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Is This Early Recovery Instability or Is He Headed for Relapse?


Happ1ness is concerned her son might relapse at home after responding well to treatment. Not seeing any efforts on his part to go back to a healthy routine, she is getting resentful. She wonders if she should ask him to move out. 

© Loïc Leray via Unsplash

"My 30-year-old son is home after six weeks of rehab for mental health issues and cocaine abuse. He came home super motivated and sharing his concerns and feelings but that has slowly deteriorated. COVID has a serious impact on him as he is now back in a restricted interaction with others and has again reverted to staying in bed for long periods of time.
I have really tried to follow your suggestions but communication is really hard with him now and I am becoming resentful as I do not know how to motivate him to return to following his routine he had established in rehab.
He is living at home and has no employment. I am trying to follow natural consequences for no money and have no idea where he is getting his money from. He has no credit cards.
Should I request he move out? Tough during COVID as shelters are very restricted right now.
I would really appreciate your insight. Thank you."

He is out of rehab and shaky

Your son completed a 6-week program just as the COVID shutdown started. He did well in treatment but he's now home without recovery support and you are witnessing his slide back into a shaky state. It is so incredibly unfortunate to watch our Loved Ones’ motivation sink as treatments are scaled back and the world of support goes online.

The treatment program should have created an aftercare program that includes online help. If you haven’t done so, please look in our supplement for an up-to-date list of online resources for people with addiction.


Try this before you show him the door

You are considering whether to ask your son to leave or to keep him home. Your son participated in treatment. He learned a lot and came home “super motivated.” It is completely understandable that his motivation is disappearing. Unfortunately, you are his one and only support system at the moment. You are officially case manager for the day as you help him put together a plan. Him spending all this time in his head, at home, without any recovery input is not a winning plan. What you are describing is a disposition of frustration and discomfort. Hiding out in bed is a way to quiet the disquiet.

You are his family. You are not professionals. Fortunately, you have found CRAFT and you have found us. You might be "it" for your son right now but you are not alone, and you are not powerless. CRAFT is proven to work, you might just need to give the program some time. You are typically meant to apply everything you learn over 6 to 8 weeks before expecting big results.

Here are some action items to consider: 

  • Call the program your son attended and get them to talk to him. Consider asking them if they have other ideas which could help get him back on track.

  • Stepping away some and go neutral.

  • Give him  room as best you can. He will be difficult.

  • Let him sleep and avoid any talk of housework or other things.

  • Provide him your strong acknowledgement that he is on the right course, then back away.

  • Make a list of treatments and prepare for a small but formal talk. Perhaps his dad and anyone else he respects is at the table when this happens.

“Son, I want to thank you for addressing your addiction. I am proud of you and thrilled by the change in your outlook.  I see, though, that you are sinking backwards. That makes sense since we are all cooped up here, and you are not being supported properly. I can’t be your only support. This house cannot be your hiding place. Please consider looking at this list with me and let’s find a couple of online meetings to start. (perhaps you look together for something that looks good and is available daily). This is a turning point for you. We are with you.”

If he says no, thank him for listening. Set up to try again.

Your situation is happening in one form or another all over this country. Check out this post we just wrote to one of our members whose Loved One has been struggling, lacking follow-up and consistent recovery inputs because of COVID.


Communication skills first

Every situation is an opportunity to work on your communication. Going back to Module 4 again and again could help you do so. Being able to talk to him in a way that doesn’t shut him down is going to be your best long-term solution.

As for asking him to leave your home, that remains on the table. It may need to be done but I suggest you first try what I listed above. If this doesn’t help, you will need to figure out where he would go if you asked him to leave. Back to treatment? A sober house? I know these options are currently even harder to locate than usual. You can keep this in the back of your mind and ask us for guidance should he struggle again.

Back to you: compassion and self-care to get you through each day

Your son went to treatment and came back motivated for change in his life. Without consistent professional support, he is shaky in his early recovery. You have probably gone from feeling optimistic and hopeful to feeling down and helpless. You write about starting to feel resentful.

We can relate to what you are feeling just as anyone who has ever loved someone with addiction can. We know how draining it all is. We know it is asking a lot of you. You have been drawing on your resources, trying to help your son help himself.

I suggest you allow yourself to practice these two exercises that will both empower and calm you: compassion and self-care.

