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Tough Love: A Valentine’s Day Message for Those Who Love Someone with a Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Looking for love in all the wrong places
Love at first sight
Love is blind
Love means never having to say you’re sorry

These are just a few of the themes that come to mind as I contemplate Valentine’s Day.  It occurs to me that I could tell my life story (both before and after recovery) using just the right combination of famous love quotes and song lyrics!

I was looking for love in all the wrong places when I first tried drugs.  I just didn’t know it at the time.  Growing up in an alcoholic home was traumatic.  I was frightened most of the time and very lonely.  Drugs filled the emptiness inside and made my fear go away.

It was love at first sight for me when it came to drugs.  Before long, nothing else mattered.  My family, friends, school and job – all took a back seat to my desire to get high.  This is the nature of the disease of addiction.

Love is blind, especially when it comes to loving someone with a drug problem.  We see only what we want to see because the reality is much too painful.

If love means never having to say you’re sorry, then what does it mean when our addicted loved ones keep apologizing?  Does their inability to stop using mean they don’t love us?  Of course not!  It’s just that addicts love drugs more than anything else.

Love is complicated enough without adding addiction to the equation.  If you’re struggling with a loved one who has a drug or alcohol problem, you’ve probably been told that you need to practice “tough love.”   What does that mean?  For me, it means letting go and trusting the process.  I hope you can trust me when I tell you that “tough love” is the best gift you can give to an addict.

This Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to begin learning this new way to love.  But please don’t forget that love isn’t just reserved for Valentine’s Day.  You can practice it every day.

I know there are many of you who have learned to practice “tough love” with your addict and I would like to hear from you.  How did you start?  How do you stay strong?  How has it helped you and/or your loved one?  Sharing your experience here can help others — and might even save a life.

Posted by  |  Filed under Addiction, Alcohol, Dealing with an Addicted Child

6 Comments on “Tough Love: A Valentine’s Day Message for Those Who Love Someone with a Drug or Alcohol Addiction”

Tom at says:
February 12th, 2010 at 4:31 am

I understand the point you are trying to make when you say, “addicts love drugs more than anything else.” But I don’t really think that is a fair statement.

To be honest, I think it seems disrespectful and insulting to call an opiate dependent person’s dependence on opiates “love.” Or to imply that feeling compares in some way to the feeling an opiate dependent person has for their children or other family members.

I’m sure this wasn’t your intention at all! But I feel that we need to be really careful about how we say things, because people living with addiction face a lot of stigma, and those of us who care about them should be careful not to perpetuate that stigma.

I also must respectfully disagree that “tough love” is the best gift you can give an addict. Too often, tough love means withholding all communication and support –even healthy communication or helpful support or not –in the mistaken belief that we can in this way manipulate them into not using.

Parent’s may need to set personal boundaries to protect themselves or other family members. But this isn’t “tough love” for the person who is addicted.

A better gift would be to become really educated about drug treatment and recovery, and learn to offer appropriate support that enables that recovery.

I suggest people read Ron Grover’s post about “hitting bottom” at his blog, An Addict in Our Son’s Bedroom. People may also want to read the post I wrote in support of Ron’s post at my blog.

I think this is an important conversation, and I hope there is room for expressing different perspectives. I believe most of us are honest and sincere seekers of truth, with our hearts in the right places. Let’s care enough to have the difficult conversations.

Pat Nichols says:
February 15th, 2010 at 10:28 pm

My sincere appreciation to you for sharing your thoughts.

My son told me one of things that was most helpful in his attempts to stay sober was that he knew his family loved him and he was forgiven. However, he also knew we could only support recovery. He was aware of and understood that our boundaries were in place out of our love for him and committment to recovery. His recovery and ours.

This process is in continual transformation because it is not about perfection but progress. Our efforts are supported by professional counseling and having a sponsor through our support group.

The key is:
* Bringing our family together and working as a team.
* Educating ourselves on addiction.
* Consulting with our counselor.
* Having a good working relation with our sponsor.
* Attending support group meetings as a family.
* Understanding the role of sprituality in recovery and praying together as a family.
* Never giving up and always having a “Plan B.”

In prayer for all who suffer from this disease.



