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I Don’t Want to Threaten Him – But There’s So Much at Stake!

Man and Stars with Light

mommaoftwo needs help sorting things out. Her Loved One is facing serious charges but has been making strides in the right direction. He still has a lot of work to do though, and it’s hard to watch this unfold without wanting to keep pushing him along. A former counselor suggested an ultimatum with a time frame for negative drug tests. The family is overwhelmed.

I need help – am confused about which way to go now. Short background-I have posted some of our story before. My son 21 we discovered last winter has been using meth for 4 years – he apparently went so far down the road he was also dealing. It came to light when a friend of his messaged me her concerns. Since then we have gotten him to rehab-he was there for 60 days and left before completing the long term program. He came home – got a good job, a new puppy and had attended meetings on and off – we have been drug testing him and he is clean of meth but continued to use pot and alcohol. Meanwhile charges came down from a traffic stop last Nov. that resulted in a search of his car- a large amount of meth and pot were found. He is facing 5 felony charges. He has retained a lawyer with his own money. The lawyer will plea bargain – this lawyer sits on the drug court board and says there was too much meth for my son to qualify for drug court. The lawyer also doesn't think my son will go to prison as this was his first offense – but no one knows at this point. My son has had his first court appearance and was released on his own recognizance. There are many conditions to him remaining out- no drugs or alcohol, go to meetings, get a sponsor etc. So no guarantees – so much dependent on my son's actions. My son has always needed a push – gets stuck – avoids etc. Last week after seeing no real actions on his part – I did push – the anxiety of watching him do nothing in the face of these horrendous consequences was too much for me. Since then he has come up with his own plan of meetings every night after work, and told me he was 2 days clean from pot, and had some of the withdrawal symptoms – stomach ache, slight fever and chills. He has been doing well at his job – which requires getting up at 4 in the morning and working some Saturdays. We have been drug testing him although not probably enough. Now the push to hold him accountable for the pot use- I have been advised by the counselor where he went to treatment that still coaches me to tell him if he doesn't test clean in 2 weeks from pot that he will have to move out. I can't bring myself to go that far. To me it seems the natural consequences- prison are already there. My son was adopted as a toddler after his birth mother could not maintain sobriety, she has since recovered and is a high school teacher. My son has abandonment issues and I am afraid threatening him now will serve no purpose other than to push him over the edge to give up. This is so hard – so much at stake – it feels like the weight of the world and making a mistake here could be devastating. My son could be trying to fake us out again – he did after all fool us for 4 years. I need your well reasoned opinion – I am not sure I am seeing this clearly. As it stands now we did tell my son last night we will be drug testing more often and expect to see a clean screen in 2 weeks. He left the dinner table saying if it isn't then what? He went to his room for the rest of the night.

Your son is facing drug dealing charges. Much is at stake for him. You are drug testing him. Your son’s treatment program, which he did not complete, is urging you to kick him out unless the drug test is negative for cannabis in two weeks’ time.

He is still smoking pot and drinking.

Everyone feels cornered from the sounds of it.

First off, thank you for writing in. There is a lot to consider here and it is wise to reach out when you feel you aren’t able to see things clearly. With all of the pressure everyone is feeling, it can be so hard to think straight. You are right to question the usefulness of threatening him when there is so much pressure already. Good for you for taking the time to think this through out loud with us.

Regarding the cannabis, remember that it can stay in a person’s system for 30 days if the person is a daily user. I’m worried that a drug-free home drug test as a condition for staying with you is not helpful in the sense that it forces the family to act if the test comes out positive.

Drug tests help gauge progress. Their results provide everyone with information which is helpful going forward… But they shouldn’t be the only thing everyone is relying on to make decisions.

Laurie MacDougall recently wrote a good post about how her family managed her son’s recovery efforts at home using drug tests.

The drug dealing charges hanging over your family is scaring everyone. It’s not ideal, but let the courts address your son’s use of pot. Any drug test that you do is simply a piece of the puzzle. It would be more useful to look at it as information that helps you work CRAFT, not as part of an ultimatum for living at home.

Getting arrested appears to have your son’s attention. He is not using methamphetamine. He is trying. He could use as much encouragement as possible to acknowledge, reinforce and reward his efforts in this department.

