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I Don’t Want To Ignore What’s Happening. And I Don’t Want To Accuse.

Faith asks a basic, vital question — and one that Allies in Recovery writer Laurie MacDougall has been encountering quite a bit lately in her work with CRAFT Educational and Skills Groups.

Hi everyone. Wondering what actions or statements to say to a loved one to change my response from ignoring use to acknowledging it, but in a concise and calm way? How do you acknowledge use but not in an accusatory way? Thanks.


Hi Faith,

It’s pretty amazing how things unfold. I have to share that this has been a question that seems to keep coming up in our evening CRAFT educational groups. I am glad you asked!

First, there’s a misunderstanding about communication that I would like to address. CRAFT skills are actually not about ignoring the use or behavior. It’s about disengaging in the moment, removing immediate rewards (Module 6), and then circling back around when everyone is in a better state of mind. It gives you the opportunity to think, manage any of your own challenging feelings, and then create a plan of how to address your Loved One (LO).

Getting beyond the flip-flop response

There are lots of reasons why we might ignore a difficult behavior or never address the elephant in the room. One of the biggest is that we don’t know how to address it.

On the flip side, we also know that confronting our LO about drinking or using usually doesn’t result in much more than an argument, and ends with frustration, exhaustion, and confusion about what to do next. So we tend to flip back and forth between aggressive and passive communication (and some moments of passive-aggressive communication).

The CRAFT approach encourages assertive communication. Assertive means to be firm but understanding. Be prepared, be open and listen, consider the other person’s thought and ideas. But also hold true to your values. Stay away from negative talk. And one huge key to avoiding being confrontational is to observe behavior and then state the facts. It might sound something like this:

I love you, and I’m anxious and concerned. I was in your room last night putting away the laundry, and I noticed a few empty bottles of alcohol. There was also some slurring of words last night. What’s going on?

In this example, the speaker just states the facts — what they saw — without making any accusations or even asking outright if their Loved One was drinking. This gives the Loved One the opportunity to tell their side.

Calm and steady wins the race

Now, I know that they might not respond all that wonderfully. But that’s OK. You didn’t ignore the elephant in the room. They know you know. You should still keep yourself calm and listen. Listen to their thoughts, and then validate what they are thinking or feeling. Calmly and patiently let them know what your boundaries are. Let’s say we’re talking about a son or daughter:

It makes sense to me that you might be feeling overwhelmed with your job. It sounds stressful. In light of what happened last night, Dad and I have decided that the car is staying in the driveway for the time being. Let’s take a few days and think about a plan moving forward in which you might be able to earn the car back.

Outlining ways that your LO can earn the car back gives them a bit of hope. They can identify a path out of the situation. If we’re talking about a partner, it might sound more like this:

It makes sense to me that you might be feeling overwhelmed with your job. It sounds stressful. I’m uncomfortable with drinking and driving, and I’m requesting that if there is drinking, you will either call me for a ride or take an Uber home from now on.

To sum it up

Here’s a recap of the guidance I’d offer:

  1. Observe the behavior and state the facts
  2. Invite them to express what is going on
  3. Validate what they are feeling and thinking, and
  4. State/request your boundaries

This is the short version. It will likely take some practice and adjustment as you go. If you would like more support, consider attending one of the CRAFT Educational Groups or CRAFT Skills Groups. Together we address and brainstorm ways to find a deeper understanding of CRAFT skills and how to implement them.

I hope these reflections are helpful, Faith. After reading your post, I get the sense that you are already working on implementing those skills and understanding some key concepts. Stick with it and keep practicing. Let us know how things go. Wishing you and your family the best.


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In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)