Parents Rethink 'Tough Love' Approach to Helping Addicted Loved Ones

By Britni de la Cretaz 03/02/17

After a family tragedy, two parents were inspired to start a support program with a more sensitive approach to dealing with addicted loved ones.

support group

In Buffalo, New York, family members of people struggling with addiction are advocating for a new approach to helping their loved ones.

They believe the “tough love” approach that is touted by many—including some interventionists—is not as helpful as it is commonly believed. Save The Michaels House of Hope is a place for families to seek the support they need, and to learn a kinder, gentler way of supporting their addicted loved ones.

The program was started by Julie Israel and her husband Avi, whose son Michael committed suicide after a long struggle with painkiller addiction. “He was devastated by some of the actions that we were advised to take, and all our son really wanted was to be loved,” Julie Israel told WIVB. “What happened to Michael was 100% preventable and what do we do about it? Something needs to change.”

House of Hope offers educational sessions, such as “Addiction is a Family Disease” and “Family Communication Skills.” All their services are free. They’re also training parents who have lost children to addiction, or whose children are currently addicted, to be recovery coaches that offer support to other families in the community—much like the Gloucester, Massachusetts police department does with its Angel Initiative.

Other family-run support services advocate for whatever kind of support a family feels is right for their addicted loved one. Learn To Cope, a family support organization, offers in-person meetings and message boards where parents and loved ones can share tips and receive support in how they deal with their family member who is in active addiction.

Joanne Peterson, who began Learn To Cope in 2004, told The Fix last year that she knows it can be hard to have compassion for someone struggling with addiction who seems to be unable or unwilling to get well. But she added, “That’s somebody’s daughter or son, somebody loves that person, and they’re human first” before they’re a drug addict.

“Families that have addiction are often times full of shame, or feel embarrassed about what’s going on,” Karen Knab, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who works at House of Hope, told WIVB. “So, they often don’t tell anyone else what is going on in their own family.”

In Buffalo, Knab says that House of Hope is the only place where families can go directly for help, assistance, and educational information. Learn To Cope also hosts message boards for family members who don’t have places like House of Hope in their community. Peterson calls the message boards a "lifeline" for people who don’t have meetings they can attend.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.