Harm reduction versus tough love

by | Feb 22, 2018 | Addiction Treatment Center

If someone in your life is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are very likely familiar with the concept of tough love. Tough love means that you stop enabling an addict. Enabling means that you are providing some form of assistance to the addict which provides aid to their survival while they are still using drugs. According to NPR, tough love may be a bad idea. Helping loved ones to get proper medical treatment through detox and rehab may be a better idea.

The thinking behind tough love is that if you prop up the addict with this sort of support, you are making their drug use possible and sustainable. Tough love includes things like kicking the addict out of your home and changing the locks. It can mean withholding financial assistance of any kind. Also it means to not cover up or stand up for the addict when they get in trouble in the workplace or with the law.

Some people may interpret tough love to mean cutting off all communications and contact all together. They may even discontinue providing any help that promotes recovering from addiction. The reason for this may be due to the frustration of repeated failures and relapses. If recovery activities are not working why continue supporting them? Tough love is a concept that has been around for a very long time.

Another concept which has coming to use more recently is harm reduction. Well harm reduction is definitely not the opposite of tough love, there are areas where the two concepts seem to be at opposition. Harm reduction includes any support that reduces the risk of harm from ongoing drug use. It might include supporting the existence of safe drug use areas and clean needle programs. Also it may include the distribution of free or low-cost Narcan to reduce the likelihood of an overdose death from opiates and opioids.

Harm reduction might also be interpreted to mean providing ongoing support for activities that support recovery such as driving an addict to a meeting, providing a meeting list, offering support and transportation and possibly even financial support or help in obtaining financial support for treatment programs.

In fact, harm reduction may even be extended to include treating the addict with more respect. After all, addiction is, without a doubt, a medical illness. It is a chronic illness which needs ongoing long-term treatment. Many experts compare addiction to diabetes as a chronic illness. It might also be compared to terminal cancer. The goal in cancer treatment is remission.

While we can never be certain that the cancer is completely eradicated, we do our best in keeping it at bay for as long as possible. How many addicts are happy to hear when they are examined by a doctor that they are physically healthy. They don’t take into account the fact that addiction itself is it dangerous and deadly condition which is often terminal within a fairly short period of time if not aggressively treated. Thinking of addiction as being more like cancer may be helpful in realizing how serious a situation this really is.

One reason why we treat addicts the way that we do, sometimes we treat them like children and less than full human beings, is because addiction is a mental illness and has effects on certain aspects of behavior. Unfortunately, one of these effects is that addiction causes The afflicted person to lie to their loved ones,to steal and other unbecoming behaviors which are often seen more as moral failings rather than symptoms of a serious and deadly disease.

Family members friends co-workers and other loved ones may hold resentments against the addict. Our treatment as a society of those who are afflicted with mental illness needs to change. Mental illness is as real as any physical condition and should be treated as such.

In fact, it has been proposed that we should not even call a person who suffers from various types of addiction as an addict. There must be a fundamental change in the use of language and how we describe the people and behavior regarding this condition.

So, understanding what harm reduction is and also having a new understanding of what it means for someone to be addicted to drugs may help in changing the way that we are able to support our loved ones. Unfortunately, the nature of drugs has changed over time as well. The addict does not get as many second chances these days as I once did.

The drugs that are out there on the street now are far more deadly than they were in decades past. While some elements of tough love may still be valid, we must be careful in how far we take this concept. If we neglect our loved ones who are afflicted with the disease of addiction, we may be contributing to their ultimate death.

Harm reduction means changing everything about how we see this condition and providing the necessary support to help our loved ones and fellow human beings to survive with the chronic illness of addiction.

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