Tough Love Addict

Tough Love Delays Recovery For Heroin Addicts

by recoveryhelpdesk on April 1, 2011 · 42 comments

Tough love delays recovery for people living with addiction to heroin or prescription pain killers like Vicodin or OxyContin.

Tough Love Defined

Tough love is a term used to describe dysfunctional behaviors by parents that are intended to help the addicted son or daughter, but instead cause harm by perpetuating the addiction.

I realize that this is not the standard definition of tough love.  In fact, it is the standard definition of enabling.

The term enabling is often used to describe dysfunctional behaviors by parents that are intended to help the addicted son or daughter, but instead cause harm by perpetuating the addiction.

The Problem

Tough love is sold to parents as the antidote to enabling.  But all too often, tough love behaviors are more destructive than the behaviors they replaced.  They increase the risk of harm to the addicted love one, delay recovery and perpetuate the addiction.

Parents are often torn in two directions between the polar extremes of “enabling” and “tough love.”  They cycle between the two extremes in an agony of confusion, painful emotions and good intentions gone awry.

More Problems

  • Tough love is not effective
  • Tough love is often adopted in the context of feelings of anger, frustration, confusion and desperation
  • Tough love is often applied in a rigid, black and white manner that negates the need to recognize and accept responsibility for the consequences of our own actions, or even exercise basic common sense
  • Tough love behaviors are often inconsistently applied
  • Tough love behaviors are often motivated by the parent’s own legitimate personal need to set appropriate boundaries, but mis-labeled as tough love for the addict
  • Tough love behaviors deprive the struggling addict of an important source of appropriate support
  • Tough love behaviors fail to address real barriers to recovery (and call it a virtue) and instead impose new barriers to recovery
  • Tough love “theory” implies that parents have caused or perpetuated their child’s addiction by “enabling” and so must remedy the harm they have caused through tough love

Even More Problems

  • Tough love is not necessary to create the conditions needed for recovery
  • Tough love is not enough to create the conditions needed for recovery
  • Tough love makes it harder to create the conditions necessary for recovery
  • Tough love perpetuates barriers to recovery (and often even creates new barriers to recovery), and then blames the addict for not changing
  • Tough love shames and blames parents who take reasonable steps to keep their loved one safe and promote the stability necessary for recovery
  • Tough love is a blunt instrument used to try to club an addict into change–and it is handed to parents in place of more sophisticated recovery tools that are more effective, less risky and less harmful
  • Tough love counsels parents to withhold conditions of safety and promote (or at least permit) conditions of unnecessary risk
  • Tough love doesn’t work!  Tough love does not result in recovery
  • Tough love delays recovery

My Suggestion

My suggestion is that parents move away from the black and white thinking that much of recovery folklore seeks to impose on them.

My suggestion is that parents avoid the polar extremes of both enabling and tough love, and instead adopt moderate behaviors based on both reasonable personal boundaries and common sense recovery supports for their addicted love one.


I’ve outlined the problem and suggested a solution.  But we can explore some concrete examples in the comments, if you like.

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peggy April 7, 2011 at 1:37 am

Tom – thanks for this. I just referenced this post – and you, in my most recent blog post, “One Year Ago . . .” I am grateful for your words in “Hitting Bottom”, that affirmed what I felt and moved me to reconnect with my heroin addict daughter – and help her get the help she needed to find recovery.

2 recoveryhelpdesk April 8, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Thanks Peggy for your comment and your post. For those that want to see the post:

3 Barbara April 9, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Hi Tom,

I agree with you completely. I think for me, one of the causes of my frustration, fear and complete despair during the first year of this ride, was that I felt compelled to listen to the “experts”. After all – I knew diddly squat about how to deal with a heroin addicted child and they had been doing it for years.

And just as you described above I went back and forth between the two extremes for a long time. It made things worse for Keven and made me miserable.

Then I had learned enough to start trusting my own instincts and doing what I believed to be right for each circumstance. My default position was ALWAYS enabling so I had to (still have to) keep a close watch on that.

Then I met YOU and you were one of the only people that confirmed what I was doing, and you just happen to be a professional in the field! It was very validating.

Now I realize I don’t give a darn about being validated, being right or being wrong, I just want to do what’s best for my son. I take each incident, each conversation one step at a time to determine what is best at that moment.

As a result, I am less stressed out, Keven has consistency from me and knows my boundaries, and he’s thanked me many times for learning about what he’s going through and for not making him feel unwanted or like a loser.

4 recoveryhelpdesk April 9, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Thanks for your comment Barbara. I’ve known you and followed your blog for over a year now, and I think you are a beautiful person and a darn good Mom. Your participation in NAMI, and the Phoenix House family program and so much more over the last year shows that you are engaged in supporting Keven’s recovery in a positive way.

5 Lou April 16, 2011 at 8:02 am

in our family’s experience with hard core heroin addiction-and you and I know there is “addiction” and then there is “junky”- I have found your posts to be consistently a voice of reason. I wish more of the parents would take the time to really educate themselves about letting them hit rock bottom.

6 recoveryhelpdesk April 17, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Thanks Lou, I appreciate the compliment.

