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How Can I Influence Her From Far Away?

Phone call

Air member mlynch56 has written in, wondering how to influence her daughter who lives hours away…

"I am new to AIR. I have not yet completed the modules, but I already have a question. My concern is for a 30 year old daughter who lives about 4-5 hours away from me. She has a good job that absorbs a great deal of her energy and attention. She also has a young child. She is currently in the process of trying to split from the child's father, who recently quit his job to become the child's primary caretaker. They had been fighting a great deal and it was escalating to violence. They were both heavy drinkers, although the father stopped drinking about 6 months ago (without support).

My daughter knows she needs help, although she tends to focus on underlying depression rather than alcohol as the main problem. I have been aware of her alcohol abuse for several years, but have been unsure of how to approach it. I am hopeful about the CRAFT approach.

Now my question–How do I go about connecting with her when she is not using, and distancing myself when she is? Because of the physical distance, I do not know when she is drinking, and I do not think she is drunk when we do talk. Sometimes she will admit that she is hung over, but she is always very coherent. I really want to see her happy and free, but am not sure how to influence her long distance."

How to be effective when your Loved One is physically far away is a good question. Thanks for writing in.

In the research, CRAFT was designed for family members who have a good deal of contact with their Loved One. You’re right, it is more difficult at a distance. Over the years, Allies in Recovery has learned how to increase the reach CRAFT has across long distances, and our families have had some success in doing so. Here are a couple of ideas.

I wonder who does the calling? Is it both ways? Is your daughter careful not to get on the phone with you when she’s been drinking? Do you know enough about when she drinks to purposefully initiate a call at those times?

You can create a negative consequence by doing so. If she sounds at all different, more chirpy, more talkative, slurring a little, more boisterous, you would take the occasion to say something like “I’m sorry, I just got very tired. Let’s talk tomorrow.”

It might sting a little. It might leave her wondering if she was the reason for your getting off the phone.

You could try the same thing when she admits to being hung over. You’ll see in Module 5, part 3 that we suggest a strong line between use and non-use; being hung over belongs on the side of use. “Sorry dear, you’re not feeling well, let’s talk tomorrow.” You’re never far away. This isn’t walking away from her. It’s saying that at this moment you are not going to reward the use with a pleasant familial phone conversation. You are not going to normalize her drinking.

Use your best observation skills and decide on which side your Loved One is at this moment, then line up your behavior with what you’re seeing. You won’t be 100% sure, but your actions need to be those of someone that is sure, otherwise the message is mixed. Decide which side your Loved One is on and reward non-use; or if you see use, detach, remove rewards, and allow natural consequences.

When, at other times on the phone she sounds fine, reward her by staying on the phone, keeping the conversation light, not asking a lot of questions about the hardships in her life, or the need for her to do something about her drinking.

If she brings up the troubles in her marriage, you reflectively listen (Module 3, part 4) and you push responsibility for doing something about it back on her. “So you had another fight with you husband, that sounds hard, I wonder what else you can try to avoid this in the coming week.”

To this you can add a couple other strategies. Module 8 describes how to intervene to get your Loved One into treatment. Since your daughter has a child and what sounds like an important job, she may be reluctant to consider inpatient substance abuse treatment. Women go into treatment in lower numbers in part because they run a household and have children to care for.

In our Resource Supplement we list some evidence-based approaches that are effective with substance abuse. Can you research what is available in her area and create a list of options for her? In her case, focus on outpatient options: DBT, a CBT therapist (both of which would help with her depression as well), an intensive outpatient program that runs in the evening.

Hold onto this list until the moment you hear her say something that is a wish or a dip (to learn more, see Module 8): “I wish I had things more under control,” (a wish) or “I am really struggling with feelings of depression,” (a dip).

Module 8 will help you script a simple response to these small signs of motivation opening up. This is when you want to raise the idea of getting more help. In addition to figuring out the treatment, you may need to help her figure out childcare or time off from work if she is willing to do something more intensive. The idea is to enable treatment and anything that supports that treatment.

We worked with the parents of a young woman who was living in Utah. Her folks were in Eastern Massachusetts. They were concerned about her for good reason. She was using drugs and alcohol and stripping in a club to pay for it. The phone was all they had. The conversations between mom and daughter had deteriorated greatly. The mother was all over the daughter’s clothes, her hair, her lifestyle – she couldn’t help it. The phone calls were despairing. The daughter got on well with her aunt, her mother’s sister. We suggested the aunt get on the phone and scripted out a brief request that the daughter come home and enter a “retreat” the parents had found. The aunt explained that an open-ended airline ticket had been purchased. It worked. The young woman left Utah and never returned. She entered treatment. While it wasn’t easy or complete, the daughter began looking at her substance use and learning about recovery. For now, the young woman was out of danger.

One last suggestion. We talk a lot about building a bridge between you and your Loved One. Sometimes things can’t be said out loud. Since your daughter works full time, it may be fair to say that she isn’t drinking during the day (at least before lunch)… perhaps you send a loving text occasionally. “Just a note to say I am here; I’ve always loved your perseverance…”

There are a lot of small suggestions in Modules 4, 5, and 6 about how to communicate and how to behave around your daughter. Please take a look at these three modules soon as they will help guide your conversations with her and help you figure out what to do even with the limited contact you have with her.

Welcome. It's good to have you on the site.



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"...)