most effective and is becoming more and more controversial. The term "tough love" mostly refers to the idea that an approach that is very rigid and unrelenting in terms of empathy is the best way for someone to overcome an obstacle. Much of this is attributed to a "suck it up" attitude, which is particularly harmful when applied to those who are suffering from a chronic disease, thus making it questionable when applied to those with substance use disorder.


What is the "Tough Love" Approach?


Many instances where a person with substance use disorder makes attempts to treat their addiction by entering programs that use the "tough love" approach to shame them out of their drug misuse purely from a behavioral standpoint end unsuccessfully. The tactics deployed in these programs can be harmful, using shaming, humiliation, and other self-deprecating exercises to condition the member into recovery.


Why "Tough Love" isn't Always Effective


The "tough love" technique has been proven harmful as it derides the necessary steps to address the psychological causes of opioid addiction. The stern approach views addiction as a purely behavioral issue, and those who suffer from chronic disease as people who lack willpower or having a weak character. This view of addiction is harmful because it promotes further stigmatization of the illness, placing detrimental blame and suffering on those who are afflicted. Blaming and shaming someone with substance use disorder for being sick makes as much sense as doing so with someone who has any other kind of chronic disease like cancer or arthritis, or similar.

More Effective Approaches


When the psychological causes of opioid addiction take center stage in a recovery treatment program, patients benefit long-term. Those with substance use disorder already face shame and other painful personal obstacles every day, so a method that emphasizes negative emotions isn't exactly the most enticing to stick with or comforting during times where stress and triggers are rampant.


Medication-assisted treatment, coupled with substance use counseling provided by medical professionals and staff, has been very effective in helping those with opioid use disorder embark on the road to recovery. While there are certain times and instances where some "tough love" can be utilized to help motivate and encourage patients to respect and honor the boundaries of their treatment program, using the archaic method alone has only lead to very high relapse rates.


A well maintained multi-faceted addiction treatment program uses a method that addresses the psychological causes of opioid addiction while also offering compassion and empathy to all patients enrolled. Treating substance use disorder as a disease requires a change in mentality towards those who are suffering, moving past blame, and shame to compassion and opportunities to enter treatment and long-term recovery.


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