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.

He’s In Treatment: It’s Your Cue to Step Back

group therapy

In her recent comment, AiR member Leanne63 wonders how to give the right amount of support to her son who has begun to attend AA meetings…

"We have a rule with our son that he must call us before coming over. He showed up here a couple days ago banging on the outside door and knocking on my kitchen window. I did not answer the door. Some how he got into the building and he just walked in. Calmly I had to remind him that he no longer lives here and cannot just walk in as if you own the place. He had no response for me until he took out something from his pocket. He simply said I wanted to show you this. He had a 24-hour coin. I was surprised and happy. I gave him a hug and told him I was proud of him. He said he's been to a couple AA meetings. He asked me where a couple of night meetings were and I told him. I'm going to go to them he says. So I figured I'd give him a chance to attend a couple I normally go to and I did not go. Then I get a text at 3:30am telling me he didn't go. I told hubby that I was trying to let him get comfortable going without having to see me. I told hubby I'm just going to attend those meetings if I choose to, and let him work on being comfortable whether I am there or not.

I don't know if there are other parents who attend AA meetings here but I am trying to figure out how to be a supporting mom but yet not get on his butt when I get excuses from him as if he was just another member of AA."

Once treatment has begun, step back

While helping your Loved One engage with treatment is a critical piece of this program, we suggest you stay out of the specifics of that treatment or self help. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Your Loved One needs to determine what works best for him, and to find enough motivation to go.
  2. You will tie yourself up in a pretzel trying to stay on top of what he is or is not doing. It is his responsibility and the responsibility of the treater, to manage treatment once you have helped him get through the door of that treatment.

A principle of CRAFT is to positively reinforce non-use – and this includes non-use linked to treatment. So, grab the pom-poms when your son shows you a 24-hour AA chip. Alternatively, disengage neutrally and quietly when he doesn’t show up at to the AA meeting. (See Module 5 on Rewarding Non-Use)

There’s a lot of starting and stopping in early sobriety. This can unfortunately last some time. It’s going to take patience and trust in the process for you to disengage when you see your son faltering in his efforts at sobriety.

Starting and stopping is how we learn just how immense the problem of addiction is, that the little promises we make to ourselves are simply not enough. Keeping to 3 oxycodone tabs, 2 times a day is a promise you make to yourself that you inevitably break. The problem of opiate addiction is simply bigger than these simplistic attempts at control. Failed attempts at control can lead to an “aha!” moment where you recognize the reach addiction has in your life.

The family member must understand how early recovery works

Understanding this social learning is key to motivating you, as the family member, to step back when you see use or when you see your Loved One missing an AA meeting. You son is trying. He’s zigging and zagging for sure. You have made your message clear. You aren’t supporting him and you want him to address his addiction. You are thrilled when he takes any action in that direction.

Your AA meetings are surely important to you and you’ve probably scoped out the best meetings in your area. Wanting your son to get the best of AA makes sense…. but I wonder if there are other meetings you can suggest to him. For instance, for young people I suggest young peoples’ meetings or he might try a men’s meeting. And, if you both land at the same meeting some evening, it just won’t be the worst thing. Your own sustained recovery is important; maintaining your recovery routine has to remain a priority.

Thank you for writing in. The work of this program is in the details and your question is an important addition to navigating those details. 



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. Hi amorepacebene15,
      This is a really difficult question to answer, in fact I am not sure anyone other than your son might have the answer to that. Even he might not know. Maybe there is something else you would like to ask? Is there anything else that you are concerned with? Maybe we can direct you somewhere on the AiR website that might help you while on your journey. Please know that you are not alone in your frustrations of trying to understand. Hope to hear from you again.

  1. Hi Leanne63,
    It sounds like you have a jump start on understanding this disease! An advantage that many of us struggle with. It is great that you are setting boundaries for your son, and I am sure you are very well aware of the bumpy road you may be on right now. I like that you are setting simple boundaries to start, things that are easier to manage. So many of us start with boundaries that we either know we are not going to keep or are incredibly difficult to manage. Saying things like, “That’s it, you can’t come here anymore. I’m sick of you, don’t call me until you’re clean, I am not going to talk to you!” I have found for myself that it was more of a learning process so you may be a couple of steps ahead. I wish I had realized earlier that if I had set attainable boundaries and followed through with them I was sending the message that he was very capable of following them. I think once I understood that, I realized I was sending the message that I believed in him, that he was able to take care of at least some of his problems, that he had to and could take others’ needs into account, and he could gain some confidence in himself because even if he did not believe in himself, I believed in him!

    Small baby steps but big rewards.

    You posted that you are “trying to figure how to be a supporting mom but yet not get on his butt…”, and boy did you come to the right place. I found that when I reached out for help was when I got it! Finding Allies in Recovery for me really set me on the path for doing just what you want. Have you watched the videos? I found them to be incredibly helpful. They taught me how to set boundaries and follow through in a very positive way. I had to practice (and still have to practice) but changing my approach really showed me how to take the intense conflict and how to disengage from those volatile situations but still communicate. I was able to maintain a relationship with my son, guiding and influencing but still empowering him to take control of his own life. I hope this is helpful and I hope you find the videos as helpful as I did. Keep coming back, keep us updated! Remember you are not alone in this.

  2. Dear Leanne63, I love that this website is being recommended, I can’t recommend it enough myself. Oh how I wish I’d had this when we were in the early days of my son’s SUD wreaking havoc on our hearts. I relate to what you are feeling. The guilt, the arguments, wanting to give “tough love.” It’s no easy journey and definitely not one to trek alone. I’m glad you are on AiR. For me, I found I could help my son by seeking to help myself within the situation. Learning the issues of codependency that I was strongly triggered to. Working through how he affected me what decisions I was making that needed to become healthier. Tough love for me became about “smart love” boundaried love, yet with understanding and kindness. I knew I loved my son and that didn’t change, I just had to learn to love him a different way. I learned to detach from the issues and consequences his disease caused, yet not detach from love for my son. That also helped with feelings of guilt. I didn’t feel burdened for his struggle and I started coping with my own. It’s a process. The blogs and modules (Learning Center) hold wonderful tools for managing through all of these issues. You are not alone! Annie