Resentment, just like anger, is a very natural response. It is an emotion that can further deplete you of your energy, cloud your judgement and blur your message. Even though it is healthy to welcome the emotion and take it for what it is, it will be a great help to practice turning it around and channeling it through the conscious practice of compassion. Seeing your son’s behavior through the lens of compassion will allow you to reach a better understanding of your son’s internal struggles. It can help you welcome every situation with objectivity and the gentle detachment you need to keep your head above the water.

Easier said than done, you say.

That’s when self-care comes in. Self-care is the amazing dependable friend that holds your hand when everything feels wrong. Self-care is that low-hanging fruit which, ironically enough, can feel incredibly hard to reach when you are so used to caring for your Loved One first. It is different for everyone; it can be little, it can be big, it just needs to feel good.

It is about finding some space to put the focus back on you and on your needs. It is not about being selfish; you need this space to be better equipped to help your son and your entire family navigate early recovery.


What can you do to make this time less tight? How do you bring the focus back on yourselves? How do you find ways, daily, to let in health, peace, and wellness?  Here are some posts we have written that talk about self-care. I also encourage you to visit our Sanctuary which is aimed at providing you some relief, one day at a time.

We commend you for shifting your communication as well as your perspective on your son’s addiction. You are working CRAFT, keep it up, you are moving forward!  



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 Happ1ness,

    I hear the disappointment and worry in your post that your son first was doing so well and was ambitious and ready to tackle the world only to come back home and to settle into old habits. I have a feeling that this is the most common behavior that almost all families witness when their LO heads back home after a program. I know it was the same in my house as well.

    When our LOs are off and away in treatment and putting all their effort in, it can bring on so much excitement that something positive is happening but also it can take a lot of energy on our part to not become too hopeful because we are waiting for the hammer to drop. We start “white knuckling” it, just gripping that table for fear that something is going to launch us back to where we were. We can often become hyper-vigilant, watching and waiting for some sign that this is just not going to work. We can actually bring that tension into the recovery process for both ourselves and our LO.

    I’m hoping you will oblige me for a moment and close your eyes and imagine a scenario: Your son is at the base of a very steep jagged mountain. He has no tools, just his comfortable climbing shoes on. What everyone (his family supports, counselor, treatment, support groups, coaches, etc…) is telling him is to start climbing the mountain. Oh, and remove the one tool he has, take off his shoes for the whole climb. Oh, and do it in 30 days (maybe 60 or 90).

    This is what I imagined my son was doing when he first started working on his recovery. Everyone was requiring him to learn or relearn how to eat healthy, exercise, create a supportive community for himself, drop his old friends, be financially responsible, take care of underlying illness, attend support groups (and often groups not of his choosing), keep his room clean, keep common spaces clean, no more arguing, be respectful, look for a job, the list goes on and on.

    Then when I stepped back and took a look, I asked myself, “how good am I at doing these things?” I came to the conclusion that if I was requiring my son to do all of these things, I needed to first require it of myself. There were some pretty significant positives that came out of learning to practice my own expectations of others: I was able to model what a healthier (notice I didn’t say healthy because at times I do not feel that way) person would do and how to take care of oneself. For a time it took the focus off of my son and his recovery, it helped me gain peace and confidence. Lastly, it empowered my son to take control of his recovery.

    I cannot stress this enough: Now is the time to really take care of yourself on all levels. Really deeply. Mind, body and spirit. Time away from your son’s struggles and worries everyday, will only help you with stress management, relaxing, and make you the healthiest you can be to cope and to manage the best way in your abilities when interacting with your son.

    Taking the time to do what we think of as traditional forms of self-care like taking a bubble bath, listening to music, going for a walk and appreciating nature, taking a break, expressing gratitude, are all incredibly important to our healing. But also, working on communication skills, learning to reward positive behavior and remove rewards when there is negative behavior are all ways of taking care of yourself. Sounds crazy right? How is working on changing my behavior for me when I am doing this for my LO? Because it calms you, gives you coping strategies and better thought out responses. It actually can make for a healthier person.

