Family Drug Support Australia
Support Line: 1300 368 186
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Why tough love has no place in the FDS model

There is often a debate on ‘tough love’ as an effective strategy for families dealing with alcohol and other drug issues. At FDS we believe that applying punitive strategies is not really effective and, in some cases, may lead to more problems than solutions. ‘Tough love’ has been not supported by treatment services and experts around the world. What was more critical in our decision not to recommend it was listening to the anguished stories of families who regret having applied the ‘tough love’ strategy. In some cases, ‘tough love’ only resulted in greater levels of anxiety and worry for families. In other cases, the family had lost all contact with the person using drugs and alcohol, and worse still families telling us about tragic deaths by suicide or overdose as a consequence of these actions.

This is not to downplay the problems that alcohol and other drugs can cause. We firmly believe that setting effective boundaries with consequences for breaching, that everyone can live with is usually necessary. There is an article on boundary setting on our website https://www.fds.org.au/setting-boundaries, and I would recommend people read this. Setting boundaries should be done in discussion with the person who uses drugs, and a general rule for family members should be ‘Demand what you must and tolerate what you can’. In discussing boundary setting the skills of active listening, assertiveness and negotiation are recommended. We have put together a specific Stepping Forward session on boundary setting and this will be available shortly.

For more information please go to the website https://www.fds.org.au/stepping-forward/stepping-forward