If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, you are probably familiar with the reality TV show Intervention. If not, then you are at least likely familiar with the term and concept. It’s about using “tough love” to shock your loved one into finally doing something about his or her addiction. It typically involves strict guidelines or even expulsion from the family. Well, according to some leading professionals, that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.
“Don’t do it,” says Dr. Mark Willenbring, the former director of treatment research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, who now runs a clinic that treats addiction. “Interventions are almost always destructive, and sometimes, they destroy families.”
“The pure tough love approach does not seem particularly effective and is sometimes quite cruel and potentially counter-productive,” agreed Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
It is also recommended that friends and family not rely on the justice system to effect treatment for them. Prisons tend to be neither safe nor drug free. They also lead to lifelong problems including additional trauma and a permanent record affecting both future job and housing applications. It most frequently does much more harm than good when someone encounters courts and jails instead of treatment, as a result of his or her addiction.
So what’s a loved one to do?
Community Reinforcement and Family Therapy, known by the acronym of CRAFT. Research indicates that it is at least twice as effective as an Intervention. Through implementation of CRAFT, family members are educated on how to positively motivate loved ones to gently guide them to a long-lasting recovery. It also eliminates the need for the painful, full-frontal confrontation and the risk of completely cutting off a family member. Everyone is taught self-care skills along the way to help avoid relapse.
This doesn’t mean family members must tolerate the addicted person’s behavior at all costs. There are “certainly times that people’s behavior is so significantly impaired that they’re impossible to live with,” noted Compton. Family members, of course, must protect their own mental and physical well-being. “There quite understandably needs to be limit-setting, but that’s different from thinking there will be benefit to being homeless and without support.”
It can feel unbearable watching a loved one self-destruct in addiction and start taking the rest of the family down with him or her into the abyss. It’s always best to seek professional help for advice and assistance. And now, armed with the knowledge of what’s most effective, it will be easier to make good decisions on how to best heal your family through this crisis.