This Allies member and mother writes in frustrated with her son’s use. He shuts her and the rest of the family out, and seems to call the shots as to when communications take place. During the holiday season, his use has increased. She’s tired of feeling like he’s in the driver’s seat…She needs a new approach.

*This post originally appeared on our Member Site blog, where experts respond to members’ questions and concerns. To take advantage of our current special offer and get full access to the Allies in Recovery eLearning program for families, click here.

Allies in Recovery, AiR, Dominique Simon-Levine, dsl, addiction, recovery, treatment, drugs, marijuana, pot, dabs, pipe, approach, loved one, selfish, self-centered, manipulate, manipulative, Communication

Illustration © Eleanor Davis

“My son is a functioning marijuana addict and mostly dabs. He could be doing more but since he lives on his own, we just don’t know. He is attending school full time and his grades are decent. At least last semester they were.

The holiday season has given him much recreational time to do drugs. Last weekend we attended a special sporting event in his town. His brother and my husband specifically asked him to come. He showed up but looked bad and was tired, then left soon after.

He seems to control the show. When he gets mad at us, he won’t talk to us for weeks. Then he will send us his good marks from school. We say how proud we are of him and life resumes to communication. I can’t live like this. He always seems to be in the drivers seat and if we want to know anything about him or what is going on, we have to be in his “ good books.” Pulling away for a brief time doesn’t do anything.

Dominique Simon-Levine suggests taking a day-by-day approach

The question is how to react to your son’s marijuana use. You have been trying to step away, one of the 3 pillars of what to do when you see your loved one using:

  • remove rewards,
  • step away,
  • allow natural consequences;

But your son seems fine when you do so, and he then shuns you. You and your husband feel like your son is controlling the show.

Your son does control his show and you control yours. Where is the limit of your control?

You found your son disheveled and tired looking when he attended your other son’s sporting event. It was upsetting to see, so your husband wrote him afterward and told him this. He is now shunning you. Pulling away in response to use is one of the 3 pillars but it is applied only in the moment. It is a response to what you are seeing in the present with your loved one  and doesn’t go on for days or weeks. It is a day-to-day, even moment-to-moment response by the family to cues given by their loved one.

Right now it feels like the pot smoking is a football being lobbed back and forth. You raise your concerns and he responds by ignoring you. This continues until he feels the need to let you back in by showing you his grades. I can see where you feel he is in control.

For the family it must feel like your son is self-centered and disrespectful; for your son it may feel like pot is all you care about. As this goes on, year after year, everybody is upset. I understand how. You are all reacting by pulling away and arguing about the drug use.

Let’s look at the sporting event incident in a CRAFTy way….

Your son shows up (You greet him: “Hey it’s good to see you. Thanks for coming. It means a lot to your brother.”) But he looks disheveled and tired. You both immediately suspect he is withdrawing or hungover or something related to the drug use. With CRAFT, you would put this moment into the category of: He Is Using (See Learning Module 6, available on our member site).

So, yes, pull back, be more neutral in your interactions during the event (step away), don’t offer to buy a round of hotdogs (remove rewards), don’t offer a ride home (natural consequences), don’t be attentive and loving (remove rewards), but also don’t be visibly angry and hurt. Focus on being neutral. Your son is addicted. His appearance says so to you. This is information of how he is doing. Let that knowledge be between you and your husband. From his side, he will feel that mom and dad were kinda cold, disinterested… maybe he’ll wonder, “uh-oh, what’s up?”

It’s a new day, Reset

You haven’t said anything to him about the suspected drug use. Talking about drugs or treatment is best done carefully and purposefully, only at the opportune moment. Most other times it is not useful to bring it up. Why? 1) You may be wrong about his use in a particular instance. 2) He doesn’t hear your concern – he’s grown accustomed to shutting you out when this starts.  3) 1 & 2 may give him further resolve to block and ignore you. 4) It weakens or dilutes the message you want to deliver when you do ultimately have that conversation with him, when the timing and circumstances are right, voicing your concerns about the drugs and providing treatment/help options you’ve identified and are willing to support.

Next day

Feeling nothing noticeably bad from the family, your son is more likely to reach out to you. You know his use is more serious when he is on school break. This is information. But now the field between you is becoming more neutral, less antagonistic. Now you are starting to build a bridge, starting to shift and allow things to soften between you.

You can’t take his self-centeredness and selfishness personally.

He exhibits both. People with addiction typically act selfishly (I would add highly sensitive and insecure to this three-legged stool). People with mental health issues typically act selfishly. Struggling with addiction and/or mental health issues, people feel uncomfortable in the world. They are always scanning the world according to how they feel and what they need from it in order to get a little more comfortable. The world becomes a pawn to use as they seek what is needed now. That can indeed feel manipulative.

I heard a wonderful psychologist give a talk recently in which she questioned the word manipulative. She noted that all of us interact with the world in a way that gets us more of what we want. She described her MO as being smiley and nice: she has found that this gets her more of what she wants. In one example, kindness and a smile are behaviors that have helped her get better service from an airline when her flight was canceled.

Now for some bridge-building

So, in your case, your son shuns you when you don’t “act” in a way that he needs or wants you to act. CRAFT would suggest that you “act” in the way that you need: don’t argue, don’t talk about the drug use, get your interactions to be more soft, build that bridge.

He does need your attention and your love and (yes) your continued material support, or he wouldn’t continue to jump-start communications by sending you recent reports of good grades he’s gotten. When he loops back in, change up how you respond. The module on Communicating with your Loved One (view an excerpt here) and the one on getting your Loved One into Treatment (view an excerpt of learning Module 8,) are good ones to watch (and rewatch if needed) to prepare yourself for these times when he does reach out.

It’s a new day. Bring him into the fold, act strategically, tighten up your immediate responses to when you see use. Work on building the bridge so that eventually he will be more open, and even willing, to ask for help. Commit to trying this for 8-10 weeks. Write to us and let us know how it is going.

Yes, the family DOES have a role to play. Your stance, behavior, and choices DO make a difference. At Allies in Recovery we are absolutely convinced of this. “Tough love” is not a successful technique. Our learning platform is set up to help family members learn the techniques that will reduce conflict, build that bridge of communication, and be effective in guiding your loved one into treatment. Together we will move your loved one towards recovery. Learn more here.

 About the Author:
Dominique launched Allies in Recovery in 2003. Her work has been featured on HBO and NPR. She is a facilitator and a trained speaker on issues of addiction and the family. She has worked extensively developing and evaluating federally-funded substance abuse programs for organizations and clinics throughout Massachusetts and New York. With an interest in recovery and substance abuse that spans 20 years, she sees a huge need to help families develop the skills that will help a loved one recover fully in a supportive, whole, and lasting way in their families and in their communities. Her mission is to have Allies in Recovery fill that gap.

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