Your child, parent, sibling or friend struggles with addiction. You’ve worried, begged, cajoled and tried to help. Nothing has seemed to get through or make a difference so far. So is it time for tough love? Is it time to find treatment that will offer the same?

Addiction and Your Emotions

If your loved one’s addiction has left you feeling frustrated, angry and at a loss, you certainly aren’t alone. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shares, “Family members may experience feelings of abandonment, anxiety, fear, anger, concern, embarrassment, or guilt; they may wish to ignore or cut ties with the person abusing substances.”1

So do you react with these emotions? It’s easy and tempting to do so. You want your loved one to stop using drugs or alcohol. You hope that letting them know how much you hurt, that hurting in turn, might change their minds about drug use. However, addiction isn’t a choice. It has already left your loved one feeling isolated and awful. And this has only pushed them to use drugs more, which has only led to you feeling worse too. But if tough love adds to the problem, what are more positive ways to address it?

Although negative feelings surrounding addiction are normal, they aren’t mandatory. You can get help and tend to your emotions, getting stronger at the same time your loved one is getting help to do the same. This will help you approach your loved one, the addiction and the entire situation differently.

You can choose professional recovery resources that have the same holistic goals. If everyone is feeling hurt, isolated and alone, why would you want treatment that adds to these emotions? Addiction isn’t a lost cause. When your health and patience feel like they’re at their end, it’s actually a time for hope. It’s a time for opportunity. It’s time for real love, not tough love.

How to Approach Addiction with Love

If tough love isn’t the answer, what is? It turns out it just might be compassion. Psychology Today explains, “Compassion is the most powerful tool you can have when it comes to healing addictions of any kind. In other words, what your loved one needs the most from you is compassion.”2

So what is compassion? It isn’t enabling and letting things slide or go ignored. It begins with understanding substance abuse and addiction. It continues with seeing the person and the suffering behind addiction. It requires hearing what she has to say and providing a safe space for her to express feelings and emotions. It involves offering comfort, care and love. And most importantly? It involves finding treatment that does the same.

Compassion in Addiction Treatment

We understand addiction now better than ever. We know it isn’t a moral failing or personal weakness. We know it’s a disease, and we know it can be treated. As Medsurg Nursing explains, “Replacing negative attitudes with evidence-based interventions to treat persons with addiction is key in helping them achieve the highest level of health possible.”3 Families can heal, and individuals can find hope and health. Long-term recovery is more than possible, and it’s possible through professional care.

Tough love isn’t the answer to any medical or mental health issue. Effective treatment centers around compassionate therapy. And one of the most effective therapy methods is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This form of therapy is all about changing automatic, negative thoughts and reactions into positive, considered ones. It returns choice to people struggling with addiction. It validates who they are and what they experience.

CBT and other positive methods of addiction treatment provide internal motivation and real-world skills. They offer tools and teaching so people can build strength and confidence. Addiction recovery involves moving forward and upward in life. It involves finding hope for the future and the ability to create that future.

Beginning Addiction Treatment

The idea of compassionate, understanding addiction treatment may be great, but how do you get started? If your loved one is trapped in addiction, she may not want to go to treatment. Although treatment has to be kind, this doesn’t mean it has to be voluntary. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that one principle of treatment is that, “Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective. Sanctions or enticements from family, employment settings, and/or the criminal justice system can significantly increase treatment entry, retention rates and the ultimate success of drug treatment interventions.”4 Kindness and caring don’t mean just sitting by and watching.

If needed, creating boundaries and ultimatums that push someone toward treatment are a good thing. These things aren’t tough love. They are actions that are first carefully considered and guided by a professional therapist or interventionist.

Helping a loved one find recovery involves letting the person know you see her struggle, you see her and you want her to choose something better. And if your loved one really won’t go to treatment? You can still do the kindest thing possible and get help for yourself. The more you know, the more prepared you are, the kinder you are to yourself, the better you’ll be able to help now and when your loved one comes to you for support in the future.

Interventions usually aren’t the dramatic tough love events you might see on TV. An effective intervention is a compassionate conversation with a loved one. This conversation may be a one-time event with friends or family present, or it may be a series of guided talks. No matter the form an intervention takes, it is all about reaching out to a loved one and expressing love and concern.

By Alanna Hilbink


1 “Impact of Substance Abuse on Families.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2004. Accessed 8 May 2018.

2 Engel, Beverly. “How Compassion Can Help You Support an Addicted Loved One.” Psychology Today. 3 Oct. 2016. Accessed 8 May 2018.

3 Bartlett, Robin, et al. “Harm Reduction: Compassionate Care Of Persons with Addictions.” Medsurg Nursing: Official Journal of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses. 2013. Accessed 7 May 2018.

4 “Principles of Effective Treatment.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Jan. 2018. Accessed 7 May 2018.