7 Patti Herndon January 16, 2012 at 5:10 pm


I regret having missed your above post regarding ‘tough love’ at the time you offered it. But, I’m really glad I found it today. I’m going to refer others to it, often. It’s exactly on target.

What I have consistently observed in other family systems, and experienced in my own family’s 15 year journey, is that strategies synonymous with ‘tough love’ often end up the vehicle by which parents/other CSOs (even some clinicians, unfortunately- but that’s another topic) levy the dysfunction-perpetuating byproduct of their own unresolved anger/frustrations onto the substance use disordered family member.

“Power of the pattern”. Often times, at the heart of that ‘tough love’ methodology is unresolved, then projected anger/frustration aimed at the substance use disordered family member. This ultimately serves the scapegoating of the substance using family member, which increases stress/anxiety levels of the substance using family member (increases every family members stress levels, at that)…But, in effect, it’s the substance use disordered individual who pays the highest price for the projected anger in the form of their perpetuated coping with drugs/alcohol and potential increased risk of self-harming behaviors.

Tough love implementation can be dangerous at worst and benign at best. I’ve seen it over and over again -Parents/CSOs using this method of interaction under the guise of ‘boundaries’ and recovery purposed reasoning…But, so often there is unacknowledged resentment harbored by the parent(s)and/or other family members/CSOs, as well as the substance using family member. So, often times the ‘tough love’ implementation ends up being reduced to a tangible extension of the parents/CSOs unaddressed resentment. Though the anger/resentment experienced is understandable….It’s always toxic to recovery.

Addiction is beyond difficult …for everyone involved. But that anger/resentment must be individually acknowledged/owned in order to increase self-efficacy and collective momentum in recovery. This resolution of resentment will, quite naturally, help facilitate development of healthy relational boundaries -supporting and fueling recovery efforts. It takes increasing awareness and willingness to own ‘our own stuff’….But the result will be better functioning individuals… stronger, better- balanced family collective.

I want to make it crystal clear that I am in no way making a critical character judgment about parents or other CSOs in siting unacknowledged/unaddressed anger as a significant source of perpetuated dysfunction in the family system/relational dynamic, and as a maladaptive coping mechanism that acts as a trigger for substance use. I believe that the vast majority of family members/CSOs absolutely, truly desire to help their substance-using loved one. As parents, we do the best we can at any given moment with regard to the coping skill set, level of awareness we have to draw from in the moment.

So much of the time, the addiction challenge in the family system is the result of an inherent, generational pattern of coping that has been unconsciously ‘handed down’. It has survived, (sometimes for decades), in the lineage of a family system.

Due to that insidious nature of addiction, parent(s)/other family members are at a disadvantage in terms of conscious awareness and don’t recognize the resulting road block our unresolved anger represents/the role we play in perpetuation/propensity of a family member to cope with daily life via substances. But, the great news is that we can up our awareness…thus our ability to support ourselves, as well as healthy support of our addiction-challenged loved one through the change process.

In addition, we inadvertently add to the collective stigma associated with addiction, as parents and family members, by continuing to use vague, subjective recovery-centric language, which translates into vague, subjective methodologies in response to addiction. Methodologies that were, no doubt, originally intended to serve as support, but that really don’t end up helping us build the individual self-efficacy required to problem solve, and engage/sustain a healthy change process.

We can foster healthy change…little by little. It’s a process that takes as long as it takes. Every family system is different. But we can all learn from one another -facilitate hope as we make our way. Hope is a clinical component in the journey. As parents and other CSOs, we must get proficient at identifying those supports that nourish and encourge along our individual self-efficacy.

I’m so grateful for your wisdom, expertise and dedication, Tom. Happy New Year to you, and to all us parents/family members continuing to learn, hope and cope better and better…increasing our momentum and making our way to healthier, better lived moments. Keep up the great work. And heartfelt thanks to you for all you do in service to others.

Warm regards,


8 Casey January 23, 2012 at 7:14 pm

So what is your suggestion in lieu of “tough love”? You have made it clear you think it is harmful, but what do propose that is helpful?

9 recoveryhelpdesk January 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Hi Casey –I suggest parents take a moderate approach that permits parents to set their own personal boundaries, but also provide common sense recovery supports for their addicted love one. In other words, tell your son or daughter that they can’t live at home if that is what you need to do for yourself (because their living at home is causing harm to you or other family members, and say as much) but don’t kick them out pretending it is “for their own good” and will somehow help them stop using. Also, if having them live at home is workable and helps protect them from needless risk or harm then let them live at home while you support them in finding a path to recovery.

10 Lisa February 2, 2012 at 6:48 pm

I really need to learn more about this approach. What do you suggest? I am slowly realizing that my version at least of tough love does not work. It is a smoke screen for resentment, anger, and fear. Realizing recently that I was the scapegoat in my family (I am a recovering alcoholic who was the most emotionally honest in my family), I see now that I am making my only child the scapegoat too. That only leads to him feeling insecure and afraid and resentful–and using drugs to cope with these feelings. How awful it must be to be made to feel even worse than you do for something you are powerless over. Here I have been trying to “teach him a lesson” and we all know what that implies. Punishment. Instead he needs support and encouragement to go through what is a very difficult time for all involved. Thank you so much for being the voice of reason in a world that totally doesn’t get addiction.

