Tough Love: Helpful or Hurtful?

By: Michael Plahn

‘Tough Love’ has been recommended for families affected by addiction and untreated mental illness for years.  It has been the catalyst for greatly improving the lives of people I know very well.  I have also seen this backfire and become the impetus for further misery and even tragedy.

I see this topic divide, fragment, and many times disintegrate families.  What is the best approach for you and your family?  Only you (and your family) can make those decisions.  You have to live with the decisions and the repercussions of your actions.

For sake of example, let’s use the case of Paul, a 24 year-old male who has suffered from what Mom calls Depression (but he has never been diagnosed by an appropriate professional) and abused alcohol & drugs since he was 16 years-old.  He has been to two local Outpatient Addiction Treatment programs (for alcohol, cocaine, and opiate abuse) in the past five years.  However, after completion of each program, he relapsed each time within weeks of discharge.  Paul, currently unemployed, lives with his mother, father and younger sister (Angela 17 years-old).  Paul is verbally abusive to his entire family at times, and is currently using opiates (Vicodin, Oxycontin, and heroin), cocaine, and alcohol.

Dad, loves his son, but is frustrated and wants Paul out of the house unless he is sober and holds a full-time job.  Mom is upset with her son’s behavior, but concerned for Paul’s safety if she does not help him.  She cannot bear to see her baby boy “in the streets.” Paul manipulatively threatens, “if you throw me out, I’ll likely get killed in the streets.”  Angela loves her brother, but they rarely speak anymore.  Mom and Dad have warred for years over Paul and what to do for him and with him.  First Dad was supportive, but now he is intolerant and has begun to detach from the family.  There is a constant state of tension, but silence in the home and the parents’ relationship has suffered significantly.  Mom and Dad do not interact much, but if they do it is typically a verbal battle about Paul.

What should this family do?  I know individuals who were asked (in a ‘Tough Love’ approach) to either accept help and enter a reputable treatment facility (such as PromisesCaron, or Treatment Solutions Network approved programs), or leave the family home immediately.  That was just the beginning, but many are now happy and living amazing drug-free lives for several years.  They credit their parents’ refusal to allow them to live in the family home unless they were sober (and some gainfully employed) as the key event that lead to their long-term recovery.  Some were even required to take random drug screens as a condition to stay under their parents’ roof.  These individuals would tell Mom and Dad to “Kick Paul out if he is not willing to enter an appropriate treatment facility OR immediately stop using, attend 12-Step Meetings, and have a full-time job in a week.”

But, is that really the appropriate solution for this scenario with Paul and his family?  Will it work?  It’s not that simple.  Addiction and mental illness are much more complex issues than they may appear.  Honestly, if Paul could stop on his own, he likely would have long ago (there is very little fleeting pleasure at that stage of addiction).  True, there are success stories with a rigid consequential approach, but this can also be a very dangerous approach for some individuals.  Richard Rawson, associate director of UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs claimed in a piece by ABC-News that coercive or confrontational approaches actually push the afflicted away from treatment.

Trust me, this could be an extremely complicated situation.  What works for one individual or their family may not have the same result for Paul’s family (or yours for that matter).  Let’s say that Paul was physically abused by his uncle (when Paul was 8-9 years-old).  What if he had a physical handicap during adolescence and as a result he was ridiculed and teased by his peers?  Either of these issues could change this situation significantly and may make Paul much more fragile than the family realizes.

These examples of underlying trauma are also likely to affect his ability to find long-term recovery.  If they are not addressed, it is likely that Paul will struggle and repeat dysfunctional patterns.  There is significant research that shows an extremely high percentage of addicted persons have also experienced some level of trauma  (which may be an underlying issue propelling the addiction).  At The Meadows, a facility that specializes in treating underlying causes of addiction such as trauma, they understand this reality.  Sadly, many people, minimize the significance of how trauma can negatively affect treatment outcomes and long-term recovery efforts.

If you were Paul’s Mom, I would recommend that you engage a qualified objective professional who can assist in determining an appropriate treatment facility and executing a compassionate loving process to intervene on your son. A competent professional would suggest solutions for the entire family’s treatment, not just Paul.  Granted, I’m biased, but LSA’s Pre-Treatment Solution is an ideal fit for this family’s situation.

There may be good reason to protect yourself and others in your home by asking an afflicted family member, who is acting dangerously, to leave.  But, as mentioned, this is more complicated than many well-meaning lay-people realize.  If you are going to embrace a ‘Tough Love’ stance, then please make sure you have professional guidance, that the family agrees as a group not to cave under manipulation, and become willing to accept the potential consequences of your ‘Tough Love’ approach.



Drug Study Shows Alcohol is Most Harmful

A new study published online Monday in the medical journal, Lancet, shows that alcohol is  more dangerous than illicit drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine.

The study assessed harms caused many substances, including alcohol, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and marijuana, and ranked them based on how destructive they are to the individual who takes them and to others in society.  Measures of analysis included how addictive a drug is, the harm it causes to the human body, environmental damage caused by the drug, such as its role in breaking up families and its economic costs, such as health care, social services, and prison.

In the overall rankings, alcohol outranked all other substances, followed by heroin and crack cocaine.  Alcohol was the most destructive overall for several reasons such as when drunk in excess, alcohol damages nearly all organ systems.  Alcohol is also connected to higher death rates and is involved in a greater percentage of crime than most other drugs, including heroin.  Heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine, or crystal meth, ranked as the most lethal to individuals. Lower on the list were marijuana, ecstasy and LSD. 

