Our Allies member recently realized that their teenaged daughter is using a variety of substances. The parents’ instinct is to want to find a way to control or monitor her use. They’re tempted, as well, to get in touch with their daughter’s using friends to address the substance use. She finds CRAFT is helping, but it’s really hard to focus or function right now.

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.

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Hi all,
We just found out that our 16 yr old daughter had been experimenting, and most likely already addicted, to alcohol and some drug early in April. She had previously been at a therapeutic boarding school (TBS) for almost 1 1/2y, and just returned home last Dec 2018. We had no idea how bad her use had become in last 4 months.

She thinks she can handle “occasional use”, including regular weekend parties with alcohol/marijuana with her friends. Even her therapist, with whom she works well, says it is “within normal” to have weekend use. We know she still hangs with friends who supplied drugs to her and also drink together. She says she had already told them she wouldn’t use drugs again, but her phone messages (I check sometimes) suggest otherwise.

How can we monitor/control her use when her high school environment is so permissive? I also want to send messages directly to her friends who supplied/used drugs with her in the past asking them not to provide her drugs. Do you advise against this move?

Welcome to the Allies in Recovery community!

We are so glad you found us, and that you are here! In terms of the specific questions you posed, here are some helpful guidelines to consider.

The Learning Modules (available on our member site. View our Introduction here) give a great foundation for the CRAFT approach in general. In going through the modules, you have likely seen that there are two main goals for the family member to focus on. 1) Improving your relationship with your loved one and 2) Getting them into treatment.

A lot of this happens by shifting your own behaviors

At the foundation of this approach is an acknowledgement that, maddening as this may sometimes be, we can’t control our loved ones. We also can’t make decisions for them, nor can we force them to do what we want them to do. What we can do is bring awareness to our own role in the relationship: stopping the negative talk; embracing an attitude of compassion, empathy, and partnership; building the bridge.

We can own our actions candidly in an attempt to genuinely work on repairing the relationship. If we have been nagging or critical in the past, for example, we can take responsibility for that. This is also modeling the kind of responsibility we want our loved ones to learn to take for their own actions. At 16, your daughter is in some ways just embarking on the journey of learning this kind of responsibility.

Anything you can do to soften communications can be seen as advancing the goal of building that bridge which will eventually lead to your loved one opening up to you. Anything that contributes to our loved ones wanting to tune out, feel defensive, shut down, etc. would be seen as running counter to that goal. This take a lot of patience, and practice. It’s straightforward, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Remember your own well-being

I hear the fear and desperation in your account, and as you said, you are all shaken up. Feeling like it’s hard to think straight, or hard to function in your life right now, is an important sign to pay attention to. These signs indicate that it’s going to be very hard to change patterns in your own communications, improve your relationship with your daughter, or be a compassionate listener until you take some time to regroup and replenish your energies.

From our perspective, your health and well-being are equally vital parts of the equation to your loved one’s health and well-being. This may mean different things for different people, but it’s worth investigating what you need in order to feel peaceful – regardless of what is happening externally. We’d recommend exploring Learning Module 7 (view an excerpt here) for help when negative thinking is taking over.

It takes time

You stated that your daughter is experimenting, and most likely already addicted to, drugs. She has been partying hard since returning home from the boarding school. She wants to have a “normal high school life.” Time will tell if she is able to moderate her own use, or if her relationship with these substances becomes more dysfunctional. If she has expressed that she doesn’t want to use drugs any more, except weekend drinking and pot-smoking, she already has some awareness of what is working for her and what isn’t. She may have been scared off the harder drugs after that trip.