11 recoveryhelpdesk February 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Thank you for your comment Lisa. I agree that your son does need your love, encouragement and support. In times of trouble we all need that. Keep thinking about what is and isn’t working, and keep an open mind. Even though your son is living with an addiction, what reduces harm is still good. What increases harm is still bad. Common sense still applies even with addiction and recovery.

12 Linda February 19, 2012 at 12:56 am

I have just found this web-site today. We have been dancing with our son for almost 10 years now, his problems with drugs and alcohol. Multiple attempts at rehab, I am an enabler, always trying to rescue him in one form or another. He has chronic pain issues, in my opinion only amplified by his opiate abuse, and we have supported him in every way possible. Last week we told him he needed to leave the house. I came home and found him passed out on the kitchen floor. He had been pill shopping, xanax & methatdone. So done, we found him in early december so out of it we could not wake him, xanax. Xmas eve his “best friend” died of a drug overdose. Obviously he has a problem, but he attributes it to his pain issues. Ummmm, lots of people get up every morning and go to work with chronic pain. He plays video games and does a few chores around the house. Oh, and he feels like he doesn’t have a father/son relationship with his dad. I’m dealing with cancer and need to have chemo radiation. I would love for him to be around and support me, but addicts are all about themselves. Tough love, we want him to do ok, but he has to understand that he needs to do something. I’m looking for some advice here. We are willing to help, but he has to be willing to be helped….not playing a game.

13 recoveryhelpdesk February 19, 2012 at 10:16 am

Hi Linda –You have a lot of difficult challenges going on and my first suggestion is that you remember to do what you need to do to take care of yourself. You can’t be in a position to help your son if you don’t take care of yourself first.

Any so-called “enabling” you are doing is not the problem, and tough love is not the solution. It shouldn’t be your focus.

Your son has a lot on his plate too. Addiction, chronic pain, grief/loss issues relating to the loss of his friend, relationship issues with his father, and a mother who could use his support but isn’t getting it. I would not be surprised to hear that he has PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and depression. The pattern of his drug use suggests to me that he may have significant emotional pain that he is trying to survive, and not just physical pain.

I would be concerned about suicide risk, and I would suggest that he be professionally assessed for that.

Your son is at serious risk for fatal drug overdose (as is probably obvious to you). Combining Xanax and methadone is a particularly deadly combination. Add alcohol and it’s even worse.

My suggestion is that you and your son work to get educated about suicide prevention and overdose prevention. That you make sure you are both getting some supportive counseling. That your son be given a mental health assessment, and treatment as needed. You said he has tried residential treatment several times but continues to use. If your son is opiate-dependent (you mentioned methadone use) I would suggest that your son seek treatment at the most professionally-run methadone or Suboxone clinic that you can find in your area. They will assess him and decide if he is appropriate for medication-assisted treatment.

This is emergency time or moving in that direction. This is not the time to worry about whether he is doing chores or spending too much time playing video games. Your focus should be on getting him mental health treatment and medication-assisted treatment for opiate dependence (if he is opiate dependent). Methadone or Suboxone treatment will reduce is risk of fatal drug overdose, and will allow him to address some of his other issues without dealing with withdrawal and cravings.

Telling your son he needs to move out may be what you need to do for yourself and other family members. Just understand that it will likely make him less safe, so don’t do it with the idea that you are doing it to help him.

I’m reading between the lines a lot, I know, because I am responding to a brief comment and I’ve never met you or your son. This is just an idea of what I suggest you should be thinking about and looking for as you move forward in supporting your son to find professional care.

My best to you Linda, to your son and to your family.

14 Angela May 2, 2012 at 3:00 am

wow, am i glad i found this website. my son is 25 and has been in three rehab treatment centers. i won’t go into the details of his journey, rather, make the point that i am so glad that i have followed by intuition. that intuition has always told me to strike a balance, per the situation.

i naturally am a fixit person, so i perhaps i would be naturally proned to enable. however, at the same time, i have always felt that completely kicking my son to the curb was not going to benefit him. he is in recovery now and we are working out the details of his commitments and follow-through (anxiety and depression meds, NA meetings, therapy, etc.).

it is almost 3 p.m. EST and your website was the last one that i read. am i glad i did! blessings to you and please keep up the good work, letting us know that there are other alternatives to simply kicking our children/adult children to the streets, which only provides the necessary risks and triggers for continued use and relapse.

15 recoveryhelpdesk May 4, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Thank you Angela…my best to you and your family. Tom

16 Anonymous June 17, 2012 at 12:57 am

My daughter is a struggling heroin addict with 3 months clean so far. She is living in Florida, where we have a 2nd home and she lives in a sober community. I am trying hard to be there for her but she is resenting me trying so hard. I am wondering if I should stay in Fl to be a support for her or should I leave her here and go back home and give her time. i have tried many things but nothing has been real good. She says thatat the pain she is feeling off the drug is very bad and she wants to use. What should I do

17 recoveryhelpdesk June 19, 2012 at 11:30 pm

I don’t know enough about your daughter’s situation or your relationship with your daughter to advise you about whether or not you should stay in Florida. A good first step would be to ask her how you can best support her recovery. Maybe you would both feel better if you gave your daughter some more space but stayed nearby a while longer until you both feel that things have reached a more stable place in her recovery. Best wishes to you both.

