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She Wants to Borrow the Car…We’re Uneasy

father holds keys out to daughter at table

Member sunflower's daughter agreed to treatment for alcohol and heads home soon. Where does CRAFT stand on letting a Loved One borrow the car to get to work? What about installing a breathalyzer?

"Our 20 year old daughter was hospitalized for alcohol abuse a week ago, and is now in a rehab facility for about 2 weeks. We thought that she had not been using alcohol for the past year, but she came to us and told us that she had, in fact, been drinking again for the past several months and wanted to quit, leading to her recent hospitalization and placement in the rehab facility. Prior to her hospitalization, she was using one of our cars to drive to work and to appointments with her therapist and psychiatrist. She hopes to continue to drive after she is released from rehab. Although we have no reason to believe that she has been driving while using alcohol, we cannot be sure. We are concerned about her safety, other drivers' safety, and our own liability if she were to have an accident.

We have just joined Allies for Recovery, and have not completed all of the modules. We appreciate the softer approach that is being recommended, as it is similar to the approach that we have taken with her. But, because of the very serious safety issues if she were to drive while intoxicated, we are considering installing a breathalyzer in the car. The only other alternative we can realistically consider is to take the car away from her. The idea of a breathalyzer seems a bit harsh and definitely controlling, but seems necessary if she is going to be able to continue to drive. Of course, we will discuss this with her, but I think we will need to present it to her as choosing between the 2 options: driving with a breathalyzer or not driving at all. I am quite sure that she will choose to drive with a breathalyzer instead of not being able to drive at all, but will probably not be too happy about it.

What are your thoughts on the use of a breathalyzer in the car? We would really appreciate your input."

Should you lend your car?

Your daughter is in early recovery from alcohol misuse, and needs a car to get to work.

There are many hard decisions and negotiations with a Loved One who is struggling with substance issues. Use of a car is one common dilemma. Cars in our society are pretty much a necessity, the alternatives being time-consuming and much less comfortable.

The Learning Module on rewarding non-use could frame the lending of a car as a reward for non-use. “Thank you for addressing your drinking problem, promise not to drink and you can use the car today….”

Your daughter is newly sober again after a long period of secretly drinking. It appears she had everyone thinking she was not drinking. She is newly out of a short-term inpatient treatment and is attending therapy and seeing a psychiatrist. This is tremendous news. Relapse happens. The question is what you do about it. However it happened, your daughter agreed to seek care and is continuing to do so.

Comfort is key when rewarding

When we talk of rewards though, in Learning Module 5, we underline the point that you, the family, have to be comfortable giving that particular reward. Your comments suggest you’re not.

Module 5 also talks about not rewarding if there is the possibility of danger. Your daughter was drinking in secret; you couldn’t tell then, and you might not be able to tell now, though you are almost certainly on high alert now.

So do you put out the message of trust by lending her the car, when you are unsure she can abide to not drinking and driving? Do you put aside your own discomfort and the worry lending the car is likely to create for you?

Installing a Breathalyzer…too harsh? Or a good support for your boundaries?

The breathalyzer is an interesting solution. It makes obvious the severity of the problem and takes responsibility of car lending decisions out of your hands. It is an unmistakable acknowledgement of the problem and pushes the responsibility of driving safely onto your daughter. It is used by law enforcement and is a respected method to block drunk driving.

If you decide to offer the breathalyzer as an option, it could sound something like this:

“I (whoever is better heard and more influential) am proud of your willingness to address the drinking. You are doing the hard work of getting sober. Thank you. I’ve thought about the car and I realize that I am too worried to lend it to you for now. It would upset the peace in my day to think of you possibly drinking and driving. I hope you can agree that we are not there yet. One idea I have is to install a small breathalyzer in the car so that you can continue to drive yourself to your appointments. We can also look into public transport or, when possible, I could drive you. This isn’t forever, but for now this is what I’ve come up with. Which of these ideas are you willing to try?”

When considering rewards (the car is a privilege and reward) it must be something you can give easily and it must be safe. If the reward is a stretch for you, don’t do it. Your peace of mind matters.

The opposite is also true: if the removal of the reward is a stretch or the natural consequence from using a drug or alcohol is not safe, don’t remove the reward; don’t allow the natural consequence. There will be other opportunities to reward when you see non-use, or to remove the reward or to allow a natural consequence when you suspect use.

Thank you for writing in. This is an issue many families on this site are sure to have.



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 found myself in that situation a few years ago. My son had an accident driving my car, someone got hurt, and I got sued. Not only did they get the full insurance coverage from my insurance but they tried to get my house and ALL of my assets. It took 2 years for them to finally accept the insurance money only. Since then my son was in 3 accidents last year with his car—for which he let his insurance lapse. But I had him listed as a driver on one of my cars thinking just in case he drives it. So once again I was held responsible because he’s listed as a driver for my car. Well I just have to say go with your peace of mind and check with your insurance company. If they know you are aware of alcohol abuse or drug abuse you will be held responsible.