You know that any substance use at her age comes with its own specific set of dangers, and what she is calling “normal” may be anything but… But though your viewpoints clearly differ here, you have had conversations about it and this in itself is a good sign. There is so much more communication that can happen around this. Her talking with you about any of the use, especially any changes she wants to make, can at least be taken as a small piece of encouragement

Controlling her won’t work

Getting a loved one into treatment is a goal when there is a Substance Use Disorder. Whether she has an active addiction right now or not, the goal is not to control a loved one’s use, or punish them for using. Your guidelines for what is allowed in your home are something you can control. In terms of your question about controlling/ monitoring her use, we would counsel against this in general.

Using the CRAFT principles, instead we would suggest that you create a new environment around her use. This is well outlined in Learning Modules 5 & 6 (available to our members). When you catch her sober, step in with rewards. When she is actively using, step back. This isn’t the same as punishment. It’s a neutral stance, a removal of yourself and the rewards. It is a pattern that over time becomes a substantial message.

The considerations for a teenager and substance use are many. From a neurological perspective, parts of their brains are still in the process of development. This includes areas involved with planning, decision making, personality and “higher reasoning” The legal implications of their choices are weighty. There are many other dangers associated with use of illegal drugs…and you are aware of all of these complexities and more. It is safe to say that your daughter’s awareness of these factors is a bit less than yours.

We provide information specific to teens and substance use on our site in the Resource Supplement.

Finding positive alternatives

A very useful approach for teenagers who are using marijuana is Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach or ACRA (this is the parent approach of CRAFT, it represents the CRA in our CRAFT). The main thrust of this approach is for the young person to reduce the marijuana use while finding other “community reinforcements” that compete with use and provide alternative natural highs. These reinforcements could include a sport, a young peoples’ church group, or different forms of exercise. The idea holds true for adults as well, though young people are typically more easily overwhelmed and need extra support to find and engage in these more positive alternatives.

Building the bridge

Figure out what boundaries work for your household (and holding to them). Explore what support options you can offer her beyond the therapy. This can go a long way while you have the advantage of living under the same roof. The support options that works best for her may not be the first or even second ones you find. You’ll have to be creative and open in the process of finding ways to expand her access to community support, as you strive to create the safest and most loving environment you can for her at home.

In the end, you want her to open up to you if she feels she needs help, or if she isn’t happy with the way things are going in there life. She is going to feel more comfortable doing this if you create an environment in which it feels safe and comfortable to talk openly. Adolescents can be notoriously reluctant to communicate openly in general, so this environment needs to be created with plenty of patience and compassion. A flower blooms in its own time. When it blooms, it is a miraculous thing of beauty. But forcing the bloom open isn’t an option. This has to be her own process.

Her boundaries should be respected as well

In terms of reaching out to her friends, dealers, etc. or checking her messages in general, as you say, this would be a violation of boundaries and she would be furious with you. As much as you want to intervene, this kind of action would just drive a wedge further between you. It would not strengthen your relationship. Trust would be broken, and it would take a long time to repair. In this way, it would have the opposite outcome from what we are seeking with CRAFT, which is improving your connection with your loved one.

Seeing things with new eyes

So we’d suggest diving into the modules – you may find that watching them over and over is called for sometimes. This is what they’re there for. You can practice some of the new communication skills throughout the day – not just with your daughter. Take care of yourself and find ways to reel in your mind. Let yourself rest from the fears and projections about the future.

Each day is new; each moment a new opportunity to cultivate more awareness and a better relationship with your daughter. We have resources and support here to help you through should things escalate. But for now, know that it will take at least a few weeks to implement the CRAFT approach, perhaps even a few months. So lean on the community here and try to work on seeing things with new eyes. As you get to know the learning modules more, you’ll find ways to shift things little by little. These shifts will slowly change the shape of your environment and your relationships. Be patient with yourself. We know things can improve. We are here for you.

Since 2003, Allies in Recovery has addressed substance abuse in families by providing a method for the family to change the conversation about addiction. We use Community Reinforcement & Family Training (CRAFT), a proven approach that helps the family unblock and advance the relationship towards sobriety and recovery and to engage a loved one into treatment. Learn about member benefits by following this link.

 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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