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.

I’m Not Hearing Any Change Talk—Can I Still Bring Up the Drinking?

conversation 2 people from above

thePheasant is staying with her son right now and communications are easy-going. He says he's doing "controlled drinking" but she can tell he's struggling. She's not getting any "wishes" or "dips" from him but would love, before she leaves, to encourage him to pursue therapy.

© joshua ness via unsplash

"I found this web site this summer. My loved one is my son who has been in and out of recovery for the last 20 years – with many periods of sobriety that I have been grateful for. I re-read the section on what to do if my loved one is currently using. I've been good about not doing the financial support for the last couple of years. I've avoided negative talk for a long time.

When he agreed to move away from a destructive situation and maintain sobriety almost 3 years ago, I helped bail him out of debt. It was a way he could let go of his past. Since that time, I do not offer to help financially. I suspect there are struggles, but I choose not to try to find out about the financial struggles. However, in the last year, he has relapsed, and it got bad for awhile last spring while he was not working due to COVID-19. I am visiting him now (normally live about 2000 miles away), and I realize that I do the "I love you" whether he is drinking or not. It's hard not to do that.

He's been doing "controlled drinking" since he's been back to work – still not good, but on the other hand he has generally been pleasant and easy to be with. It's hard to withdraw as I stay in our house next door to him, and am here for 2 weeks, and want to see him. In the past he's done change talk, but it's not happening right now as things are "under control" in his mind. He's back at work after being at home due to COVID (employees didn't go into work for several months).

I'm using the Internet in his home right now, and as I looked for a pen, there was a paper next to the pen. It was folded, and I looked at it. It was a consent form for the outpatient clinic I'm hoping he'll try while he works. I'm trying to figure out how to bring it up if he doesn't do any change talk. I'm wondering about asking him how he is feeling about his drinking right now. The addictions also include food and cigarettes, but I know to focus on the drinking right now."

You are visiting your son, who is working to control his drinking after 20 years of problem drinking, interspersed with many periods of sobriety.

You are choosing to focus on the drinking for now, which feels the most urgent. You have some time left with him and want to know what more you can do.

Your Loved One started to drink more when his job sent him home due to COVID. He is back at work now and trying to control his drinking. Being home without any structure, like that which a job can offer, is tough. He is, thankfully, back at work now, but with this added level of drinking. You are concerned, and rightfully so.

I'm doing pretty well with CRAFT but I still do the "I love you" whether he's drinking or not

You are trying to practice CRAFT and are doing pretty well. You find it hard not to tell your Loved One you love him.

However, saying things like “I love you” or “it'll be okay” when they’re in front of you drinking, makes them feel better and normalizes the drinking. Our suggestion is to be more strategic in your use of these rewards, removing them when he is in front of you using (Module 6).

You are scared and you love your son, so you tell him so. It is completely understandable that you've fallen into this pattern. But being neutral and stepping away sends a clearer message and gets you out of the equation. It’s hard to do.

It may feel like you're not helping but gathering information is an important phase of CRAFT

Your son may be thinking of seeing a counselor. You stumbled upon a consent form in his home.  So, while he says he’s okay, some part of him knows he is walking a thin line with his controlled drinking. Your son has experience being alcohol-free, with good lengths of time in recovery. So, thePheasant, your son knows the score better than most. Working and drinking like he did when he was home due to COVID isn’t a winning combination.

Your visit, with your CRAFTy ways, is gently pointing this out. You would like to talk to him about his drinking before you go. Your son is not giving you a wish or dip: this refers to what we call change talk, the ways our Loved Ones may speak of wanting more (wish) or feeling low (dip) about life.

Can you hang in there and continue what you're doing? You are collecting information about your son and responding to the issue of drinking in the moment by practicing CRAFT. If no perfect moment naturally occurs for talking about treatment before your leave, Module 8 suggests a planned talk.

If change talk isn't happening, we suggest a "planned conversation"

A planned talk is like a low-stress intervention. It's done by a family member who has been practicing CRAFT and feels it's time to go to the next level. It goes something like this.

At the end of your visit, perhaps you prepare some coffee and sweets for his coming home from work. Time for a tea party!

Your son knows the stakes. What he probably doesn’t know is the depth of your feelings about it. He is contemplating therapy, so I don’t think you'll need to push too hard.

"I have treasured our time together. I want to bring up the alcohol before I leave.


It’s been difficult for you with so much open time, with COVID and your being home. I see the dance you are doing with the alcohol. It's a challenge. Thank goodness you are back at work so that controlling your drinking will be a little easier.


I wonder if going to the therapist or trying out a few online peer support groups (prepare a printed or handwritten list) would make things less tight.


I have to go back home. I know you can manage this, you have in the past.


I get so scared for you. It is hard to breathe at times. You are my son. I love you so much. Thank you for listening to me and looking at this list of online supports."

As far as keeping your own self centered and making sure you've got support and understanding for what you're going through, we have a couple options for you.

  • We are currently partnering with psychotherapist Kayla Solomon, who runs a weekly group for Allies members (free of charge to you) on Wednesday evenings.

  • Laurie MacDougall, our collaborator, podcast host and guest blogger here at Allies, also runs R.E.S.T. groups (currently online) providing CRAFT-based support and education to families. Free of charge.

Thanks so much for checking in with us. You're doing so much right. We salute you and send our very best wishes for you and your son, and his further recovery.



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 edited the suggestions just a tad to sound more like me, but was careful not to add anything (such as why it would be logical to do this). I was struggling to find a planned time as my loved one comes home tired and wanting some alone time which I suspect includes a drink or two. Every day I practiced the planned conversation in case an opportunity would arise. Three days before I left, he suggested that we do a take-out steak dinner the next night. I was hopeful that the steak dinner would be a good time. I suspect he had a little alcohol before I came over, but by his behavior, it wasn’t obvious. I picked up dinner and we had a leisurely meal with no alcohol. I said what I wanted to say about things possibly being easier if he had some support and gave him information about the resource I thought he would be most likely to agree to, as well a link to online AA meetings. I was surprised how readily he agreed to an appointment, saying that he had been thinking about it, and that while things weren’t horrible, it would be a better time to get help. I offered to make the appointment for him, saying that I was sure he could do it himself. He asked me to call for an appointment which I did the next day. The next 2 days before I left, he was a little grumpy. We had a pleasant conversation 2 days after I returned home. I am now back home, but am hopeful that he will follow through with the appointment which is still a couple of weeks away.

  2. Your response is so helpful. I was struggling whether to have a planned conversation if a wish and a dip didn’t occur this week. I will definitely do that. There is a good resource within about 5 minutes of his house and I have talked to them. The words you provided – reminding me to keep it brief and without explanations of the benefits or reasons for doing this – just that it would ease things – were really helpful. Thanks!