CHAPTER 3 : Tough Love


Tough love can be a scary concept to a family, but once you grasp the true nature, it can be one of the most effective approaches you have in getting your loved one to embrace recovery. Bottom lines are where we draw the final line in the sand with a using addict. It is an acknowledgement that if they wish to continue a path of destruction, we will no longer participate, be negatively affected, or dragged down with them any longer. It is potentially the final statement in any intervention.

Bottom lines should never be delivered out of anger or spite. They are just a setting of healthy boundaries.

If your loved one decides that he wants to continue using drugs or alcohol, then it is suggested that each of the family members change two primary aspects of their lives:

Tough Love


Following the two suggestions on the previous page can have a tremendous effect. For some people it can be the first step toward freedom, not only for you but for your loved one as well.

Here are some examples of boundaries or bottom lines that some family members have used during our interventions:

  • I will no longer give you money.”
  • “I can’t have you calling me any longer unless it is to say that you want treatment.”
  • “If you do not accept help for your drug problem, you can no longer live in my home.”
  • “I am removing you from the will unless you seek help.”
  • “I won’t let you see your nephews until you get help.”
  • “I’m taking the car away until you get help for your alcohol problem.”
  • “I’m not a liar, so I will no longer lie to people about your addiction problem. When others ask how you are doing, I’ll tell them exactly how you are doing.”
  • “I’ve pretended not to notice your problem in the past. From now on, if you come over when you are high, I’m not going to let you in the house.”
  • “The next time I see you get in a car to drive intoxicated, I will call the police.”
  • “I won’t listen to your problems until you get help.”
  • “We will be changing the trust fund until you complete a treatment program.”
  • “You can no longer work at the family business.”
  • “I will no longer give you rides or drive you to work until you agree to treatment.”
  • “I will no longer pick up your slack at work. When you don’t get your work done, you’ll have to explain to the boss.”
  • “I’m not going to tell your boss you have the flu when you have a hangover.”
  • “I will not invite you to family get-togethers until you get help for your drug problem.”
  • “You can no longer work for me unless you complete treatment and stay sober.”
    •  “I’m going to take over custody of your children until you demonstrate that you are a fit parent.”
  • “Your mom and I will quit paying your school expenses until you get help.”
  • “You can no longer be a part of the lives of my children until you go to treatment.”
  • “I can no longer socialize or hang out with you until you seek help.”

Each of these bottom lines is a boundary that a family member sets to prevent themselves from experiencing the continual harm from their loved one’s addiction. None of these are actual punishments, but a change made in their life so that they were no longer contributing nor feeling the negative effects of their loved one’s addictions. Notice that most had a life-line such as “…until you seek help.” It is important to always buffer a bottom line with a loving statement that opens the door to recovery. Bottom lines should end during the time that someone is actively in treatment and recovery. Do not confuse mere abstinence with actual recovery. Just because your loved one has not had a drink or a drug for the last couple of days is no reason to backpedal on the boundaries you have set down.


If you can be firm about making changes and setting some healthy boundaries in your life, then several things will usually happen as a result. If you do remain firm, then three primary results usually occur because of an effective bottom line delivery are:

Over time…

…you will be less affected by the addiction and its negative consequences.

Since the addict’s actions are harming you, then altering your life in such a way that you are no longer negatively affected by their addiction will eventually free you from harm. This is extremely important for your emotional, mental and spiritual fitness.

…you will become less responsible for the addiction and its consequences.

If you have been contributing to the addiction in the past by your actions or inactions, changing that behavior will take away your accountability for their addiction. The results of using will be theirs and only theirs to bear. It is important to give back ownership of the addiction to the addict.

…your loved one will begin to feel the negative consequences of their addiction and be more inclined to want to change.

Allowing someone to feel the pain of their decisions is often the hardest thing for a loved one to do. As mentioned before in the section entitled The Effects or Consequences of Enabling on page 21, it is important to allow an alcoholic or addict to feel the consequences of their addiction. Letting someone receive the gift of the misery of their destructive lifestyle is the most precious thing that you can allow them to have. As much as it pains you, it is usually the only way that they will desire to change.

As scary of a concept that tough love can be, when you look at each of the previous results then it is much easier to see that bottom lines can be a rather positive action. However, just because something logically makes sense, does not make it emotionally very easy to do. A reason that many families fail during any intervention process is that they are unwilling to stay the course. Since they have never truly seen the results of properly delivered bottom-lines and their own emotions get in the way, many simply give up and fall back to false hope.

