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Should I Confiscate His Drugs?

Fire Extinguisher

fissured poses a question about confiscating her Loved One’s stash versus allowing natural consequences. It’s a delicate line as she is worried for his safely…

© Tommaso Pecchioli via Unsplash

My son has been on a bender after a period of not using. He lives with us. He was asked to leave school after a well-being check revealed he was very high and in possession of 3 types of drugs in his dorm room. We are trying to follow the "disengage" method while this relapse is going on, but we are also confiscating or intercepting drugs when we can. This is safety move for us, because my son doesn't have any brakes. But is confiscating drugs counter to the whole idea of disengaging? I know the natural consequence would be to let him overdo the drugs, but he would end up in the emergency room or worse, we have been through that many times. But I also don't want to sabotage the method.

Your son is in a relapse after being asked to leave college when drugs were discovered in his dorm room. Now he is home. The question is whether or not to take his drugs away when you can.

This is a very good question and one that is difficult to answer. I’m glad you wrote in.

You are in the thick of it, with your son actively using under your roof. He probably doesn’t have much of a life right now outside your home, as he was only just recently a full-time college student.

CRAFT says when your Loved One is using: disengage yourself, remove rewards, and allow natural consequences.

This disengaging is done quietly, neutrally, and with as little upset as is possible. Not always easy!

Taking drugs away that you find and disposing of them can be viewed as contrary to allowing natural consequences. And thus the question you posed.

Learning Module 6 talks about natural consequences and their importance in discouraging or “not enabling” use. If you step in and prevent natural consequences, your son can become more emboldened, which can  encourage use because he has less of a chance to feel the negative outcomes – the negative consequences – of his use.

Motivation for addressing addiction comes from a desire, maybe just a small nascent desire, for change. That desire for change comes from wanting something better for one’s self: we call this a “wish;” or from wanting something to stop hurting or to get better: we call this  a “dip.”  This is why we call it Change Talk. Feeling an up – a wish, or a down – a dip, pushes the person who is addicted to think about a change. Having the bridge of communication between you established as best as you can (learning Module 4) makes it much more likely they will tell you about that wish or dip. It is at this moment that you would pull that list of treatment options and say something like:

“Hey, maybe adding in a little coaching by X who has been through a lot of the things you are going through could help? How about you meet with him just once. If you don’t find it helpful, we’ll forget it.”

This well-timed, relatively neutral suggestion presents the solution as being something you can come up with in partnership.

To address your question, however: what if that natural consequence is dangerous? What if that natural consequence is something YOU, as the family member, simply can’t allow because it hurts you, or causes undue fear in you. Those lines are yours to determine. If you deem the consequence to be too dangerous, then perhaps you play it differently. In this case, you don’t patiently wait in the wings for the right moment to open up this conversation…

CRAFT does two things that I find very important to this whole process:

1) It considers your well-being as well as that of your Loved One.

One aim of CRAFT is to bring your wellbeing into the equation. As you become more informed about what you are seeing, the patterns your Loved One exhibits, you can pull yourself out of the equation to a degree. You can stop blaming yourself or taking things too personally. You can make your own peace of mind a priority.

And 2) It teaches you to better identify natural consequences, and even to create them if you can.

A natural consequence can be a cold dinner, packed away in the fridge, or no dinner at all. It can be a lackluster greeting at the door, or maybe no greeting. Perhaps the car gets impounded or your Loved One ends up sleeping in the baseball park. Neither of these events is excessively dangerous in your estimation, so you let them happen. But perhaps it's 0 degrees out, or your Loved One will lose their job if they  can’t get to work –  perhaps then you do step in.

A consequence should be something you can tolerate to see happening to your Loved One. If there is danger or it is otherwise just too difficult for you to stand by and allow, you could step in. CRAFT teaches about rewards and consequences. You’ll come to see more opportunities for both. It is up to you to gauge which ones are safe and which ones you just can’t tolerate to see happen.

Your son is now back living with you after relapsing at college. You are finding his drugs in his things or in his room.  You want to take them from him. Understood.

The drugs signal to you that he is still using. Note taken. Were there stipulations about his coming home? Is he ignoring your wishes? Is he running roughshod through your home?

Perhaps you confiscate the drugs you find because you can’t leave them in good conscience. This is taking care of you. Period. There will be plenty more rewards and consequences going forward.

Finding the drugs is also evidence that your son is not doing well under your roof. The drugs you found become part of a conversation about next steps:

“I found your drugs and flushed them. I am sorry to have gone through your things but I am living with so much fear over your relapse. I feel that taking away your drugs is saving your life. Bringing drugs into the house tells me you are still relapsing. Perhaps living here isn’t helping. What should we do? How can I help going forward?”

In opening up this conversation, remember to use the reflective listening skills we teach. State your concerns, but keep it brief and use language that shows ownership of your own feelings, etc. Have a genuine curiosity for his responses and a willingness to work in partnership with him. For someone at his stage in life, this can be so meaningful.

We have written a number of posts from questions posed by parents going through something similar to what you are experiencing. Check out these posts about Loved Ones in college, and these about the ins and outs of having a Loved One living under your roof. Perhaps these posts can help you craft your strategy going forward to unblock the situation you now find yourself in.

Thank you for writing in. Yours is a tough question. I believe we have answers that can help move your son towards more responsibility for himself, which, ultimately, is what is needed to help him address his Substance Use Disorder. Let us know how this sounds. You have our support.



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"...)