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"People with addiction need to be shown tough love."

The Tired Narrative: 

The notion that people with addiction are best helped by "tough love" is a popular idea, especially among teenagers and emerging adults whose parents have sought treatment for them. 

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The Informed Narrative: 

Addiction is defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as a disorder “characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences." This means that trying to use negative consequences— like tough love— is not likely to succeed.


In fact, research shows that the most successful treatments for addiction involve compassionate, empathetic and supportive care, in which people are treated with respect.  “Tough love” treatments that involve “boot camp” approaches, harsh confrontation and trying to “scare people straight” have repeatedly been proven to be ineffective, harmful or both.   




Tough Love is an outdated tactic that misconstrues the nature of the addiction. It is not recommended for any other disease––and that's because if addiction was actually seen as a disease, it wouldn't be recommended for addiction either. 

Connect with Expert Sources:

Maia Szalavitz, journalist Vice News

Brooke Feldman, in recovery, social worker 

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