When it comes to having a family member who struggles with an alcohol or drug addiction, practicing “tough love” comes down to setting limits.  It’s not easy!

The author of Hebrews puts it this way: “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” – Hebrews 12:11

You must set boundaries with a loved one who struggles with an addiction. And to help you, here are four tips to practicing tough love.

  1. Get support
    Alcohol and drug addiction is considered to be a family disease” because of the dysfunctional patterns within the family of the one who struggles with the addiction. For example, let’s say your spouse has an addiction to alcohol. If your spouse drank too much the night before, you might be tempted to call in sick for them. But if you do, it’s a sign of codependency. So instead of helping, you’re actually hurting.The first step is to get support for yourself in order to change any unhealthy family dynamics. A good way is to join a Life Recovery Group, or get involved with Al-Anon—a support group for family members of someone who struggles with an alcohol addiction.
  2. Stop enabling
    Perhaps you thought doing nice things for your loved one would help them overcome their addiction; however, this is enabling and will only make their matters worse.Some signs of enabling include:

    • Making excuses for the addiction
    • Ignoring potentially dangerous behavior
    • Lying to cover-up for them
    • Putting their needs before your own
    • Cleaning up after their messes
    • Bailing them out of jail
    • Paying their legal fees

    By removing the consequences of an addiction, your friend or family member who struggles doesn’t have to deal with the impact of their behavior. Want your loved one to overcome their addiction? Don’t enable them. Instead, allow your loved one to feel the natural consequences of their destructive behavior.

  3. Reinforce consequences
    If your friend or family member violates the boundaries you set, what should you do? Let them know you love them and follow through with consequences.For example, if you have an adult son or daughter who struggles with an addiction to drugs and has stolen from you before, tell them: “We love you. But if anything else is taken from our house, we’ll call the police and report you.”The challenge, though, is to make sure you follow through with the consequences. So if your adult child steals from you, unfortunately you’ll need to press charges against them.  You can tell them, “We warned you what would happen if you stole anything from us. Even though we love you, we won’t tolerate stealing.” 
  4. Do an intervention
    What if you’ve done all the above steps—and much, much more—but your loved one is still struggling? Do you give up? No! Consider doing an intervention. However, it’s important that you get a trained interventionist or a licensed counselor to help you with the intervention.Get a small group of 6-8 people who are close friends, family members, or coworkers. Be careful not to include anyone in the group who is in a fragile emotional state and unable to deal with the stress of doing an intervention.Before the intervention, make sure you’ve worked with a counselor to practice what you’ll say during the intervention. A counselor or trained interventionist can help your small group know the best way to communicate how the addiction has negatively impacted their lives, as well as the one struggling with the addiction.

Having a loved one who struggles with a drug or alcohol addiction is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to face; yet, it’s crucial you persevere and practice tough love. It won’t be easy, of course. But letting your loved one experience the consequences of their addiction will open their eyes to the pain they’ve caused, and ultimately, get them on the road to recovery.

If you would like to know more about helping someone who struggles with alcohol or drug addiction, order your copy of Understanding and Loving a Person with Alcohol or Drug Addiction, by Steve Arterburn and Dr. Dave Stoop.