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.

How Can I Intervene from Far Away?

phone call
© monicore via pixabay

Allies in Recovery member kwg6551 has only just found out that her son  — who lives far away — is using prescription drugs. How to influence him and apply CRAFT when they only speak over the phone, and he always acts like it's no big deal?

"Just recently found out that my son was abusing prescription drugs. I had a gut feeling something was wrong for about 8 months but because he was having ACL repair for the second time wanted to believe his issues were because of his knee pain but after the surgery and well pass healing time he was still looking for meds. He has agreed to mental health counseling because before he started abusing he did have severe anxiety on top of having ADD. My problem is he has his own place and is hard to monitor or tell what he is doing when you only talk on the phone some days. To help with the not knowing his older brother has moved in with him under the assumption that he is helping out will bills. I’m still in the anger and sadness stage but with him at least taking a step to address his mental health issues I do find my days somewhat bearable. I have always been close to my son. He is the middle child of three boys and I have always gave him my special attention. We are still close and when I try to say something about the problem he says I’m blowing it up bigger than it is. I just don’t know what to say or when to say it since I don’t physically see him everyday. I just want to do the right thing at the right time and I’m lost."

Dear kwg6551: It is shocking to learn that a Loved One is part of the opioid epidemic ravaging this country. This site can help. We’ve written before about having a Loved One at a long distance away. Here's one post containing some suggestions you may find helpful.

As you have learned, it can be hard to tell over the phone when your son is high. He will probably not slur and you have no visual cues. It is subtle… is he in an unusually good mood and therefore high, or really cranky and therefore probably in withdrawals?

There will be differences in his personality. When you abuse opioids, there are times you run out of opioids. Perhaps he doesn’t talk to you in these moments or sounds really low, even desperate. Don’t worry too too much about the phone calls if it isn’t possible for you to tell.

CRAFT was designed to be done with Loved Ones who are physically around 40% or more of the time. The blog post I reference above spells out the limits when you are far away. It also spells out ways we have learned to adapt CRAFT for long-distance relationships.

Your son has agreed to get treatment for his mental health. This is heartening. A good provider will hone in on the drug use. It should quickly become obvious to a trained professional. For now, it is easier for your son to agree to address his mental health. Fine. If you are worried he is pulling the wool over the eyes of the provider, nothing prevents you from calling and telling the provider what you know and your fears. If there is no release signed by your son, they can only listen, but at least you’ve done what you can.

A recent study found that many people who abuse opioids are trying to quiet their anxiety. Perhaps the next treatment he would most likely agree to is a psychiatric visit. There are drugs for anxiety that are safe for people with addiction issues.

There are times to talk about treatment. We describe them in Learning Module 8. The rest of the time, it is best to not say anything. Your words fall on deaf ears and you are actually training your son not to listen. He'll just block you out. When you do talk treatment, do it when there is a window of opportunity: a wish or a dip, a more formal talk around the kitchen table. Use the 'make a request' exercise to help frame how you say it. Have the treatment figured out. Here's an example:

"Son, I love that you are willing to see someone for the anxiety. It must be so uncomfortable to be anxious. I’ve been reading that there are medicines that can help with anxiety and I wonder if you would agree to seeing this psychiatrist I found that takes our insurance (or that I am willing to pay for). It may help you sleep and calm your nerves faster."

This can be done over the phone. Pay attention to what your son is saying…a wish will sound like he wants something that is currently out of reach—the gym, being in a social situation, getting out of the house—a dip will be a complaint about himself, I feel so low, so nervous, so frustrated, so scared.

Your other son should be trained in narcan, the overdose antidote. He could also be learning the CRAFT method via the learning modules on this site. You could better share information and line up your behaviors and communication if you were on the same page.

There are things to do from a distance. When you are new to a Loved One’s drug use, it can be paralyzing. We can help you unpack it and provide guidance on prioritizing the steps and actions you can take. There are many people on this site with valuable experience. You are not alone.



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 kwg6551,
    I have been in a very similar situation where my son was away at treatment or in a sober home and it was difficult to know what was going on. I thought I might share some of the things that I did to apply CRAFT when we were separated like this. Maybe it will spark some ideas for you in your situation.
    I found that when I was even remotely suspicious that my son was using or not doing what was right, I was usually right. I learned that I needed to pay attention to my feelings and deal with things as though they were definitely true. If I suspected use and we were on the phone, I would find a way to get off the phone. I would say something like,”I don’t know but, it sounds like you’re not having a great day. When things are better give me a call back.” Then I would hang up. I would repeat that until I could hear in his voice that he was not high. It might take a couple of times, but the result was eventually he would call when he was sobered up. I would engage in those calls and I would end the phone call with something positive like, “I really appreciated this call, it was great talking hearing from and you sound a lot better. Let’s talk again tomorrow.”
    So, I guess, following modules 4,5 and 6. Talking positively, rewarding positive behavior, etc…
    I also did things like asked for a pizza delivery place near my son and would have a pizza or food delivered to him when I knew he was staying sober. I would let him know I really appreciated his effort and knew he was trying and to expect a surprise that afternoon or evening. I was never fond of sending gift cards or money because that was a trigger for my son and he could convert the gift cards into cash.
    Just a quick question, has your son that is living with your Loved One with SUD, seen the learning modules? I always found it imperative that everyone involved be on the same page. When we weren’t, my son found ways of manipulating us to get what he wanted. I have two daughters and that was an issue. We had to stay in contact and hold strong together.
    I hope this helps, and would love to stay in contact and share some more! We are not alone and staying connected with others with similar issues is one way of healing!

  2. Dear kwg6551, I so know how bewildering it feels to not know our role or have full information when it comes to a child you have raised. When they are adults it is virtually impossible to control their direction, though our heart still wants to as much as when they were little. For me I came to a place where I believed information would come to me when I needed it. I would treat my adult son with compassion and encouragement always, and believe for the best outcome for both of our journeys. Never underestimate the power of all you have taught him or the relentless strength of seeds planted. Hopefully an opportunity will present itself where you can have a loving conversation with him and let him know should he find himself in trouble and feel he is in over his head with a dependency (that is as big of a deal as you think), you will be a positive presence shepherding him toward treatment and help out of it. Best of wishes to you, so glad you found Allies in Recovery! ~Annie