Michele says:
March 16th, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Tough love is such a scary thought! I remember talking to a mom who, after years of trying to help her son in multiple ways, had asked him to leave her home. She would then see him in her travels through her town, high and homeless. I thought to myself, would I ever have the strength to do this if need be? I still don’t know. I do know that I love my children so much that it hurts – and I pray that I can find the strength to do what’s right.

Patti Herndon says:
March 18th, 2010 at 3:49 am


I am the mom of a 27 year old who was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and addiction when he was 14. It’s been a challenging journey but one that I would not trade at this point. My son, the family system, all of us as individuals have gained insights and strengths that I don’t necessarily think we would have achieved in the absence of this challenge. As a result of our efforts to responsibly, support our loved one during his journey toward sustainable recovery, our family enjoys a deeper bond. It’s been beyond difficult. I don’t know of an easy kind of love. If it’s real love, then, it’s real tough. And, it’s worth fighting for. It’s obvious that you love your children and that you work hard to make the right decisions for your individual situation.

I have a very good friend of many years who lost her son 9 years ago. She had been advised to implement “tough love”. She did. Her son died two days later. Her regret: She didn’t answer the phone when he called the night he died. She has been doing the best she can since. She is a wonderful mother. The best. She has been such a help to me in so many ways with my own challenges regarding my son’s struggle with addiction.
What is important to remember is that this “tough love” approach does not intend a cut off of communication with an addicted loved one. Cutting off communication with someone who is substance dependent and emotionally/phsyically unhealthy can pose great risk. It’s not ever a good idea, at least in those cases where communication can be reasonably carried out without risk to either party. And by risk to either party I’m not talking about the parties becoming frustrated or argumentative. These two emotions are usually a given at some point in the process of learning to manage daily life and in the coping with the behavioral symptoms that run tandem with substance dependency. Frustration and anger are to be expected. That’s why it’s critical to engage a qualified support mechanism as you make your way.
Cutting off financial support is one thing. But in all cases, no exeptions, there should be a responsible attempt made to formulate a form of communication (this includes what ever form works for the individuals and the specific circumstances involved) that will motivate the substance dependent loved one to engage help, to serve as a reminder that they are cared for and to also give the family peace of mind in knowing that there substance dependent family member is alive…if nothing else but for that particular day. We had to think creatively and be flexible in order to sustain communication during some of the stretches of road in our journey…So we did and we were. It provided peace of mind for everyone. Peace of mind is necessary in the process. No matter how frustrated a parent is with their childs substance depency disorder/behavior/choices or how angry the substance dependent person is, all benefit from staying in some kind of communication. Whenever possible, the family should engage a qualified, vetted therapist prior to asking the substance dependent person to vacate the family home. THe therapist can provide the structure necessary to implement the approach in the most productive way for the addict and the family system.

love message says:
March 17th, 2011 at 10:31 am

So nice and cute poem.

Mary Cuneo says:
March 1st, 2014 at 1:46 am

I am the youngest of six kids my sisters are 10 plus years older than me they staryed having kids when I was 12. So my nephews and nieces were my play things. I loved them they were fun. We grew up being very close they all l tell me things before they tell their parents. My oldest nephew is a heroin addict and we finally got him to a rehab. He was sounding so good. Thought he was going to make it this time.his mom went on vacation because he sounded awesome. Four days later I get a call from him he left rehab. Aunt mary buy me a bus ticket home. He is crying like he did when he was little he just wants to go home. Home what home the streets??? He is homeless back home. I tel him to go back to rehab and I hang up. He calls again and again and I ignore his call. He must have called 50 times in a half hour. I text him and tell him to go back and that if he doesnt he is going to end up dead like his wife last year on an overdose. I beg him to go bavk to get his 5 yr old son back. He refuses. So I then tell him I love him but I am n poo t helping him to kill himself. To make a choice drugs or his family he chose drugs. So I left ho m on the street in a strange city and state. And told him im done dont call again you made ur choice. The whole time im crying this was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Insitbhere now wondering if he ia ok. Ia he cold hungry. Did undo the right thing. Do I drive by and see if he ia still there. Gawd I hope he does notified.

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