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He Comes Home Sober … How Do I Use Rewards?


AiR member Vocalist72 is not sure how to implement rewards, as her Loved One tends to binge away from home, then return sober.

“Hello Dominique

My situation is kind of odd because I never actually witness my husband using. We drink alcohol and smoke marijuana. But he more so than I. As I can go without it. I feel he uses those substances as sustainer until he can get the harder stuff. Which I believe to be crack cocaine. However his behaviors over the years have pointed to that with unexplained use of large amount of money and loss of time. I was always confused with it with affairs with other women. But after careful review with an older friend who has had past relationships with users it seems as if that is indeed the issue . He is really good at hiding it by disappearing usually over night. And when he get his hands on large amounts of cash he leaves for a few days a time.

I have been reviewing the modules but not quite sure how to implement rewards and remove rewards as he never admits to use and usually returns when he is sober. Please advise what action can I take. He has tried saying he will start coming home on nights he go out which is at least half the week or more at times.”

Your situation sounds intolerable. To have your husband disappear for a day or more must be totally unnerving. The last time we wrote to you it was as an introduction to the modules and to provide you with some information about cocaine.

The question now is when to use rewards, since your husband comes home from his cocaine binges sober.

No rewards during withdrawals

While your husband may be technically sober when he comes home, he is likely physically spent and mentally in a very dark place.  He probably goes to bed or tries to improve his mood by smoking pot, even drinking despite the morning hour.

We would treat this period as the withdrawal period. Remember, no rewards just prior to use, during use, or during withdrawals.

On those mornings, make yourself scarce. Don’t tell him it will be all right. Don’t leave food out for him. Don’t make excuses for his absence from obligations.

In this post we suggest that the wife draw the line between pot and the other drugs her husband is using. In the short term, we suggest you do the same.

Remember, this is only a short-term strategy. The chances are good that your husband will need to stop all drugs and alcohol to achieve long-term sobriety, but for now we suggest you focus on the cocaine. The goal is to get him into treatment. We’ll count on the professionals to address the pot and alcohol. So draw a line between alcohol/pot and the cocaine.  This is the more serious problem for the moment, and the one behavior for which your husband is more likely to agree to help.

Draw a line between the cocaine and the drugs he’s using to “maintain”

This will be controversial but we suggest that when your husband is home, and he is not in the cycle of cocaine (preparing to run off and use, using, or withdrawing from use), you reward, and this can include maintaining with pot or alcohol.

Pot and alcohol/home = reward
Cocaine = disengage yourself, allow natural consequences, remove rewards

To this we will add two more strategies:

  1. Since we last wrote, you have viewed the modules and are trying to apply them to your relationship. In the post, we suggested a few cocaine-specific interventions. Work to complete the treatment resource list. Follow the categories laid out in our post “The Roll Up Your Sleeves Guide to Assisting in Recovery“.Once this list is complete and you have a specific idea of the resources in your area, you are going to try that planned conversation we describe in Module 8, Part 2.  The next time he comes home after a binge, and he has withdrawn, make a pot of coffee, sit down at the kitchen table, and recite the script you will have prepared. Something like:

“I am thankful that you are thinking about how to cut back the cocaine, by not staying out and by your willingness in the past to seek counsel. You are struggling however, and it is causing both of us tremendous pain. I have made up a list of places that can help. Can we go through it together and decide which one or two you can call now (or in the morning?.  I can’t continue like this and I believe you know it can’t continue either. What do you say?”

  1. The second strategy, which needs to happen right away, is for you to do everything to protect your money and things. Can you stop him from getting his hands on sums of money? If you haven’t yet, you need to secure your valuables. He may not have started stealing and pawning things yet, but it is a real concern.

It’s going to take more effort from you to resolve this situation. It’s not fair and I’m fairly sure you’ve already had enough, but these strategies stand the best chance of working, and of protecting you from further financial harm.  My thoughts are with you.


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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"...)

  1. Hello Dominique,

    I started your program a few years ago. But I had forgotten about it until recently. Since then my husband made some improvements. He has had some therapy in which we discovered his reason for his substance abuse was due to mental illness. He has given up harder substance use but still struggles as he never really stuck with therapy to deal with his mental illness of social anxiety disorder, ocd, ptsd, and depression. He still drinks and smokes marijuana most of the day to cope.

    He promises to go back to therapy. He had started prior to the pandemic but it disrupted the progress we made. I find myself fallen into the negative communication that you talk about in the program. I am glad found it again. I am hoping we can turn things around.

    He refuses any type of medications but is willing to do physcotherapy and other holistic approaches. But he keeps putting it off. I find that I have been pushing him. I will continue to listen to the program to find the best way to get him there.

    How does mental health fit into this program?

    1. The planned talk is to get him into mental health treatment, because that is the path of least resistance. You hope, and call, and otherwise pray the professional recognizes the addiction. The alliance between you will help your husband trust the therapist and open up to them about the addiction.

    2. Great question Vocalist72, I’ll try to answer in two ways.

      Mental illness and substance use disorders go hand in hand

      First, as many of you already know, mental health vulnerabilities are highly associated with substance use disorders (SUD), as the graph below demonstrates. Keep in mind that this graph doesn’t tell us which came first, the drugs or the mental illness (which SAMHSA defines as “Adults aged 18 or older with any mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder in the past year of sufficient duration to meet DSM-IV criteria” — excluding developmental disorders and SUDs). 1

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to Vocalist72 here:—is

    1. The planned talk happens at a strategic time, when he is feeling badly about his behavior and when the cocaine use is harder to deny: so after a night out bingeing.

      You are not going to talk him into admitting a problem. You are simply going to say that his use is causing you pain.

      If he gets defensive and denies that the cocaine is a problem, that is a signal for you to back off. It’s a “no” to your suggestion of treatment.

      Thank him for listening to you. Tell him you will talk again.

      Set up to do it again the next time he takes off and binges. Not arguing with him and not trying to convince him of anything will be a change for both of you. You are stating the obvious. His response just quietly shuts you down and ends the conversation.

      1. Yes I backed off when I brought up cocaine use as he was quite defensive. I am starting to take away rewards. I wanted to know why he does not seem remorseful after squandering $3800 leaving us broke. He just keep lying about it. I have made steps towards securing our future finances. I had to make steps to secure his self employment job when he disappeared on his week long binge. As we both depend on the income. I am spending more time meditating and focus more on the children.