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Employers, Families Urged To Practice ‘Tough Love’ with Alcoholics

July 28, 1992

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Don was only in his 30s but he believed his fate was to die an alcoholic until his boss used ″tough love″ by threatening to fire him unless he got help.

Once a tactic encouraged for families of drug users, tough love is finding favor with employers to help workers who have drinking problems. Now a Cleveland agency is taking that a step further, with ″Tough Love″ advertising.

″Previously, we focused mainly on the chemically dependent person, but this campaign aims at friends, family, co-workers and employers of the alcoholic,″ said Myrtle Muntz, executive director of Alcoholism Services of Cleveland.

The nonprofit agency is advertising ″Tough Love″ in television commercials and with posters distributed to the community, including the clergy, lawyers and doctors.

″The ads target this group in an effort to get them to confront alcoholics about their behavior and what it is doing to those around them,″ Ms. Muntz said.

Don, 36, began drinking at age 14. ″My family had begged me to go for help through the years, but it took the real threat of losing my income before I finally decided to take action,″ said Don, who spoke on condition that his real name not be used.

Sober since 1989, he now regularly attends meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. He’s also been promoted.

Tough love is based on the principle that the way to help an alcoholic quit is to cut off financial and emotional support that indirectly support the addiction.

While such intervention therapy has been around for years, the public service campaign in Cleveland is probably a first, according to the New York- based National Council of Alcohol and Drug Dependency.

″While there have been other campaigns aimed at users and some at family members, this seems to be the broadest based one we’ve seen,″ said Paula Roth, the council’s director for prevention and education.

The program is unique, said Ms. Roth of the National Council, in its target audience and its use of strongly worded messages.

One TV ad shows a female motorist being pulled over by an officer for driving under the influence. The final close-up shows her behind bars. The message: ’Your wife’s drinking finally lands her in jail on a DUI. You’d do anything to help her. Leave her there.″

Another ad urges employers to tell alcoholics they’ll lose their jobs unless they seek treatment. The message: ″His wife walked out over his drinking. His friends dropped him. Now, tell him he’ll lose the only thing he has left - his job.″

These and similar public service announcements were first distributed in May.

″The first day the posters went out, we got 25 calls,″ Ms. Muntz said.

She said her agency, which helps provide rehabilitation for addicts and their families, annually receives about 10,000 calls seeking help. Half come from family and friends worried about someone with a drinking problem.

″People do not go for help until there is pain, whether it is internal or external,″ Ms. Muntz said. ″We hope that this ad campaign can create external pain by forcing those around the alcoholic to stop their support of the person’s addiction.″

Don’s boss, who asked to be called Dave to protect his employee’s identity, didn’t have the inducement of such a campaign back in 1989.

″But I think a campaign like this should persuade a lot of employers to take action,″ Dave said. ″If I had seen something like that, I might not have waited as long as I did to force Don to get help.″

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