The study was paid for by Britain’s Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and can be viewed online here at the Lancet Medical Journal.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, LifeSkills Authorities can help.   Call 312.265.0909 or click here to contact us now and learn more about our addiction consultation, intervention and recovery coaching services.


Chemical System In Brain Behaves Differently In Cocaine Addicts

Researchers have identified a chemical system in the brain that reacts differently in cocaine addicts, findings that could result in new treatment options for individuals addicted to the drug.

Read more via Chemical System In Brain Behaves Differently In Cocaine Addicts.


Can your child “JUST SAY NO?”

Post by Michael Plahn

The idea of just saying “NO” to drugs or alcohol when I was going to school became a popular slogan.  The idea Nancy Reagan got behind was, in theory, a noble attempt at dealing with the alarming addiction rate and cocaine epidemic of the early 1980′s.  However, after much more study has taken place, it is a more complicated issue than just saying no to drugs and alcohol, or having strong willpower.  Especially if the addicted person is an adolescent or young adult.

reason is that an area of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex, which regulates judgement, impulse control, and self-monitoring, does not fully develop until the individual is approximately twenty-five years old.  Therefore,it is much different than just a willpower issue or solved by hanging out with a new crowd.  Your teenager or young adult may be virtually handcuffed by their addiction and lack the ability to “just say NO” because the part of their brain that could help them in that cpacity has not been fully developed, or even worse, likely damaged by the alcohol and drug use.

What can be done?  In my opinion, this is definitely a situation that requires professional help.  The addicted young person has likely shown signs of psychiatric issues and may be acting out in a manner that has the family feeling as though “this is not our son/daughter/sibling” … “they have changed.”  Well, they very well may have changed.  As the founder of  LifeSkills Authorities, and someone in recovery myself, I strongly encourage you to seek professional help immediately.  This is not an issue that is likely going to get better by getting them into college and living on their own.  That false hope often leads to more problems and tragedies during the first years of college.  I urge you to get a professional opinion and go into it with an open mind.  Successful treatment is likely going to be a long-term solution, goes beyond a simple intervention or 30-day treatment program, and can be costly.

I have personally sat with countless families who think things will get better and their child will somehow just change.  Don’t be the parents that take that chance with your child’s life.  Addiction is a progressive and terminal disease that requires professional help to treat, particularly when the addict in question is a young adult.  After a tragedy, hindsight may make it painfully obvious to see where the path was leading.    Perhaps it would have been the answer to use the college money you saved for education, and instead pay for the proper long-term professional addiction treatment for your son/daughter.

If you are reading this and can relate to this topic matter or have a personal story to share, please comment and let us hear from you.


Deadlier than Cocaine, Heroin or Swine Flu?

Post by Sarah Wilde

Forget swine flu!   Dr. Joseph Mercola is calling for the CDC to raise a Pandemic Level 6 warning for Prescription Drug abuse, as it is becoming a growing killer in our country.   As posted on today’s Mercola.com, there is a largely unrecognized new epidemic in our country — prescription painkiller addiction that is leading to more fatalities by overdose than the prior top killers cocaine and heroin.

Leonard Paulozzi of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that prescription drugs cause most of the more than 26,000 fatal overdoses each year.

The number of overdose deaths from opioid painkillers more than tripled from 1999 to 2006, to 13,800 deaths that year, according to recently released CDC statistics.

Something needs to be done.   With more and more Americans turning to drugs for every ache and pain, and doctors prescribing a plethora of pills, the population is at risk for developing dependencies that can lead to chronic addiction.  According to Robert DuPont, a former White House drug czar and former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “The biggest and fastest-growing part of America’s drug problem is prescription drug abuse.  The statistics are unmistakable.”

Dr. Mercola offers a number of alternatives to prescription painkillers for finding relief from pain.  These are key components of recovery programs at LSA and include simple changes such as taking a high-quality, animal-based omega-3, reducing grains and sugars from your diet, and restructuring your diet based on your body’s unique nutritional type.

A holistic program is key for individuals in recovery – as it is now more than ever crucial to be aware of what you are putting in your body.


Cocaine vaccine?

Post by Sarah Wilde

A recent report from CNN London discusses the possibility of a cocaine vaccine tested by researchers at Yale School of Medicine.  The vaccine essentially makes people produce antibodies to cocaine, with the theory being that high levels of anti-cocaine antibodies can inactivate cocaine before it enters the brain.   This inactivation would in turn prevent the vaccinated cocaine users from getting high.

This may sound like a good idea but hardly practical.  The thought is that this cocaine vaccine takes away the high effects of the cocaine, making it less desirable for the user … so much so that they will eventually kick the habit.  A vaccine may take away the drug but unfortunately there is no such quick fix for the rest of the life of the addicted individual.

Even more disturbing part are these two comments

1) There is also a risk that some patients will increase their intake of cocaine to overcome the antibody effect, and

2) the thought that it usually takes about two years for addicts to become drug-free, and that patients would have to be vaccinated every three months for that period to maintain antibody levels.

Again, hardly a fix in our opinion and we believe that an entire lifestyle change – beyond just abstinence – is necessary for long-term sobriety and the opportunity for a drastically improved quality of life.

To read the article from CNN click here.

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