I would leave all of this alone. Let him stay home, go to work, go to meetings, and shake in his boots about upcoming court appearances. Methamphetamine is a very tough drug to resolve. Everything is in place for now, evidenced by his non-use of methamphetamine.

Try and put down the worry about the criminal justice issues. Let your son hold that fear. Let him wrestle with court drug tests. For now, he is home and not using methamphetamines. He is working and attending self-help. You cannot control what happens with the legal system.

I don’t think the courts will put him in jail for a positive screen for cannabis. My suggestion is to stop drug testing him and hold your course. Let your son feel the whole weight of his situation. It’s not your role to get after him, or drug test, or otherwise protect him from the courts. This may be easier said than done, but as you say, the weight of all of this is just too much. You need to take some of this burden off of your shoulders. Natural consequences are his to face. And your bearing this weight unnecessarily may detract from your ability to use CRAFT in positive ways with him. Your loving, compassionate ear is one of the greatest gifts you can give him right now.

If the attorney is right, and your son won’t go to jail, you could see the recent arrest as the pressure your son needed – it got his attention. I would suggest you find ways to reward his non-use in the day. Focus on your son looking meth-free. For now, let your son manage all the drug and alcohol use. Let him stand on his own and face the court system.

CRAFT says focus on the drug use IN THE DAY. Everyday your son looks clean is a good day. It’s not your job to focus on the legal issues. I realize it is frightening to imagine your son in this trouble and facing possible jail time, but don’t let this fear drive your behavior towards your son. Stay focused on the drug use in the day. And for now, I would cheer his efforts at remaining meth-free.

The confrontation and defensiveness you describe are all too familiar to the families on this site – and beyond. This is one of the reasons why we urge family members to be cautious about delivering ultimatums without an individualized consideration of the big picture. In your situation, trying to tackle all these parts at once sounds extremely challenging and overwhelming for everyone involved. It makes sense that everyone is feeling that strain.

Try to wipe the slate clean for the next conversation. The last one wasn’t great. But you don’t have to carry that around. Try softening your language and practicing that empathetic listening. He is more than his drug problems – let him feel that you are seeing him as a whole person. Even though the goal is for him to be clean one day from all of these substances, his progress with regards to the meth is a major step. He still has a lot of work to do, and a lot to face. Getting there may take a long time. But you want to keep the focus on building the bridge and being there for him as a partner in his recovery with each and every opportunity you have.

Perhaps it sounds something like this: 

I am working on managing my own stress about your drug charges. I've been overwhelmed and not sure what to do. I'm trying to back off. I care about you so much. We are so proud of you for staying off meth. You've been doing great getting to your job and we can see you trying to change things. We don't want to hound you about the alcohol and pot. This is yours to manage. Of course we will be here to help with this if you need it. You've done a lot of hard work already. I know you must be overwhelmed too. We are here for you, and we love you.

You’re doing a great job – we are grateful for your reaching out and sharing these struggles with us. It’s time to take some of the load off your shoulders now… let us keep helping in any way we can.



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. Update-we are a day away from the second court appearance we did just this week tell him he couldn’t live here if he wasn’t clean by Wed.- we have been drug testing everyday. He is now clean except for THC which takes longer to leave the system- he quit over a week ago. So true to form down to the wire. He asked for help shopping for clothes for court and has been expressing his fears and anxiety-something he previously was seeming to shrug off. I feel connected to him for the first time in a long time. His lawyer says he will probably get 0-90 days in a work release program and 5 years probation. So we will see- my hope is this is the accountability he needs. He still needs to figure out how he is going to stay clean and that is his work to do. At this point he is not interested in meetings, but is doing well at his job and looking into trade unions and apprenticeships. This is a good sign that he has hopes and dreams for his future. As with every step of this process we will see how it goes and continue to support his sobriety and the healthy choices he makes. Thanks for being there.

      1. Thanks Dominique-it does to us too! Court isn’t until the 20th but things are moving along-will update after court. A new development -my son and his girlfriend are expecting a baby in May- I get it universe -life is out of my control 🙂 We are adjusting- feeling a mixture of concern and happiness. It has been a close family time- family meals including the girlfriend almost every night, talking openly about what needs to be done to get ready, fears, plans etc. It is something to watch these two young people evolve as they care for one another and get ready to care for a new life.