18 Mike July 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Hello, I stumbled upon this site accidentally. I am desperately trying to find help and answers for my friend. She is 23 with a 3 year old and addicted to opiates. She is bright, intuitive and has so much potential yet she has not been able to kick this. She has tried to detox and rehab several times without success. She has spiraled downward into finding ways to get money to get her daily dose… She is not a degenerate or mean spirited or beyond help. Abandoned at 14 by an alcoholic father who is dead and her mom is an addict living in another state n not much help or contact.

I am her only true friend and confidante, she looks up to me and trusts me, yet I can not win over this addiction.

Here in Florida the “free” clinics are just dismal and there’s a waiting list. After 2 years of watching her struggle I know Subs and Methadone are not an option for her. IMO she needs in-house treatment for at least 30 days if not more because she has little in the way of life management skills and no friends or support other than me. Trying to cope with her childhood is what has led her to this point I believe.

She has no money and not much prospect as of right now. I can not afford to help much financially or I would get her into treatment asap.

I’m desperately looking for answers and hope in finding a clinic or facility that has grants, financial aid, or would trade treatment for documenting her story thru pictures and video. I am a professional photographer for 30 years.

In the mean time I am providing her with love and support as best I can but my heart is broken and hurting for her and her little girl who, I fear, faces the same fate as her mother if I can not find help for her. Seeing someone so young and bright have to struggle every single day just to make it to tomorrow only to have to do it all over again, there is no hope and no time for her to think about anything else.

Is there any advice you or anyone else can offer? Thank you. Michael

19 GenM July 6, 2012 at 5:43 pm

My 19 year old struggles mightily with opiate addiction. He lives by himself about three hours from us and due to his reccent lack of activity and rather short fuse i fear he is usi g again. He has a sponsor and goes to meetings but this is not enough. He canbe extremely hard headed and set in his ways. We fund the apt and i am hesitant to heed the advice of his numerous rehab counselors and kick him to the curb because i am positive it is a death sentence.

He has been to multiple rehabs but i fear the bottom line is that he just doesnt want to be clean.

Im having a hard time figuring out what boundaries to set. I feel awful footing the bill for his apt and keep waiting for him to get a job but so far he just doesnt do much of anything. How can i help him, set boundaries that are necessary and not just toss him to the streets?

Thank you so much for this website. So far the only advice i have gotten is to pitch him out on his ear and if he dies, its his choice. This child is seriously sick. But i have not been able to find much help that does not advocate homelessness,


20 recoveryhelpdesk July 6, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Hi Mike –You’ve noticed your friend’s good qualities. And you’ve noticed that even with strong effort (multiple detoxes and rehabs) she has not been able to achieve sustained recovery. You mention that she had a difficult childhood, and that she has spiraled down to finding ways to get money to get her daily dose. You are painting an all too familiar picture for me. My advice:

1. Continue to recognize and admire her good qualities, and let her know you see them
2. Continue to recognize and honor her struggle, and let her know that you honor her struggle
3. Don’t rule out Suboxone or Methadone too quickly…read my Suboxone and Methadone pages and make sure you understand the treatments…these medications often save lives, and your friend sounds like a strong candidate for these treatments
4. Look for residential programs that take mothers with young children (separation from a child is a strong disincentive to accepting residential treatment, but active motherhood is a powerful incentive to stick with residential treatment)
5. Understand that your friend is dealing with complex addiction (childhood trauma, adult trauma, chronic relapse, economic hardship, single parenthood), and her recovery process has been and will probably continue to be challenging (prepare to be a long-term support throughout her recovery including during periods of use and non-use)
6. Keep the focus on safety

If I was designing the ideal treatment program for your friend, I would create a program that offered long-term residential treatment, that allowed her to keep her child with her, that provided medication-assisted treatment with methadone or Suboxone, and that focused on both addiction recovery and trauma recovery. Considering the obvious need for such programs and the likely improved effectiveness of such programs over programs without these components, it’s informative to notice that these programs are rare to non-existent. Your friend would do well to create her own recovery program by piecing these components together herself as best she can (safe and sober housing, medication-assisted treatment, recovery counseling, trauma counseling).

