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Rewards for Today or Consequences for Yesterday?

Charles Street Biker B&W

Woods just emerged from a rough spell when their Loved One relapsed after leaving his inpatient program. Now he’s not using but short on rent for his job… Should they help him or allow him to lose the job as a natural consequence?

© VanveenJF via Unsplash

Hello. I need guidance. My son left inpatient early, came home, and promptly relapsed. He was always willing to do outpatient and Suboxone, but our treatment center said he was not a candidate for outpatient. They recommended we tell him return to inpatient or leave the home, which is what we did. He chose to leave. He lived in his car in the Walmart parking lot of our town for six days, using, no doubt. I was frantic the entire time that we would find him overdosed in his car, but I was trying to do what the treatment center advised and send a message. We invited him to a family birthday party, and he was obviously withdrawing. I told him he was welcome to stay and be sick in our home, but if he had to use, he had to leave. He stayed. We then softened our stance and said he could stay as long as he was in recovery or pursuing recovery and on Suboxone or Vivitrol. So within three or four days he’s on Suboxone and he’s enrolled in outpatient. So my question is, now that he’s doing what he should, are we still supposed to not rescue him and let him face the consequences of his actions? It seems like all the advice about that is regarding people in active addiction, so I’m not sure if it also applies to someone pursing recovery. An example would be, he’s late with booth rent (he’s a barber), so do I let him lose his job? (He can get another one in 2 seconds, but he likes this place). The reason he’s late is because he was using his money for drugs that week he was in the parking lot and also because he was withdrawing so he couldn’t work. So to me, that is a consequence of using. But now that he’s not using, I’m not sure if that’s right. Thanks.

First off, I am sorry you had to endure the stress and anxiety of your son living out of his vehicle in such a state. That is not easy. I’m not a fan of family members being told hard and fast conditions to follow without some time being spent understanding the larger context. I will assume the inpatient center knew your son well. You did bar him from home, and it worked. Good.

There is a long-standing debate about inpatient vs. community treatment. For those snatched out of a community into a residential program, the fear is that a LO won’t learn how to manage recovery in their own home community, and thus will more easily relapse. For those in outpatient programs, the fear is that the LO can more easily drop out, and/ or that the home situation is unstable and will not support the treatment goals.

I like to let the home situation guide the decision, at least in part. If the living situation is not good, residential care is needed. If the home situation is good, build that community care circle around the LO.

Your question deals with consequences from the recent past in the face of positive and encouraging recovery behavior in the present.

CRAFT says respond in the day to that day. For your son’s situation this means rewarding today’s efforts at recovery and low/no use. The problems that collect with someone’s active addiction are too long to list, and often too painful to hear.

Your son lost money while using and is now in trouble financially. For today, reward, as long as he isn’t using. The past is the past. I’m not suggesting you instantly transfer all the money needed to get your son out of hot water. Rather, work on creating and maintaining a gentle loving stance to his non-use. Ask him what he is going to do about the money that is owed. This helps you both engage as partners in supporting his recovery.

The context today for your son is non-use, and doing what is needed not to relapse. So I would help him a little to save his job. The job is helping the non-use in this context, if I understand correctly. Having him sitting at home jobless is not going to make either of you happy. But the job also puts money in his pocket which may be a trigger for him. So part of the solution could be finding a way to support getting his upcoming earnings directed at what is owed. But let your son lead with the solutions. Talk with your partner if needed to clarify, behind-the-scenes, what you are willing to do.

It’s great to hear your son is doing well. Thank you for sharing your situation, and for this excellent question. This is helpful for many other families too. Keep in touch as things unfold. We are all here for you.


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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. Thanks for the sharing. I cringe when people use “one size fits all” logic and formula from too simple and therefore misguided advice from people that probably care yet don’t understand that the thing that really works is intimacy with the realities within the relationship.

    CRAFT is all about that. “…respond in the day to that day.”

    Rewarding a dog for fetching a stick yesterday or scolding him/her to sit tomorrow, doesn’t make a lot of sense and yet…this is the twisted logic that panicked people use to address out of control people too often. I admit my share of that stupidity, yet those days are over in my home and relationships.