  2. In the post titled “i don’t want to threaten him — but so much is at stake” you touch on the tough love approach when you refer to ultimatums.

    At one point, you state: “The confrontation and defensiveness you describe are all too familiar to the families on this site – and beyond. This is one of the reasons why we urge family members to be cautious about delivering ultimatums without an individualized consideration of the big picture.”

    I was faced with an ultimatum situation recently. I wasn’t sure how to navigate it in a CRAFTy way. It worked out well, but I still want your input on it.

    My 20 yo daughter was released from 2-day detox (too soon) and went to treatment. She coordinated the treatment on her own. The facility is out of state, 3 hours from our home. Because she was still detoxing from various substances including benzos, she started having panic attacks shortly after arriving. The following day, she was threatening to leave AMA. The unfamiliar environment was triggering her trauma as well. Between sobs, she begged me to pick her up.

    I was advised by treatment staff to hold boundaries and refuse to pick her up. While I understand the reasoning, it was a response that didn’t align with my values — love, connection, trust, self-determination, etc. I was concerned about several scenarios:
    1. I refuse to pick her up; she leaves AMA; and has no cell phone or cash in the Seattle area
    2. She approaches a stranger to borrow a cell phone to call her boyfriend, a Seattleite with connections (not all of them positive)
    3. She loses trust in me as an ally

    I opted to talk calmly with her, validate her feelings, and remind her of what she shared the day before — feelings of shame, paralysis, unable to attend school or work like her “normal friends” etc. I also told her I had been thinking of ways to acknowledge her efforts to coordinate treatment with “something special.” I even mentioned those Doc Marten boots she’s been wanting. At this point, her case manager stepped back into the call. He offered to talk to her some more, and get back to me. When he called back a few hours later, he said she agreed to stay through the weekend. During that window, she started to gain clarity. She wrote me a letter, thanking me for not picking her up. She says she’s committed to completing 30 days.

    I’m curious what you think through a CRAFT lens.
    — Would picking her up have been appropriate, as a way to maintain a trusting/supportive relationship? I need her to trust me when I help her access treatment next time. I thought perhaps I could pick her up as long as she agreed to access services locally after fully detoxing.
    — Picking her up would be considered enabling in the traditional sense. Similarly, it would not be enabling in a CRAFTy way (supporting behavior conducive to treatment/recovery).
    — Or, could leaving her there be within the CRAFT model, as long as it was offset it with a reward for “sticking it out?” I did not want her to come home yet, but I also did not want to leave her there against her wishes — to me, that would have been detrimental to trust. Was also concerned about her leaving AMA to connect with boyfriend’s contacts.

    Tricky! Maybe I’m overthinking.

    1. Thank you for sharing this update with us. You ask an important question. And you offer a glimpse into the head of a family member wrestling with concerns about a Loved One who is thinking of leaving treatment.

      I think it is important to realize that two, four, even five days of detox from various drugs doesn’t leave you “well.” The role of a detox is to protect the person from the harm of withdrawals. Once that person is medically safe, they are discharged.

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to Fireweed3 here:

  3. This is a wonderful post to read. It addresses so many of the challenges parents face as they navigate the course of a child’s addictions.
    My favorite piece is when Dominique suggests this language, ” I am working on managing my own stress about your drug charges. I’ve been overwhelmed and not sure what to do. I’m trying to back off. I care about you so much…”
    Communication is key to moving forward and we can calmly share what it feels like as a loving parent. Our feelings are a natural consequence as well and opening up with our loved ones helps them to understand how their actions reach out to others. It’s honest. Stay calm.

  4. I can’t tell you how much your response meant to me- I feel returned to myself and human again! Thank you from the bottom of my heart! I just had a brief conversation with my son and told him I have been overwhelmed and afraid and haven’t been able to tell him how proud I am of him for his efforts. He said he is trying, and I told him I am proud of him! It felt like we reconnected. He does know what he needs to do and I will try and support that but leave the work to him. Not doing the drug tests now seems like a really good move, no real reason to- the consequences will be from the court. I did read Laurie’s post earlier today and will re-read it-her approach seemed amazing and there may be a time when it can be helpful again for our family.