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How Can I Reward Him – He’s Always High on Pot!


AiR member mama wrote in about her son, who takes marijuana concentrate all day long. She describes him as a "master manipulator" and wonders how to reward someone like this…

"My son does dabs (marijuana concentrate) all day every day. It is almost impossible to tell when he is high. We have tried rewarding him for positive behaviors but we just can't figure out when he is high. He does about 30 dabs a day. It has ruined his life and he refuses rehab (we live in Canada. Our province likes harm reduction and outpatient. There are only 3 rehabs in our entire province.) He also will not buy into the 12 steps. I am sure on this.

What ends up happening is he gets rewarded while he is high. He is a master manipulator. The toll the dabs have taken are far reaching and highly concerning.

My question is " How do I reward someone when they are constantly high? I did the module on signs of drug use but in reality it is almost impossible to figure it out."

Your son is always high. Marijuana can be an extreme drug, since its cost is low and its availability is great. Canada, like some states in the US, is legalizing recreational use, which just emboldens heavy users by making pot smoking even more culturally acceptable.

I can well imagine your son staying constantly high with pot to the point you can’t differentiate between straight times and high times.

Let’s apply the behavioral component of CRAFT to your situation.

Your son appears to always be high. Without confronting him, and asking or accusing him of being high, your best guess is that he is always high and there is no period when he is straight enough for you to reward.

The CRAFT approach says when high (see Learning Module 6) do three things:

  1. Disengage
  2. Remove rewards
  3. Allow natural consequences

Here’s how applying these three principles might look.

1) Let’s take the first: Disengage. You and other family members would back away from your son. Leave him alone more often. Don’t engage him:

Have you been smoking? What would you like for dinner? Want to watch X together on TV? Are you high (or any configuration of this question).

Stop talking about drug use altogether—ignore him. Leave him to himself. As difficult as this sounds, keep it up as best you can. You won’t do it perfectly. The idea is to make him feel more alone in his world, unsupported by his family.

2) Remove rewards: What more can you take away? Pocket change? A place at the dinner table? Laundry service? Half-hearted peppy comments?

3) Allow natural consequences: Let things in his life fall apart. Are tasks left unfinished? Is he late for something? Let it be. Is he over 18? Can you transition him out of the house?

The idea is to freeze him out. Any of these actions on their own won’t change the world, but taken together over time they isolate your son, they pair his use with family members disengaging, they signal that life is less good when using.

In the longer term, you might consider whether to continue providing the big rewards, such as lodging and meals, cell phone, access to a car…..

Removing rewards, disengaging, and allowing natural consequences are the three things under your control. The research shows that this affects behavior. The family needs to keep it up as best as they can and as consistently as they can, in the face of a Loved One’s intoxicated state. Over time, this works.

It’s not easy to do, but this is what is under your control.

While moments of not being high are currently rare or nonexistent, remain prepared to see one and to know how to react. This is covered in Learning Module 5. Perhaps a scrunch on the back or an invite to go out for pizza. Keep in mind you are guessing about his state, not asking. You won’t be 100% sure and you may get it wrong, but that’s going to occasionally happen.

The question of the bigger picture and your part in it is worth repeating. If your son isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, then you are inadvertently supporting his use, with house, meals, etc. You are providing him valuable resources that subsidize his use, by increasing his discretionary income and making life easy and comfortable.

Marijuana needs to be approached like any other addiction. It’s serious and will disrupt any progress in your son’s life. Anything you can do to renew your energy for addressing it by turning up the discomfort in his daily life will be important. It is what you can do. It is what is under your control.

So to recap.  We suggest you back away by removing yourself neutrally, removing more resources as is possible, and basically leaving him alone to deal with any consequence that happen as a result of his use.

When you see use all the time, you want to try the principles of “when they are using” all the time.

Being a family member to someone struggling with addiction is long-term and demands a high degree of consistency when responding to it. This is not easy at all. You won’t be able to do it perfectly. That’s okay.

But sharpening up your stance, and getting all family members on the same page, is the goal.



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. I love your response to this. I too have a son that “dabs” all day and can justify everything he does. The hardest thing was creating distance from him in this state. His claim to justify using is that “at least I’m no longer shooting heroin”. In the beginning I was all for this marijuana maintenance and was told to choose my battles, but now I feel one addiction has been replaced with another. This is no young boy, he has since turned 30.

    The days of mom don’t worry and I got this are wearing thin. I have started implementing creating distance. I no longer call him. If he does call I will answer but the conversation is basic and I don’t always contribute much more than necessary. My heart breaks doing this, but I can’t accept this as his life choice. I want him to be a part of our lives, but my daughter will not tolerate any drug use around my grandchildren, and if he is high… then she will not participate so in order to see my grandchildren, I cannot invite him along.

    I thought the hard part of raising children was over but it seems to keep going. I love spending time with my grandchildren but there is something missing, their Uncle whom they don’t even know at this point.

    Thanks for the reassurance I’m doing the right thing.

  2. Wow! This response has been exactly what I have been looking for! I am going to implement immediately.

    I am so grateful to this website. I have searched endlessly to find a program that works for my son. Where we live, CRAFT has not been an option that therapists use. However, I find it makes the most sense. I was drawn to the principles but I just could not figure out when he is high and when he isn’t.

    I do have one more question. He likes to go to the bathroom during family meals out . I am sure that he is using during this longer period that we sit at the table and he has escaped to the washroom. My “mummy gut” knows that this is happening. We have stopped going for supper but there are times that we have to go out for family supper functions. It makes me so angry because I feel that he is getting away with it. I want to stand up and leave the restaurant. I don’t because I don’t want to create discord with him. Is creating this type of discord something I should do?

    1. In an ideal world you would stand up and walk out of the restaurant. Really. CRAFT would suggest you gently remove yourself….”you know, I don’t feel well. We need to leave.”

      Since the world is less than ideal, you may have to accept that your son is getting away with getting high in the bathroom at a family function. Perhaps you stop smiling at him, or addressing him. Perhaps you cool off to him on the ride home. This may be all you can do in these instances.