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I’m Afraid of What Could Happen if I Don’t Protect Him

woman head in hands despair

"One of my biggest concerns is…To section or not to section. I can't help but think what if he overdoses or worse and I didn't section him?" – a recent comment from an AiR member 

This is an important question that many families raise. Those who love someone struggling with alcohol and drugs often want to avoid future regrets and want to do everything they can to protect their Loved One.

The Pro's & Con's of Section 35 for your Loved One

Section 35 is a court process in Massachusetts whereby the family asks the judge to commit someone for a period of time (without that person’s accord). Our Massachusetts Message Board provides a description of the process. You will need to provide documentation and be able to argue that your son is a chronic substance abuser.

If you’re successful sectioning your son, he could be sent to treatment OR, if there is no room in treatment, he could be sent to Bridgewater jail.

Being forced into treatment can start a process of different treatment programs over a long period of time that can be hugely beneficial to your son. OR, he could walk away from it after the mandated period, which could be just a couple days. He might be upset at you for involving the courts.

"I just feel like if something happens it will be my fault because I didn't "force" help. How do you know when to step in and take over because they don't know any better?"

Again, what you are saying here is very important, since many families feel they bear some responsibility for attending to their Loved Ones' harmful behaviors ….especially since the Loved One seems so incapable of taking care of themselves. 

Protecting vs. Enabling

You want to protect your Loved One, but that is impossible and what you do to “protect” them may cause more harm in the long-run.

Fear causes enabling and it can be a very difficult problem to solve.

If you do nothing, your Loved One's condition could deteriorate. However, we've learned there are just as many negative consequences that follow from enabling. Enabling fosters addiction, minimizes the chances of recovery and seeking treatment, and erodes the Loved One’s self care, which is so vitally necessary if the person is going to recover.

It’s important to understand the limits of your responsibility. Loved Ones make their own decisions and you can only assume responsibility for your choices, not theirs.

When you take on the responsibility for their wellbeing, you turn your life upside-down. You will want to step in when you can – such as a section 35 or hiding the keys when they’re wasted – but trying to out-think or out-act your Loved One at every turn is impossible. You will do immeasurable harm to your own health by trying.

And try as you may, you will not succeed in protecting your Loved One. You simply aren’t that powerful and all-knowing.

Your Loved One will take advantage of your fear because when you’re addicted, everything and everyone becomes a resource for your continued use…It’s a deep, dark hole. 

By definition, addiction is a place where a person does not know any better. It’s horrendous for the people who love the addicted person. 

Governor Baker in Massachusetts is trying to relax the rules of section 35 so that it is easier to hold someone for 72 hours against their will when there is addiction. That legislation hasn’t yet passed.

Keep in mind the chance that your son may end up at Bridgewater Jail rather than in treatment, if there is no room.  Also, that your son may be very angry to the point that further efforts at getting him into treatment could become harder or even impossible because the connection is cut.

With this understanding, consider the Section 35 process. It could work for your son, and, importantly, it will lay to rest your worry that there is this to try.

Come Back to the Principles of CRAFT

But please, don’t give up on what this site teaches. The family needs to learn how to communicate, behave, and intervene when faced with the addiction of a Loved One. Getting sober is a process that can take many tries. You will feel better fast, knowing how to react to your son NOW and during what could be a prolonged process of getting sober.

It’s always hard to know what the right thing to do is, and a lot of times we make mistakes as we figure it out. The important thing is to learn from those mistakes and maintain a stance, vis-a-vis the Loved One, that allows you to show your care and love in a way that will foster recovery. That's what the CRAFT principles will do for you.

* A complete description of the section 35 process is available on the Massachusetts Message Board



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. Learn2Cope is referenced here. I belong to this group and I find much of what is discussed very helpful and educational. I am not a fan however of the harshness in which they suggest we treat our loved ones. They have a “home is never an option “policy. I am so happy I found this site with the Information on CRAFT. I feel that for my daughter and our family that this is a much better approach for our loved ones. I have implemented this and already I see a difference in the way I feel as well as my daughter. I will add that my daughter has never been abusive or stolen from us and is not an everyday user. Are there any meetings in MA for craft or therapists that practice that approach that I could meet with?

    1. Hello help4t: Allowing a Loved One to stay in your home can be seen as rewarding or enabling, depending on how your Loved One is behaving. It’s the same principles as were discussed in the blog post entitled “but what if they lose their car.”
      It’s not as easily answered by: they should never be home or they should always be allowed to be home. It’s a matter of how “home” influences their behavior. Home or no home depends on whether they are following a treatment program and are maintaining a good level of sobriety or whether they are actively using with no efforts to stop. Is being home an aid to staying sober and an aid to getting them back to better financial footing? Or is being home providing a cushy, free pad for them to use more?
      The answer to this can change at any time….so it helps to make everything temporary, and re-assessed weekly together, if possible.
      AiR has plans to pilot its first live group shortly with a large substance abuse agency located in Danvers, MA. The idea is to support live groups through the site with the help of a facilitator from the agency. We will keep all of you posted when it starts.

    2. Hi Help4t,
      If you get a chance you might want to listen to the podcast titled “Support”. Let me preface this with the acknowledgement of the incredible strength and learning I have gained from the different type of support groups I have attended. I have made friendships and connections that are founded in an incredibly meaningful way through meetings in ways that others cannot understand. I do find that with some groups there can be an overarching (negative) attitude or belief that is adopted by the group. Maybe someone had success with doing a particular thing or they believe it is the only way and the group forgets that everyone has their own path in dealing with this difficult issue. One time I belonged to a group that stressed sectioning and never ever letting their loved one back into the home. When I chose to let my son back home, I felt guilty and was stressed that this group would judge my decision. I decided to let it out at a meeting and told everyone that I was not going to be made to feel guilty that I chose this, I had enough people outside of the group to do that. The group was incredibly supportive and understanding and really rallied around me. I am not suggesting you should do the same. Maybe another group might not be as supportive.

      When making decisions for myself and my family I do not like being pressured because it is confusing enough as it is. So, I put the pressures of the support group aside when trying to make decisions, and ask myself:

      “What is it that I can live with? What will make me craziest?”.

      Remember you are the one that has to live with the consequences of your decisions not the support group.

      For me, I find it most important to look at everything from all angles and to be educated as much as possible. I am always searching for more information and as many ideas and views as I can. The one method that I found that worked and continues to work for me is CRAFT. AiR has been a lifeline to me on my journey. I try to practice CRAFT in all my interactions and communications with people, it seems that by practicing with others, I strengthen my toolbox of skills, giving me more to utilize when dealing with Substance Use again.

      I hope this is helpful, remember the saying from Alanon, “Take what you like and leave the rest”, maybe something to apply to other support groups too.
      Also, remember you are not alone!