    There is one incredibly important thing self-care does that often gets overlooked. Redirecting the focus off of our LOs issues, sends the message that we are not going to be looking over their shoulder, trying to direct and control their recovery. When we are always walking on eggshells and looking for proof that they are doing what we think they should, we are unaware that we are adding weight and tension to the situation, making it difficult for them to live up to our expectations. Backing away brings the tension down and sends the message, “I believe that you are capable of taking care of yourself.”

    Other things to consider with your son is that recovery is never a straight line. Returning to the jagged mountain scenario, there are lots of twists, turns and crevices. Breaks need to be taken, there may be slips and falls. One day a person may climb 50 feet and the next day slip back down 10 feet. Recovering from using substances is just like climbing that mountain, and remember, we took their only tool away, their comfortable climbing shoes.

    One last thing to bear in mind, when our LOs are in a treatment setting, it is extremely structured. All they have to think about is keeping their space clean, feeding themselves (sometimes not even that, depending on the treatment), getting to meetings, counseling, etc… all they have to focus on is being sober. That’s it. I can certainly understand how someone might come out of treatment and feel very strong and confident and like they can handle everything. They might think, “hey, I did it for 60 days, I can keep this up. This is easy.”

    But then BOOOM, they’re back home and life hits them smack in the face. They have to look for a job, people expect them to start contributing financially. Maybe they have a court case to look forward to, maybe there are children involved, and all at the same time, depression sets in and for a long time. All of the things that brought on stress and anxiety that were not present when they were in treatment. We start to get nervous and the whole family can fall back into old patterns.

    All of this is why self-care is so important right now. This and the fact that you DESERVE it. Yes, you have been there for your son and you are still there. Take care of you. It’s important to everyone.

    I feel I have gone on a bit long with this so I am going to end my comment here. I hope this helps and I hope the best for you, your son and your family. Stay connected, would love to hear about your progress.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments. Just the thought that someone took the time to respond to me was a lift. I feel like I am certainly on a roller coaster ride and with the Covid distancing in place, I often feel alone and in need of a hug! I am working more on my self care and appreciate your insight. Again thank you.

  2. Wow, I’d love to say first that I love this post and would have soaked up every notion when we were “in the midst of our madness.” Having support like this, from people who not only get it – but CARE, is without a doubt invaluable.

    I would like to add encouragement and support, although I will come no where near the content above.

    First, I would say I could not agree more about after-care for your son, and self-care for you.

    And next I will reinforce the truth that CRAFT works. CRAFT combined with time…packs a punch similar to a fool-proof workout plan, or planting a garden with a secret formula of Miracle Grow. Over time, with doing the right things…results and payoff will come.

    Things WILL improve.

    I have to add that I do recovery support for a medical organization, and I work with a lot of people in various stages of before, during and just after detox, treatment and recovery. I will say that with COVID, my caseload has tripled, as has the relapse rate of my patients. It’s been a discouraging time. So much upheaval and uncertainty going on, with very real worries, isolation and constant change. Not to mention some of the other distressing things we see if we turn on the News (let’s not! Limiting that is a form of self-care, in my opinion).

    The bottom-line is that people are STRESSED.

    These confusing, stressful months have had an impact on my own levels of stress, how much more if I was also battling the pull and temptation of chemical coping skills?? It’s a lot that we have to manage daily.

    Intense turmoil can be a solid reminder to breathe…redirect focus back to right here, right now…and take it one day at a time. Sometimes one hour at a time.

    There’s always peace in this moment, when we return to it.

    Stress, frustrations and worry will always try to work their way back in. Old patterns seeming to return are one way discouragement and resentment for sure like to creep in. I know there are strong triggers to that for me personally. My son had certain old behaviors that would present when we were headed into another cycle of use, dysfunction and drama.

    For example, he would have heightened impatience and a hair-trigger temper. He would mention conflict in his job or friendships more than usual. My son has a pleasant, avoidant personality when it comes to conflict. He will go toe to toe about any topic, but he has always hated if it’s done in an argument. Conflict is always a bad sign for him. He would also be in constant frustration about money, even though he maintained a good income. There was always a short check, a late check, or something unexpected that needed repaired, paid for and taken care of right now now NOW.

    Conflict, temper, urgency, and complaining…to name a few old patterns that show up in our situation.

    Of course the signs are not the same for everyone, all families are different. But for my son, those dynamics were similar to a dashboard light blinking red in my face that we were are about to lose control and eventually crash!