21 recoveryhelpdesk July 6, 2012 at 11:09 pm

GM –The housing issue is a tough one. Separate from the addiction issue, if your son is capable of being self-supporting, it is in his best interest to be self-supporting. Having said that, lot’s of people your son’s age need some financial support. In thinking this through, consider what you would make of the situation if addiction was not part of the equation. Then add the addiction issue to your calculus both as a possible barrier to becoming self-sustaining, and as an enhanced risk to safety if you son is without stable housing. Many of those who fill our homeless shelters and jails are addicted. This means that simply removing housing support is unlikely to result in recovery. It is more likely to delay recovery. That doesn’t mean the status quo is the best option. It just means that the way to success will include both a realistic path to sustainable recovery, and a realistic transition to independent living. Chances are your son wants to be free of addiction and wants to be independent. It’s just easier said than done. This means that he probably feels ambivalent, frustrated, anxious and depressed. He’s tried rehab multiple times, and he’s tried 12-step recovery. The addiction hasn’t gone away. He will cycle through a process of recovery attempts, and at times he may not have the emotional resources and motivation to make another strong effort quite yet. Work to keep him safe and motivated to keep on trying. If he keeps trying, it will come. My best to you and your son. Tom

22 GenM July 8, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Thanks Tom. Good advice and i think i see some boundaries a bit more clearly that can be accomplished without sending him to a homeless shelter which i feel in my gut will end badly. We do need to make him responsible though.

On another note, i have considered suboxone therapy and would ike your input on that. I realize you do not know him and cannot speak to specifics. We tried it awhile back but had a great deal of trouble with the physician being available to write refill prescriptions or even being available to see him for follow up appointments so it did notwork so well.

Justwinderingwhat your opinion of such therapies for a 19 yr old would be.

Many thanks


23 recoveryhelpdesk July 16, 2012 at 10:10 pm

GM –Medication-assisted treatment with Suboxone is often very effective. Given the fact that your son has been to multiple rehabs and yet has been unable to build a stable recovery, I would strongly urge your son to consider treatment with Suboxone or methadone. Do some reading on the Suboxone and methadone pages of this website to understand why and how these medications reduce risk for fatal drug overdose, incarceration and more. Tom

24 Karen July 28, 2012 at 9:25 pm

I am torn with how to deal with this monstrous invasion of my home, as I hopelessly watch the destruction this drug has and is causing to my 20 year old daughter. I am angry of all the money she has stolen from me, pawned all my precious family heirlooms, even the garden tools and numerous other items from my home. Sure these are materialistic items, but I am now forced to sleep with my wallet and car keys under my pillow, locks on my bedroom door and get to listen to her outbursts as though I am the person at fault for placing this drug into her veins. I have never gone through something so heart wrenching in my life. I have not kicked her out for fear this will only cause her to lapse into a deeper self destruction. I feel so hopeless and so wish I could wave that magic wand to make this nightmare go away. She refuses treatment, won’t go for counseling and can handle this her own way. I am in fear that I may find her in her room one day, it is so difficult to cope. I listen to other parents brag about their children’s accomplishments and I hide behind a smile when asked about mine. What am I to say, she doing great today—or oh my daughter is a heroin addict. I hate this drug, I hate what it has done to her and those who enable her to obtain this wicked concoction. I hope and pray she finds her way back. So my tough love is trying to search for answers, strength and wisdom to beat this hellish nightmare causing a typhoon within our lives.

25 Joni September 15, 2012 at 5:39 am

Karen (July 28, 2012)

Boy, if we aren’t living the same life! I am completely beside myself. At times, I wonder how I even look at my son after all he has done to me, my family, property, himself. I must say it pisses me off, whether I’m selfish (which I don’t consider myself to be) or a bitch….I hate the fact that I have to accept what has been done to me by my son-that I’m told to forgive/forget, get over it, etc. ( I have soo much to say) but can’t put it all into words. I want this kid to not forget what he has done, take responsibility (daily) for ALL his actions-everything I read seems to imply to coddle the drug addict, don’t upset or hurt their feelings…… I think this is the type of “acceptance” , “parenting”, or whatever you wanna call it led to using and abusing. Idk

26 recoveryhelpdesk September 15, 2012 at 11:11 am

Hi Joni –Your anger and frustration are natural. You are dealing with one of the hardest challenges a parent can face. The questions is, what do you do with that? You have to decide what personal boundaries you need to set for yourself to protect yourself and your family from harm (and that’s not being selfish). And what level of support you want to offer your son to help keep him safer from harm as he struggles to transition from addiction to recovery. I don’t advise parents to coddle, avoid upsetting or avoid hurting the feelings of their addicted children. And I don’t tell parents to get over it. I do say that if parents want to make a difference in the outcome of their child’s addiction, they need to both set reasonable personal boundaries and look for opportunities to provide reasonable recovery supports. What is reasonable in your situation depends on you and your situation. I hope you can recognize the difference between the two approaches. My best to you, your son and your family. Tom

27 DM September 25, 2012 at 6:16 am

I have to say, I am feeling somewhat relieved after reading all the stories on here. I am so glad I came across this blog.

My story has one common denominator with everyone else’s story. Heroin addiction. But, I am not a parent of an addict. My partner is an addict of 11 years or thereabouts. When we met he was completely open about his past and I immediately warmed to him. He trusted me with this very sensitive and personal problem of his and I instantly felt trust in him. But never really understood addiction until it came at me like a freight train.

I absolutely love him to bits. He is very caring, loving, funny, hardworking, loyal and makes me very happy. But he has a dark side that breaks my heart and he knows how much it hurts me…and that hurts him more.

