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Loved One Shuns Family, Need to Find a New Approach

Allies in Recovery, AiR, Dominique Simon-Levine, dsl, addiction, recovery, treatment, drugs, marijuana, pot, dabs, pipe, approach, loved one, selfish, self-centered, manipulate, manipulative, Communication

My son is a functioning marijuana addict. Mostly dabs. He could be doing more but since he lives on his own, we just don’t know. He is attending school full time and his grades are decent. At least last semester they were.

The holiday season has given him much recreational time to do drugs. Last weekend we had a special sporting event in his town we attended. It was for his brother and my husband specifically told him to come. He showed up but said he looked bad and was tired. He left before we saw him. Fed up, my husband wrote him a text saying that drugs were more important than his family. I don’t know how to feel about that. I just pulled away. But here is the question. Read the full comment here.

The question is how to react to your son’s marijuana use. You have been trying to step away, one of the 3 pillars of what to do when you see your Loved One using:

  • remove rewards,
  • step away,
  • allow natural consequences;

but your son seems fine when you do so, and he then shuns you. You and your husband feel like your son is controlling the show.

Your son does control his show and you control yours. Where is the limit of your control?

You found your son disheveled and tired looking when he attended your other son’s sporting event. It was upsetting to see so your husband wrote him afterward and told him this. He is now shunning you.

Pulling away in response to use is one of the 3 pillars but it is applied only in the moment. It is a response to what you are seeing in the present with your Loved One.

It doesn’t go on for days or weeks. It is a day-to-day, even moment-to-moment response by the family to cues given by their Loved One.

Right now it feels like the pot smoking is a football being lobbed back and forth. You raise your concerns and he responds by ignoring you. This continues until he feels the need to let you back in by showing you his grades. I can see where you feel he is in control.

For the family it must feel your son is self-centered and disrespectful; for your son it may feel like pot is all you care about.

As this goes on, year after year, everybody is upset. I understand how. You are all reacting by pulling away and arguing about the drug use.

Let me suggest a way to look at the sporting event incident in a CRAFTy way….

Your son shows up (You greet him: “Hey it’s good to see you. Thanks for coming. It means a lot to your brother.”) But he looks disheveled and tired. You both immediately suspect he is withdrawing or hungover or something related to the drug use. With CRAFT, you would put this moment into the category of: He Is Using (See Learning Module 6).

So, yes, pull back, be more neutral in your interactions during the event (step away), don’t offer to buy a round of hotdogs (remove rewards), don’t offer a ride home (natural consequences), don’t be attentive and loving (remove rewards), but also don’t be visibly angry and hurt. Focus on being neutral. Your son is addicted. His appearance says so to you. This is information about how he is doing. Let that knowledge be between you and your husband. From his side, he will feel that mom and dad were kinda cold, disinterested… maybe he’ll wonder, “uh-oh, what’s up?”

Next day: Reset. It’s a new day. You haven’t said anything to him about the suspected drug use. Talking about drugs or treatment is best done carefully and purposefully, only at the opportune moment. Most other times it is not useful to bring it up. Why? 1) You may be wrong about his use in a particular instance. 2) He doesn’t hear your concern – he’s grown accustomed to shutting you out when this starts.  3) 1 & 2 may give him further resolve to block and ignore you. 4) It weakens or dilutes the message you want to deliver when you do ultimately have that conversation with him, when the timing and circumstances are right, voicing your concerns about the drugs and providing treatment/help options you’ve identified and are willing to support.

Next day: feeling nothing noticeably bad from the family, your son is more likely to reach out to you. You know his use is more serious when he is on school break. This is information. But now the field between you is becoming more neutral, less antagonistic. Now you are starting to build a bridge, starting to shift and allow things to soften between you.

You can’t take his self-centeredness and selfishness personally. He exhibits both. People with addiction typically act selfishly (I would add highly sensitive and insecure to this three-legged stool). People with mental health issues typically act selfishly. Struggling with addiction and/or mental health issues, people feel uncomfortable in the world. They are always scanning the world according to how they feel and what they need from it in order to get a little more comfortable. The world becomes a pawn to use as they seek what is needed now. That can indeed feel manipulative.

I heard a wonderful psychologist give a talk recently in which she questioned the word manipulative. She noted that all of us interact with the world in a way that gets us more of what we want. She described her MO as being smiley and nice: she has found that this gets her more of what she wants. In one example, kindness and a smile are behaviors that have helped her get better service from an airline when her flight was canceled.

So, in your case, your son shuns you when you don’t “act” in a way that he needs or wants you to act. CRAFT would suggest that you “act” in the way that you need: don’t argue, don’t talk about the drug use, get your interactions to be more soft, build that bridge.

He does need your attention and your love and (yes) your continued material support, or he wouldn’t continue to jump-start communications by sending you recent reports of good grades he’s gotten. When he loops back in, change up how you respond. The module on Communicating with your Loved One (Learning Module 4) and the one on getting your Loved One into Treatment (Learning Module 8) are good ones to watch (and rewatch if needed) to prepare yourself for these times when he does reach out.

It’s a new day. Bring him into the fold, act strategically, tighten up your immediate responses to when you see use. Work on building the bridge so that eventually he will be more open, and even willing, to ask for help. Commit to trying this for 8-10 weeks. Write to us and let us know how it is going.



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. This entire post was very helpful. I related so much to the patterns you described, including the shunning. Although my son is 17-1/2 and living with us, he is not functioning per se. His grades are shot and he has to make some credit up to graduate this spring, he literally does nothing around the house, he spends most of his time asleep or with friends he uses with. He does work a little when he’s scheduled, but spends his money to buy pot. I continue to find THC cartridges in his room and use it as information.

    However, we are using CRAFT to build the bridge and it is helping to calm things down and it has certainly helped my anxiety level. I’m noticing I’m talking more with my son (even though it’s very brief) rather than interrogate him, which is pretty much what our conversations consisted of before discovering CRAFT and AIR. This is a nice change.

    My son is not interested in addressing the effect his pot use is having on his life, and certainly not open to discussing treatment, but since things are more calmer I’ve noticed he expresses his wish to get his driver’s license more often. He often gets irritated when he brings it up because he blames us for him not having it, so I’m mostly listening.

    I appreciate the clarification for why it’s important to wait for the right time to discuss treatment. We have not presented our son with a treatment list, yet, but we are working on it. Because he gets so frustrated when he mentions the driver’s license issue, I don’t feel like there’s been a right time to talk with him about treatment.

    Right now I feel like we’re in a holding pattern as we continue to practice and apply CRAFT. Nothing is really changing with my son’s behavior or use. The routine and patterns are pretty much the same every day. I like the reminder that every day is a fresh start. I’m just waiting for the end of the days to be different, and I’m holding out hope they will be one day – one day. My husband and I feel the time will soon approach where we need to have a planned conversation with our son, so we are discussing what the boundaries might look like for that. My son does have some exciting opportunities coming up which he’s looking forward to – I’m not sure how to support him with these – I think I’ll start another post for the questions I have with that issue.

    Thank you AIR for all you do!

    1. Every day’s a new day. A good reminder. Altering your communication and seeing how this helps when talking to your son – excellent. It doesn’t solve the problem but creates the background for when you do suggest solutions. It also makes you feel better. Create that near environment that makes your relationship stronger. Hang tight for a bit longer as you decide on the points of a planned conversation.

      Remember, it’s ultimately still his timing and decision. You are there to facilitate help when he says yes to help.