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

Families wrestle with the decision to cut off drug-addicted loved ones.

ByABC News
February 15, 2010, 11:00 AM

Feb. 15, 2010— -- 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?

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.

"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."