He wasn’t using daily when we met, infact he denied he was using at all. He tried to hide it from me in fear of losing me but I was wise to it all the time. I confronted him about it, I was warm and open and not challenging and he opened up to me more. It strengthened our relationship and I felt compelled to help him. I made it clear to him that I would never ask him to stop or use tactics to try and manipulate him to get clean. I simply asked him to never keep it from me and that we would deal with each hurdle as it came.

He works away from home for a period of 3 weeks at a time and while he is away to work he has no access to drugs so the temptation is removed and I am at peace with myself. I don’t hear from him for around 4 days to begin with as he is suffering horrific withdrawal symptoms but yet still manages to get out of bed and work in extreme conditions.

At the summer he suffered a major relapse and was using maybe in excess of 6 or 7 times a day. It has been a rollercoaster ride but each time I make it clear how much it breaks my heart and I will never leave his side. It has taken a few months but since then he has written me letters trying to explain how he feels most of the time and how difficult it is for him to talk to me about it in great depth as it upsets him. He asked me to watch a documentary about addiction and I cried all the way through it. He says he hates himself for who he is and what he has done to himself but I reassure him that I do not see him that way and that he should be proud of even trying.

He has great determination but having relapsed so many times in the past he feels he is a complete letdown to himself and everyone that cares about him and I think this is the biggest barrier to his recovery. He has tried everything. But I remind him that he must fight many battles to win the war and he can do it. He is tapering slowly but surely and is sick most days. He maybe uses 2 or 3 times a day now but still manages to smile and laugh with us.

Tough love definitely does not work. If I was to tell him to jog on and put him out he would go back to his old routine…living out a rucksack at mates houses, not eating, not showering daily, falling deeper and deeper. I am much happier for him to be around me so I can take care of him and give him the love and support he needs.

I just hope that he will get there x

28 recoveryhelpdesk September 25, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Thanks for reading DM, and for you comment. My best to you and your partner. Tom

29 Anonymous September 26, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Mike, Rehab for women with children try The Gratitud House in West Palm Beach, Fl. Women rehab “Wayside House” in Delray Beach. Fl

30 Anon November 25, 2012 at 11:25 am

My son has decided to self treat w suboxone he bought on the street. He is angry that we don’t see this as a good thing. I am so afraid of finding him dead after he nearly overdosed last March. He refuses to go to rehab or MA meetings and thinks he can manage a five year heroin addiction on his own,
I am willing to pay for any treatment he will engage in, but at this point I can’t have him living at home using drugs and exposing his younger siblings to his erratic behavior. He says I am a terrible mother and trying to “control” him and that this is “smothering” him. H e is 28 and has not been able to get it together to move out in a year.
So is telling him to leave tough love or moderate? I don’t want to abandon him, but he is exposing all of us to things we cannot tolerate

31 Ann December 28, 2012 at 2:50 pm

As I sit here reading this blog, I am beside myself with worry and fear for my heroin addicted son. He is in the county jail now and will be released this weekend. He can’t stay at my home–it is just too dangerous to have him at home with his habit, including stealing and leaving used needles lying around.

I’m supposed to be doing the tough love thing. But it is cold outside and there are very few resources for homeless people right now. I’m so scared for him.

I’ve done everything humanly possible for him, but he thinks i just want to keep him locked up. He’s been in therapy, juvenile detention, outdoor camp, rehab for teens, two halfway houses, and now jail. He’s been kicked out of everything except therapy and jail. I’ve hoped that he would learn a lesson with all the things he’s gone thru. Maybe something like enjoying not being locked up.

How is a mom supposed to be strong and keep the rest of the family safe? What is one supposed to do? I am just so afraid and am glad I found this site.

32 Anonomys1 January 20, 2013 at 6:48 pm

My wife and I have been battleug addiction together for the past three years. It has been a complete roller coaster ride of months of sobriety taken down by months of relapses. I don’t know if we are going to survive this battle but we pray every day for our freedom from this nightmare. We both have steady jobs, a home, a car, and we enjoy a normal married life, accept when it comes to that little voice in our heads that cause such anxiety and pain and them we give in and we chase that dragon all the whole in tears. We have both been to rehab in the past and it did work for very long periods of time, however we are both at a point in our careers that we can’t just take leave for rehab, it would destroy our futures. Any advice would be much appreciated. The truth is that separating is not an option. We are too in love and we didn’t go into this relationship as addicts and we didn’t find addiction with eachother. I just feel so helpless right now. We have subs but the anxiety of not using is getting the better of us. The most important thing for you to know is how deeply and painfully we both wish to be clean and start a family. It kills us every day.

33 Anonomys1 January 20, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Well I am so thankful I found this site today, after talking to my wife and showing her my question posed above, we reached out to afew friends and found a place near by that will help us jump start our detox inpatient. It’s a place here in NV called West Care and we are going in to schedule our stay this week. Apparently the treatment is free of charge which is just the best news ever considering we don’t have health insurance currently. I approached my wife with this news/idea today an I was nervous that she would have objections, but much to my delight she was just as ecstatic as I was! Please send prayer our way and wish us luck for this week we try to tackle our addiction and get our life back. I know we can do this, for our love is so strong I won’t allow us to fail. thank you so much for this site which today has given me the motivation I have so desperately needed for so long.

