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A Refresher on Removing Rewards

flower offering giving hands

Layla is encountering difficulties with removing rewards and holding boundaries. They're asking their Loved One to leave when he's drinking, but he simply refuses!

"What do you do when you are asking him to leave for he has been drinking and he refuses to leave? We just sweep it under the rug and walk away from him!"

Glad you wrote in with this seemingly basic question! I feel as though you're really on the right track here. With a few tweaks, I think we can get you even more clear and effective.

When removing rewards is mixed up with boundaries

From my point of view, your question touches both on the specifics of 'removing rewards' à la CRAFT, and on boundaries – how to stick to a boundary you've laid down.

Reading your comment, I'm thinking, let's figure out how to avoid this situation becoming habitual. You are trying to enforce a boundary and your Loved One is ignoring you. This is not great for anyone if it keeps happening: your Loved One will have less and less respect for your boundaries if you're unable to really follow through with them, and you will end up feeling helpless, standing behind a boundary that's not being respected.

Rewards — a review

Before we dig more into boundaries, allow me a moment to highlight the major points to keep in mind when considering how you use rewards.

* Remember, rewards are given in moments of non-use as opposed to use, defined as: 1) about to use (too late to turn them around), 2) using/high, or 3) withdrawing from use/hungover. *

We're talking here about immediate rewards, given in the moment. In the example you've given, there are two rewards involved:

1)  Being able to stay under your roof (I suspect your LO does not see this as a desirable, which is an important quality for a reward to have. It has to be something they perceive as being pleasant. I wonder if your LO sees this as being your obligation to them and/or they have nowhere to go, so in their mind they actually can’t comply with the demand of leaving. This is also long-term, not immediate, thus more complicated to give or take away), and


2)  Your presence/company

We could even consider that in the way things played out, there's another reward, which is the "sweeping it under the rug" — in a sense, that's your Loved One earning another "point".

Let's review the characteristics of an appropriate reward: 

(for a full refresher, see Module 5, segment 4: Characteristics and Type of Rewards)

  • the reward should be pleasing to your Loved One (not necessarily what would make you happy);

  • the reward should be easy to give (within your budget, accessible, and especially, not something that's disagreeable for you – don't force yourself);

  • the reward should also be easy to take away (a pay-as-you-go phone perhaps);

  • try to give the reward immediately when you see the behavior you want to reinforce — timing is key;

  • ideally, choose a reward that meets the same need filled by their substance use.

  • removing rewards is not a punishment.

There are 4 kinds of rewards:

  1.  Stuff  (eg, something you picked out for them that you saved for the right moment)

  2.  A positive, encouraging comment (eg, "I really appreciate your help with the dishes")

  3.  Non-verbal behaviors (eg, eye-contact, a scrunch on the shoulder, other body language that says "I'm paying attention to you")

  4.  Activities  (a walk together, a game, cooking a meal together, a meal out, massaging each other)

Removing rewards — a key CRAFT component

Start by filling out Key Observations Exercise #16, What Is Rewarding to My Loved One.

Here are the 3 things CRAFT asks you to do if you see (or strongly suspect) that your Loved One has been using:

1)  Remove rewards (some of the time this can be done subtly, without speaking, but other times it may require a short, neutral explanation, ie: "You're welcome to use the car when you're not using, but until then I'm holding onto the keys.")


2)  Step away, disengage (Your presence is known, and predictable – and therefore, comforting – to your Loved One. Even if you're mad or lecturing! You are a reward to them.)


3)  Allow natural consequences to occur (the best way to know what the natural consequence to their use would be is to ask yourself: "If I didn't step in here, how would the larger environment treat my Loved One right now?" See Dominique's video on natural consequences here, and our blog posts on the subject.


—> For more detail, watch Module 6: My Loved One Is Using, Now What?

Read Part 2 of this series, 'A Cheat Sheet on Boundaries,' here



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"...)