    We are all linked to those we love, behaviors have a domino effect. No sooner would I see a hint of any of the above and I would be off to the races with my usual sickness; investigating, worry, terror, sleeplessness, nagging and harassing and questioning…etc.

    Over time, I have learned to step out of the chaos, drop the weapons of old and pick up new tools when I feel activated. This is where self-care is a great best friend!

    I might take a walk with my dog, call a friend, watch a video on the Sanctuary page on this site, go outside barefoot and stand in the grass for a few minutes, etc. Something calming and cleansing that I can do just long enough to break my concentration of emotion, and breathe myself back to peace.

    And then I can move forward with a healthier, more helpful mindset and response.

    Another thing…I have found when my son has a lot of shut down, sleeping time and doesn’t seem to be motivated, that there have been no new, fresh goals. This is the same for me as well! It’s healthy to always have goals in progress that we are working toward. They give structure and focus and a sense of accomplishment. They don’t have to be earth shattering goals, attainable goals DO something within us.

    Is there a hobby, activity or dream your son has been attached to, or talked about? Maybe try taking a few minutes a day to speak encouragement and interest about the subject to him, that can benefit all of you. It gets everyone’s adrenaline flowing!

    Another thing I have found helpful for kickstarting the energy flow is taking regular times of activity together, movement is a good thing. Conversations in the midst of action and activity can sometimes be less awkward. He’s home and with you right now…why not encourage him to engage in something together?

    For instance, I like to look up state parks and then jump in the car and check them out, hiking through them and taking pictures with our phones. That is a GREAT break from the house, from our routines and schedules, from drama and worries, even from microwaves and TV’s!

    We are big into fishing as a hobby, finding parks all over our state where we spend a few hours casting a line has a profoundly positive mental impact. Doesn’t have to be hiking or fishing, maybe a pickup game of basketball, wiffleball or check out pickle ball!

    Or…try to set aside times to try ALL of these, as well as looking for new interests and activities to add and make your own. You will find energy beginning to come alive again!

    This is a good way to “reward the positives” (CRAFT concepts of reward are powerfully effective). Time together IS a reward. You are a reward.

    And again… CRAFT works!

    We have had great recovery success as a family as a result of doing these things. Just my thoughts!

    Again, take care of yourself. Hold onto hope, pursue some newness. And lean on your friends here at Allies in Recovery; the support, expertise and compassion are life-saving.

    Wishing you great hope, strength, peace and energy.


    1. Annie,
      So encouraging to hear that you have had success with you LO! The suggestions you made are really good and I am going to try and incorporate them into some of our interactions.
      I sometimes think that I am too involved with my son and that he may be rebelling against that, which is natural. But I just am so worried that he will spiral again even though I really can’t do anything about that. It is his decision I guess and I am really striving to provide a positive environment so that won’t happen. But it is exhausting and not what I expected in my retirement.
      Thank you for sharing your experience.

      1. You are so welcome! My son’s recovery path has definitely been a gift. It’s been a spiritual process for us all. As a family it opened the door for introspection, which is needed and healthy for any relationship and to be quite honest, often missing.

        Conflict is much different on this side of recovery. No longer do we have power struggles, “right fighting,” or arguments based on cycles of meanness or moods, fears or insecurities. We communicate openly and safely. Substance use entering our family paved the way for that. Having better tools make a HUGE difference and definitely lower the amount of drama in a family.

        I would say that it was a learning process for sure for me when it came to being too involved with my son, as you mentioned. I realized that many of us revolved around him and we were way too enmeshed. That wasn’t healthy for either side. He was needing to learn how to be a man, to mature and develop life skills and independence as an adult, as much as we were needing to realize he was no longer a minor, and governing his life was not necessary (or even healthy).

        As I grew in that area, he did as well. And truly that was the goal. I want to know that my son can cope with life without me if need be, because one day that will be his reality. There are definitely times when we need lean on family more than others, but overall the goal was to have him functional and independent…and beyond that – thriving!

        Recovery made that possible.

        If we all do our work, if each will look inward and do those inner dives when situations arise, when we allow one another to face consequences as much as revel in victories – a lifestyle of recovery will heal EVERYTHING! I believe in it.

        It’s a process. How wonderful to know that none of us have to walk through it alone.

        Much love and light,