34 cathey March 17, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Would love to be on your mailing list. I don’t know what to do. My son overdosed on heroin last week and has shut us out of his life completely. Now he sends me this blog link and is making me feel guilty for not being supportive in his recovery. I did not even know he was in recovery. I only saw him once after he got out of ICU and he was high then. I need a manual for this. Everyone tells me something different to do or not do. I am screaming inside my broken heart.

35 maggie May 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I stumbled across this blog, and must say I too do not believe in ‘tough love’. I know that some people, including my own sister, think I have been enabling my 30 year old son throughout his 14 year battle with opiate and barbiturate addiction, because I never threw him out.The truth is that I have always laid down ground rules for acceptable behaviour, and insisted they were adhered to. I have pleaded, advised, consoled, generally prevented the compounding of problems, but mostly just waited, and continued to love him, even when he seemed like some alien monster rather than my son. For most of the time it has been emotionally a very bumpy ride, but overall there has been constant, gradual improvement, until suddenly I realised some 5-6 years ago that although still an addict, he was definitely on the road to recovery. He began studying and got a place at University, where despite his addiction problems, he sailed, academically, through the first year of his course. His second year never really took off. The deaths of several close family members, the unexpected breakdown of his own relationship, an inability to settle down away from the college campus, saw his drug intake suddenly begin to spiral out of control. He realised this was happening, felt guilty and full of self-loathing, then had a complete mental breakdown. He spoke to his college counsellor, and decided to take time out to seek medical treatment, to go into rehab, to have counselling and psychotherapy and re-evaluate his life. When he felt able to, he would then return to study.
There were massive problems getting him the help he needed. It took over a year just to get him into a rehab facility, only to discover that the 12 step approach was not for him. He felt, and still feels that it tied him socially to other addicts (both in recovery and still active). Since it had largely been the social aspects of addiction which had kept him using, rather than any craving for the drugs themselves, it was never going to help him integrate into society as a whole, rather it would keep him exactly where he had been all along, where all his problems lay. He never got to see a psychiatrist either, and the only medical treatment he got was for hepatitis c, after he was already off the drugs. Basically, he hid himself away, weaned himself off the drugs, went nowhere, saw no one for 2 years. He sat in his room and read.
This year he reapplied to his old University, presuming there would be no problems either starting over, or even picking up where he had left off. His academic record was excellent, albeit short, his interest in his subject as passionate as ever, his knowledge base greater than before, and he now had neither health nor addiction problems to stand in his way, so what could go wrong? Everything!!! College turned him down because they felt he might not be able to cope…..ever. They suggested he find something less demanding to do than study. But then the only thing he had ever really wanted to do, or had enjoyed, was study…..
That night he went out and ‘scored’ for the first time in two years. He was very lucky that a quick-thinking addict he knew, saw and followed him. He recognised the behaviour pattern of someone who was about to deliberately OD and he managed to get him to Casualty in time, thereby saving his life. It had been his intention to kill himself, and initially he was very angry that he hadn’t succeeded. He still sees no point in living.
This was 3 months ago. He hasn’t used since, but only, I think, because once again he doesn’t go out. This is his way of coping, but it is not good. He refuses to get outside help, and says he can not envisage any kind of future for himself. I know he is in the grips of depression. For him, one of the most important aspects of college life was the feeling not just of being part of a community, but of actively participating in it. It gave him a purpose in life, and replaced the community of addicts he had been part of for so long. I know all this, and I can empathise with his emptiness and pain. Rationally I know he has other options, there are other colleges, they may not offer exactly the same course, but they offer something similar. Nevertheless, it now all means waiting at least 18 months to even apply, and he can’t realistically hide away all that time. Word gets around, and old addict friends are already ringing him on the house phone…..I don’t want him to be a recluse, but I don’t want him sliding back into his old life either…. I can’t push him into anything he’s not ready for, but I am more scared for his future now, I think, than I ever was before.

36 recoveryhelpdesk May 21, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Hi Maggie –Your son has gotten very good at avoiding the “people, places and things” that might put him at risk for relapse. He has been less successful at identifying new people, places and things that will support his recovery. It’s a shame that the university turned him down. Would it be possible to revisit that decision with them? If you are in the US (some of your phrasing makes me think you might from Canada, UK or Australia?), you may want to ask an attorney if the University might be in violation of the American’s With Disabilities Act. They seem to be discriminating against him based on his history of addiction (people who are in recovery from drug dependence are protected under the ADA). This may convince them to reconsider. Applying at other universities might help him begin to be more future oriented and less depressed. You should start to talk to him about his future, and help him imagine what a good future might look like. He may deny the ability to picture that at first, but you should both persist. “Ok, you can’t imagine a future for yourself right now…but if you could, what might that look like? Right now you don’t have to think about how you will get there, just focus on imagining what that good future would look like.” My best to you and your son, Tom

37 Karen May 22, 2013 at 7:01 pm

I just found out my son is doing herion and prior to that he was taking Percocet. He almost od’d in jr high and is now almost 23. My younger son suffers from major anxiety over the stress in our house. I told my older son I loved him and would take him to treatment but he said he is not using herion. I took him to dinner and he almost choked on the food and nodded off a few times. He looked severely wasted and his movements were so slow it was so scary. 2 beautiful young adults in our area recently passed away over herion and he doesn’t want to get help. Denial I told him I would do an intervention and he said I will kill you. My son has turned into a monster his younger brother leaves when he shows up. I do not want to give up on him but he refuses help what do you do now?