    Some things that have worked for me. Charge a fitting amount of rent once they “get going” and sustain time on the job and begin to have more than enough money to pay a bit of rent. Fitting means it must fit their ability to pay and the share of the costs based on number of people its divided between. Also, “fitting”, should mean that it neither stretches a person to thin and sabotages their efforts yet it might stretch them to the point of growth. We all know this from play as children. We want it to be a challenge yet the point is to keep the game going and so if one person or team is struggling they are likely to quit and the game will end so we change up teams or perhaps the rules or even the game itself to “fit” the people involved. The point is to sustain the relationships and the involvement in the wanted behaviors.

    Now, keep the LOs rent money in a “safe” place. This money can be used to “match” the LOs contribution in a case where they need to fix a car, pay off a legitimate debt or otherwise sustain healthy enterprises or meet goals for things like probation etc. It feels like its their contribution in a way and so rewards them. It feels like going backwards in a way to me yet if I say something like “look, you’ve been doing all the right things…this car breaking down has nothing to do with anything wrong you’ve done…I feel like you should benefit from your hard work and the loving relationships you’ve nurture over this time…I also want you to eventually to have a savings account for emergencies and someday get a car that has a warranty for repairs. It’s a process and we are all rational people and so this might be a very fitting way to deal with this.” Eventually they may begin to think, “hey, I’m paying rent here I might as well get my own place.” That level of confidence in sobriety or moderation is the point of CRAFT.

    I think the amount of thought and preparation put into these types of arrangements should match the importance of this type of cooperation. We also might consider that if we tell them this in advance of them getting into a habit of saving up their money they may rely on this “rent” account instead of their own savings and then spend money in less frugal ways or worse to buy drugs. The point is I am just offering up experience and an idea of what has worked for me in the past. This is to counter the bad “one size fits all” advice of “don’t every help them with anything; they must learn to do it on their own”. LOs dig a deep hole in SUD and would we leave oxen in a ditch or let an animal die under its burden? Much less a human being. Yet we also know all too well that we must put careful thought into these actions or else they are taken as “granted” rather than fitting and matching the LOs on efforts and thus a reward and not an incentive or bribe as describe in another post on “rewards” on this site.

    Hope this helps.

  2. Thank you for sharing this question & the insightful reply. That situation comes up quite frequently
    and the right way to respond in keeping with CRAFT principles are crystal clear!

  3. Thank you so much for the guidance! The living situation is good, so he’s welcome at our home as long as he’s pursuing recovery. I did end up helping him, kind of. He had a tax return that I wasn’t going to give him, for one, because he owes us thousands upon thousands of dollars; and two, I was afraid it would trigger him to use. So what I did was I cashed the check for him and went with him to his work and watched him place the cash in an envelope and hand it to his boss. Win/win. He thinks I helped him, and it served as a reward, but really I wasn’t out anything. He went to the physician yesterday after 7 days of Suboxone, and he tested him to make sure he wasn’t using other than the Suboxone, and it was negative, so he gave him 21 more days. Yay! I’ll keep you updated. Thanks again!

  4. You say, “But now that he’s not using, I’m not sure if that’s right,” referring to stepping back and watching LOs face consequences when they’re trying to do recovery work. Good question.

    Correct me if I’m wrong Dominique, but I think we can/should support positive outcomes while our LO is trying to engage in recovery. Just not sure what that looks like, and how to avoid overstepping.

    Two weeks ago, my daughter was hired for a part-time job by a beloved local company. Orientation was rescheduled for this Thursday. As she walked through the detox facility doors, she handed me a piece of paper w/ her new manager’s number on it. Asked me to contact manager in case she needs to stay in detox through the week.

    So tricky! One could argue that my daughter should lose her job after relapsing in the first place. After all, she cancelled orientation last week due to active addiction. But, she voluntarily entered detox yesterday so she could keep the job, and also attend school in the fall. This should be rewarded!

    If/when I do contact employer, I don’t even know what to say. Unlike other medical conditions, addiction (substance use disorder) is not well-received or tolerated by society, even in 2019.

    Nothing is easy for people who struggle with SUD. Indeed, everything seems 100 times more difficult.

    1. Agreed, everything is a 100 times harder. With any other illness, the family would call the employer if the loved one was in a hospital and couldn’t come to work. And yet as a family of someone with addiction, we have to think it through. CRAFT helps. Your daughter is trying: detox, job, school plans.

      I suggest you call the employer and just say she is in the hospital for a chronic condition and will be out and ready to start orientation on such and such day.

      Let’s assume she is in no shape to call the employer for now. We do want the structure the job provides when she gets out, so step in.