Is 'Financial Tough Love' the Right Approach for Drug Addicts?

A private family crisis played out for the world to see. The brother of American figure skater Nancy Kerrigan is now accused of killing his own father in an alcohol induced rage. Mark Kerrigan's problems with addiction have been ongoing for years. His parents even sued their son for more than $100,000, reportedly to push him toward recovery.

It's a dramatic show of financial tough love, but is it always the right approach?

Cutting the Purse Strings

Two years ago, Erin Brockovich, the famed environmental crusader played by Julia Roberts in a 2000 movie, faced a similar situation with her own daughter. Elizabeth, then 16-years-old, was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Her $500 a week drug habit was funded by money stolen from the family.

VIDEO: Tips for Families Dealing With Addiction
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"As a parent, you want to believe your kid, yet you know something's wrong," Brockovich said. "I've cried myself to sleep. And I've honestly sat and shook in a corner."

Elizabeth refused to admit to her mother the seriousness of the problem, but Brockovich knew she had to take action. Not wanting to completely isolate her daughter, Brockovich continued to offer emotional support to Elizabeth, but cut the financial purse strings from her daughter.

This kind of financial tough love approach is one of the best ways parents can reach out to a child in trouble, experts say. Still, many parents are afraid to cut off their troubled child.

Parents often think they're helping their child by supporting them -- it's not a natural reaction for parents to turn their back on their children. But experts say that safety net may actually be hurting their addicted son or daughter.

"Many parents hold off taking action or getting help because they feel like anything they do is dangerous. What they forget is that the situation they're in is terribly dangerous," Dr. David Sack, a board certified psychiatrist and CEO of Promises Treatment Center, said. "How can you look at a mother whose child is smoking heroin and say, 'Yes. It's OK. Don't do anything. Nothing's going to happen to your child.' That child is at risk of overdose."

When to Step In

Sack advises that the time to use tough love approach is when the person is ignoring you. "Then you have to say, 'We love you very much, but we're not going to spend money so you can go buy drugs and end up in a worst predicament. We're not going to support your habit,'" Sack said. "So it means no money, no car, no food, no shelter because ultimately those are the things that can be converted to drugs."

But what if no more money means the child goes without food, threatens to harm themselves or ends up on the streets?

Experts advise parents to follow a few key guidelines including giving the child a new set of rules for what's no longer acceptable in the home, making it clear that you are serious and will follow through with consequences, and finally getting professional help -- no one can do this alone.

The decision was not easy for Brockovich.

"That's pretty bad, putting a lock on your door," Brockovich said. "But I had to, otherwise it was just going to continue on and she was just going to get worse and I was actually contributing to the problem."

Sack stresses that cutting off financial support is not by itself treatment, and certainly not a fix-all; however, "it's a first step toward moving that addicted individual toward reality."

An Even Tougher Approach

But reality is farther removed for some drug addicts and a more severe stance is needed.

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