Become a member of Allies in Recovery and we’ll teach you how to intervene, communicate and guide your loved one toward treatment.Become a member of Allies in Recovery today.

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.


Related Posts from "Member Blogs"

Straight to Treatment After Jail? Do I Stick to My Guns?

Sometimes we can see the likely future: our Loved One returns to the shelter of home, hides away in their room, and simply doesn’t get the treatment they need to make progress with their SUD. Allies’ member HelenBo doesn’t want to see that happen with her son, who is struggling with heroin and other substances. What other housing options will he have upon release? As Laurie MacDougall writes, there are often more than we realize. At the same time, such transitions are critical moments for our Loved Ones. Having a list of specific housing and treatment options at hand—along with the CRAFT skills to communicate about them effectively—can make all the difference.

The Season of Expectations

Having expectations for others can be a difficult trap. When we have ideas about how things should go, we often try to manifest those expectations and have other people do what we want them to do. Instead, learn to manage your nervous system, to calm yourself and have tools to make requests of others. Be careful not to superimpose your expectations on others — it might not be what they want, need, or are able to do. That needs to be okay. Learn to give people room to create their own expectations for themselves.

Cutting Him Off Entirely Isn’t the Answer—Is It?

We’ve all heard the argument: cut the cord. Let them sink to rock bottom. They’ve made their bed; now they have to lie in it. Recently, Allies member erinlewis was offered this sort of advice concerning her teenage son. Data and experience have shown that such an approach is usually the wrong one for our Loved Ones—but maintaining a connection doesn’t mean that anything goes. Laurie MacDougall walks us through a CRAFT-informed approach to self-care, boundaries, and the balancing act of connection and accountability.

Interview with Alex Ribbentrop

Alex Ribbentrop joins the Allies in Recovery hosts to discuss intergenerational trauma, substance use, the importance of family, and finding connection. Alex is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Qualified Supervisor, EMDR Trained Clinician, and Certified Family Trauma Professional, practicing in Virginia, Maryland, and Florida.

Anger: Why Talking About It With a Purpose (And Not Just Venting) Can Be Healing

Anger evolved with the human brain. Though it may not seem so today, its original function was to keep us safe. Unfortunately, for most of us, anger is a deeply unpleasant experience, one that can damage our relationships and sense of wellbeing. The good news is that we can change this dynamic. This article offers a science-based guide to regulating anger and returning it to its constructive purpose.

When Stepping Back Is the Best Help You Can Give

No one wants a Loved One to suffer. No one wants a Loved One to relapse. But in our worry about such possibilities, we can stumble into behaviors that stand in the way of change—behaviors that make problematic substance use easier for our Loved Ones than it otherwise would be. Fortunately, CRAFT can help us learn to offer support within our chosen boundaries: the kind of support that truly encourages progress.

Filling the Gap

How do you handle that difficult time when your loved one comes home from treatment, and is back in an old environment, complete with old triggers? It can be a time of depression and anxiety. Think about reconnection — being present and engaged, making things fun when you can, and using the CRAFT communication tools to leave doors open.

About This Whole “Engage When They’re Not Using” Business…

If you’ve worked your way through Allies’ eLearning Modules, you’re already familiar with the concept: when our Loved One (LO) is using, we remove rewards and allow for natural consequences. When they’re not using, we reward them right away. But as member BRIGHTSIDE has been finding, the real-life timing can be a challenge. Laurie MacDougall reviews the fundamentals of this process, and shares ideas for getting creative when the lines seem blurred.

What Is Enmeshment?

Enmeshment is a blurring of the boundaries between people. How the other person feels affects you intensely. Enmeshment is one-way — your thoughts, feelings, and choices are about the other person’s well-being. Countering enmeshment means checking in with ourselves, calming our systems down, taking pauses, and allowing the other person the dignity of their own process. You can learn to listen and make reasonable requests and develop a healthier kind of connection.

What Is Our Role? Underlying Feelings and Beliefs We Have About Our Loved Ones

Like many of us who have Loved Ones struggling with SUD, Allies member Binnie knows that trust is a delicate matter. Can we trust our Loved Ones to take care of themselves? Do we believe they have the capacity? Or do we think they’re so damaged that they can’t function without our stepping in? Isabel Cooney reflects on how trust is explored in a recent Allies podcast, and offers her own insightful take on this vital subject.

How Do You Handle Anger?

What’s the impact of emotions on how we interact with loved ones? Learn to acknowledge, claim, and identify your emotions. Don’t discuss anything when you’re reactive. Instead, pause, check in with your feelings, and don’t take things personally. Have a strategy that’s not confrontational or accusing, but engaging. Calm your system and engage in a way that you can feel good about. Hopefully this will reverberate with your loved one and create change over time.

When Song, Faith, and Joy are Enough

The full name of the song is “Ndikhokhele Bawo,” which means “Lead me, Father” in Xhosa. These South African youths, assembled in their school’s courtyard, transform their place of learning into a concert hall with nothing more than the power of their voices. But it’s their spirit of joy and solidarity that lifts the beautiful into the realm of the sublime.

Evidence From Oregon: Decriminalizing Drugs Can’t Solve Every Problem, but It’s an Important Step All the Same

Oregon has just rescinded Measure 110, the historic law that decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs. But the reasoning behind the rollback is muddled. As guest author Christina Dent reveals, M110 took the blame for spikes in lethal overdoses, homelessness, and public drug use, none of which it likely caused. Rather, she argues that the law represented a small but important step forward. In the effort to end the drug crisis, its repeal is a loss.

Ah-Ha Moments

When the noise dissipates and there’s clarity, that’s an “ah-ha moment.” You can move forward in a different way. You might even find new commitment to a way of thinking or behaving that you didn’t have access to before. Allies in Recovery uses CRAFT to give you the tool set for your own ah-ha moments, but also to help create the conditions for your loved one to find their own moments and possibilities for long-term change.

Learning About Depression. And Fighting Back.

Forty percent of Americans will suffer a major depressive episode at some point in their lives. Five percent of the world’s population is suffering from it at any given time. It’s a disease that’s too often misunderstood—when it’s not overlooked entirely. Recovery writer Annie Highwater offers this primer on the many forms depression can take, and the variety of paths available for dealing with it.

What Are the Three Questions?

When you’re in the middle of crisis, feeling reactive or uncertain about what to do, use the “three questions” to helps create space and time and take the best action. What am I feeling? What can I do about it (think as broadly as possible)? What am I actually gonna do? Kayla likes to consider a fourth: What’s happening that’s making me feel this way?

Getting the Most Out of This Site

Personal trainers and the like are terrific—when they’re accessible. Unfortunately, individual counseling is still a rarity with CRAFT, despite its proven effectiveness. Allies in Recovery was created to bridge that gap. In this post, founder and CEO Dominique Simon-Levine outlines the many forms of training, education, and guidance that we offer on this website. We hope it helps you find the support you need.

What We Can and Can’t Control: It’s Good to Know the Difference

Erica2727 has a husband who’s working hard on his recovery, but his place of work concerns her. She would like him to consider various options, but isn’t sure about how to talk over such matters with him. Allies’ writer Laurie MacDougall offers a guide to a vital distinction: on the one hand, what we can and should seek to control; and on the other, what we cannot, and don’t need to burden ourselves with attempting.

How I Boiled Down CRAFT for My Teenage Kids

What can our children make of CRAFT? Allies’ writer Isabel Cooney has a powerful story to share—and some great thoughts for our community about opening a little window on the practice. As her experience suggests, CRAFT may have more to offer than a child or teen can truly take on. But young people may still benefit from an introduction to what the adults in their lives are trying to do.