 They crumble and begin to hope that one day their loved one will change on their own. But the odds that an addict will decide to seek treatment on their own without some outside intervention is very slim. The question that we ask many family members during tough love is “Do you love your addict enough that you are willing to temporarily hurt them to help them?” If the answer is yes, then you are ready to set some healthy boundaries and with the support of your team. Tough love is a difficult process, but also one of the most dramatically beneficial ones when set and adhered to.


If your loved one refuses treatment, a good suggestion is that you remember that you are now a team. During the bottom line stage an addict will almost always seek out the primary enabler and try to reconnect through sympathy. Keep in close contact with the other members of the group during this trying time. Remember that there may be other members of the team that are not emotionally as strong or stable as you are. Sometimes a simple phone call or a reaffirmation to them can be the difference between their holding out and allowing the process to work or their crumbling and letting the addict manipulate them back into full enabling.

There are a few suggested rules that ideally should be agreed upon by every member of the team during bottom line phase:

  1. Do not go back on  your bottom  lines. If you begin to weaken out of fear or hope, then you may very well find yourself in the same situation that you were in before the intervention. Remain firm and do not compromise from a solution that you had decided upon earlier
  2. For those that have the strongest emotional connection (usually spouses, parents or children) consider attending local support groups such as Al-Anon, Alateen, therapy, or counseling sessions to help you during this difficult process.
  3. During the first 30 days, contact each member of the team at least once per week.
  4. Always get permission from the   rest   of the group in any handlings of the alcoholic or addict. If you have any contact from them and they wish to talk, negotiate, beg, etc. then you must not agree to anything involving him unless the entire group agrees. Some families collectively agree that   they are not to decide on anything regarding the addict for an entire year unless they have the consent of every other member   of   the   intervention   team, even if they are in treatment. The reason for this is because those   that   are   emotionally connected   to an alcoholic or addict should realize that their judgment can be impaired. Manipulating a group is always more difficult than manipulating the individual.

*SPECIAL NOTE: If your loved one calls and suggests injury to himself or others, bottom line phase must be temporarily ended, and the proper authorities contacted. If your decision for tough love was to sever contact until they agree to go to treatment and they call you in a suicidal manner, then you should not abruptly hang up on them. Contact the authorities and have them deal with it properly. Afterwards, go back into the bottom line phase. Again, if you have any doubts as to what exactly is the right thing to do, then the golden rule is always call the other members of the team for feedback. If everyone in the group agrees that something is a good idea, then it probably is. If one member disagrees, then it probably is a bad idea. Remember that the perception of the enablers is always different from those who are not the enablers. Do not trust your judgment – trust the judgment of the group.


Dear Tom,

You are our son, our father, our brother and our friend and we love you very much. That’s why we all came here today, because we truly do love you. And we love you enough that we accept your decision to choose drugs over us, even though it hurts us so. We wanted you to accept the help that we have offered you here today. We prayed all last night that you would take this gift, that’s how much we wanted it. But we also got together as a family and agreed that no matter what your decision was, we would accept it. So we accept your decision to choose drugs over life.

To choose addiction over your family. We don’t like it, but we accept it.

However, we know some things today that we didn’t know before. We used to think that when we bailed you out of jail, lent you money, let you sleep on the couch when you lost another place, and ignored the money you’d steal from us during the worst times that we were actually helping you. Today, we know differently.

So from now on, as long as you choose drugs over this family; as long as you choose drugs over all of US, things must change. From now on, we can no longer have you staying in this home, or even visiting, because every time you walk out the door we wonder if it will be the last time we will see you again. We can’t have you call us any longer unless it is to say that you want treatment, because every time we hang up the phone, we dread the next phone call. I fear that it will be from the police or the morgue, and my heart always skips a beat. We can no longer lie for you. From now on when any of your old friends or other members of the family ask how you are doing, we will tell them exactly how you are doing. I know that you have been expecting the money from my estate when I pass on, but tomorrow I will be meeting with my attorney and I am changing my will to give everything to charity. I would rather my estate go to a good cause than to a drug addict or drug dealer. In addition to all these things, we are looking into taking over custody of your children. We are making this decision because your children do not deserve to go through the drug lifestyle that you are choosing.

This is not us abandoning you, as you might be thinking, but rather you choosing drugs over us. We have invited you to come back into our family, and it is you who is leaving us by rejecting this gift. We love you desperately and only want you to get better but we can no longer participate in this slow suicide you seem bent on. If you change your mind, we will be waiting, but until then this is how it must be. This is killing us to watch you slowly die, to see the son that once said he would take on the world slowly go away. So until you choose treatment, this will be the last time you will hear from us, and the last time we want to hear from you. Good luck with your life, and we hope you do well, as much as we know it will be otherwise with drugs in your life. We love you very much. But this is goodbye.

— Your loving family

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