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College As A Reward?

college graduate on the road

fireball wonders how to follow up on a promising conversation in which her Loved One admitted she needed help and took a look at the list of treatment options the family had compiled. How do we check in about this without pushing too hard and losing out on this long-awaited opportunity?

Thank you for your response, your acknowledgement and support.  You asked what happened when we presented the treatment options. She looked at the paper which had all of the options ranging from private counselors, to addictions foundation counsellors who would present the range of supports available here, to help line to a government funded 21day treatment and a private 30 day treatment option several hours away. She thought at that moment she would be interested in seeing an Addictions counsellor. She said she needed to go and be by herself and think of her plan.  She left the house about a half hour later texted me and said she was going to be by herself so she could call the helpline. She had taken the paper off the table with her. Read the full comment here.

I recall sitting in on a family meeting with my niece and this brilliant psychologist who was treating her and the family. My niece’s mother, my sister, was describing how crazy making it was to see her daughter constantly shift positions about important things, in this case getting further help. In my sister’s eyes, her daughter was lying, saying things just to appease the family.

The psychologist explained that ambiguity is part of change. My niece was actually telling the truth in the moment, expressing one of the two opposing views, both wanting treatment or not wanting treatment.  We expect people to say something, mean it, and do it. But the process of change shows itself in partial ways, with statements that sound contradictory, because in a moment of time, the sentiment expressed is true for them.

You daughter has had the idea that her substance use could be the problem. She may need treatment. In the moment she agreed to seek help, perhaps making the call. Wanting help was to some degree true for her in the moment. But she didn’t go. Maybe she did make the call. I see this as a step forward.

You have provided your daughter with the treatment information. Next time she scares herself (a dip) or wants to improve her life (a wish), both further described in Learning Module 8, she will make that call again, hopefully following through with the appointment this time.

Learning Module 6 describes a number of ways you can remove rewards when you see use. In your case, when your daughter comes home and sleeps away the withdrawals of her use, what do you do when she gets up? I would still consider the 12-18 hours after she rises as “use” and act as is described in Learning Module 6: neutral tone, minimal engagement, no big meals, etc. The Big Chill.

I agree with you that school is important for your daughter. It is structure, she likes it, it keeps her in the world. She continues to do well, though there are signs things are slipping. Your continued financial support of school is predicated on her continuing to go and to make decent grades. The moment grades or attendance start to slip, I would suspect the drug use.

Our posts on college talk about how to approach college tuition in a way that meters it out, and makes it conditional. It’s not fool-proof. You want to set in place, alongside your daughter, some markers that show if things are going well or not. Let your daughter suggest some of these. This is an opportunity to work in partnership with each other. Here are some suggestions that have been made in other posts: speaking to health services and learning what is available on campus for students who are wondering about their drug use; asking your daughter to consider attending these low threshold services; getting a therapist who also drug tests; tightening up checks on grades and attendance (such as assessing how things are going before the add/drop deadline); paying for one semester at a time. Please look over these posts to see how best to work with college as a reward in your daughter’s situation.

As you well know, college isn’t easy to meter out, taking it away one day and returning it the next. As I said, it’s not a fool-proof reward… But it’s an opportunity to come together on something that is meaningful to your daughter. It reinforces a theme of independence in a positive way, especially helpful when we have adult children living at home. And it’s a way to make the CRAFT principles work for your individual situation. Let your daughter help craft the plan. This is not about powering over her but joining with her so that you can rest a little more easy.

With your daughter’s situation, there are distressing periods of heavy use and slipping on her responsibilities. But there are many positives that reveal themselves between these periods. The road to recovery is not a straight line. Keep celebrating, acknowledging and encouraging any signs of progress whenever you can, and keep working on the practice of wiping the slate clean with each new day. This goes a long way in fortifying you so that you are drawing from the most centered place you can find within yourself when she shows signs of wanting to connect and move forward. Opportunities will continue to arise to work together and to help bring her closer to independence, responsibility, and resilience – one step at a time.



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"...)