38 recoveryhelpdesk May 23, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Hi Karen, You say that your son has been using opiates since junior high and is now 23 years old, so his addiction is long term at this point. If he has already tried short term and/or long term residential treatment and these treatments have not succeeded, he may be appropriate for medication-assisted treatment with methadone or buprenorphine. Given his overdose history, and the fact that his peers locally are dying from heroin overdoses, I’m sure you are thinking alot about how to best help him avoid fatal overdose. Medication-assisted treatment will substantially reduce his overdose risk and help him initiate recovery. Something to consider! Tom

39 Barbara December 3, 2014 at 5:46 am

I am so grateful for having found this site! I had no experience with heroin addiction until several weeks ago when I ran into and became reacquainted with a 26 year old young man I had known previously. At the time I initially met him he was enrolled in our community college and was doing well. I admired him for his struggle to overcome what I gradually learned about his childhood. He had suffered the most horrific abuse and had been shuffled from foster home to foster home from age seven. His mother is an addict and was physically and emotionally abusive. His father was murdered in front of him. We bonded over the course of our talks. I lost touch with him for about two years, but ran into him and immediately began meeting and talking again. He has “adopted” me as his surrogate mother. He had two years sobriety with Suboxone support, and was working when we reacquainted. A series of major stressors occurred including a fire leading to homelessness. He was accepted into a residential program that would solve the homelessness problem, but which required that he be off the Suboxone. He titrated too quickly and relapsed. He is back on the street. I am unable to provide shelter or I would. I am watching him spiral deeper into Heroin addiction. He is stealing now, including from me, to pay back alley drug dealers. He begs me to take him to these places so he can “get well.” He had an appt to go in to detox and I did what I felt I had to to keep him somewhat stable until his admission date, including paying for motel rooms after I learned he had slept in freezing weather on the porch of an abandoned house. I got him to the detox program door on his acceptance date and time. He said he would call me every day! I left. Hours later he called, and he had walked away and was back on the street. He has a 3-year sober fiancé who is very supportive but is in a treatment program and unable to help him financially. In the community I am all he has. I have exhausted my resources so that other than emotional support I have nothing. He pleads with me to take him to where he can meet up with a dealer. I feel the areas and the people are dangerous. I know that without the drug he will get very sick very fast. Sober he is a wonderful person….smart, kind, loving. I am not willing to lose him to this drug, but I do not know where to draw the boundaries so that he feels the caring and support but so I am also protecting myself. BTW I believe he is an undiagnosed diabetic so where does that fall in the priority lineup? He eats huge, huge amounts of sugar and precious little nourishing food. He also has Hep C. Sigh…

40 Alexandra December 4, 2014 at 1:23 am

I just stumbled on this page after spending part of my afternoon doing a mental essay on why tough love doesn’t work. You’ve said everything I was thinking, but much more succinctly. Thank you for the work you do!

I lost my brother to an IV cocaine overdose last September, and as I was in counselling school at the time, I made working with addicted people my focus. I now do pro bono work for people who are actively addicted, contemplating recovery, or in recovery. Living in Vancouver, and so close to the downtown eastside, and with some very progressive harm reduction programs here, there are so many excellent resources for addicts, but not nearly enough support for families. I’m glad to see that more people and professionals are suggesting approaches that don’t include tough love.

Thanks again!

41 Mike Hankins December 18, 2014 at 1:33 am

My daughter is a heroine addict .she wants to go to rehab.but when she finishes she said she is going back to her boyfriend who is also a heroine addict.i think she will go right back to heroine if she goes back to him.what can I tell her in a nice way. That this is a bad idea to evensee him again.

42 recoveryhelpdesk December 28, 2014 at 10:59 pm

Hi Mike –It’s great that your daughter wants to go to rehab. Supporting that decision is the most important thing right now. Less important at the moment is her plans for after rehab. Once she is at rehab, she will likely hear advice from staff about avoiding poeple who are currently using while she is in early recovery. You can express your concerns in a nice way (as you say), but this might be better done once she is already at the rehab if you think there is a risk that this conversation could result in her decision to opt out of rehab. Help her identify other options in terms of a place to live, so that deciding not to move back in with the boyfriend is a realistic option for her. I would not suggest that you tell her that she should never see her boyfriend again. If she is not ready to let go of him, this is likely to invite a defensive response. Take it slow. Ask questions. Listen. Be supportive of the recovery process. Share your concerns gently and with a sense of good timing. Be slow to prescribe solutions (like never seeing him again ever). Allow her to think it through. One of the benefits of residential treatment is that it gives people some distance from their daily life and an opportunity to reflect. Wishing you and your daughter the best. Tom

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