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The College Conundrum — CRAFT’s Position

college student studying (hispanic)

Allies member sophia has arranged a tentative contract with her son with regards to financing his return to college. He is in early recovery and is quite motivated to return to school, the place where his use spun out of control. He has agreed to pay for his own tuition for now…

It is one week since my son tested clean for everything!

We tested again tonight and it came up positive for alcohol. He readily stated he’s had three beers, one at a time and not on consecutive days. We’re thrilled. He is gradually attending more NA meetings and will hopefully sit with a therapist this week. He uses nicotine and we figure we don’t see this in the same light as Kratom, alcohol and marijuana.

He’s supposed to head back to college at the end of August. This is where his using really really took off and became a habit – eating more and more into his social and academic life. He wants to go back but we are going to take the stance of not financially supporting him. This is our idea…

If he wants to go back, he’ll have to pay for it. I’ll help him figure out a loan. At the end of each semester and at the end of the year, I’ll pay for every A/B. He pays for any C’s or lower.

If he agrees to verifiable counseling and regular drug tests which I have access to results through a consent form, then I’ll pay for A/B/C’s… as long as the drug tests come back clean and he can verify counseling.

What do you think of this idea?”

Thanks for writing in and sharing with us the encouraging news that your son’s withdrawal from Kratom has given way to early recovery, with the exception of a few beers. It is wonderful that he is attending NA meetings, and plans to see a therapist. All of this gives reason to be hopeful and to continue to reward him, for the progress he has made, and what he is undertaking in order to maintain abstinence and to cultivate recovery.

You also shared with us the contents of a contract that you’ve worked out with your son for his return to college and asked for us to comment on what position CRAFT/Allies in Recovery might take.

We have published several posts by now on the complex but crucial conundrum of parents paying for their child’s return to college after a battle with drugs or alcohol. Often this decision to return to school occurs within the framework of their early recovery — a volatile time for anyone who is living it, and consequently for the family/entourage, a time of hesitant hopefulness.

Although the contract you present may end up working out to be the equivalent of paying for college (depending on the outcome of his grades, etc) our recommendation thus far to parents has been to consider rewarding abstinence and helping them get closer to their desire for independent living in a bigger world than they were inhabiting when they were using, by paying for the college semester upfront, with clear expectations outlined.

We know that college and its many positive points also presents risks and dangers, namely peer pressure around using. Each family must measure — as we suggest doing with any reward you’re considering using to support non-use — how rewarding the reward is likely to be for your Loved One. How strong is their motivation to succeed in school? How gratifying has school typically been for them?

Another consideration before agreeing to pay (semester by semester) is the availability of recovery support services, groups, and therapy on campus or in the neighboring towns.

It sounds like you and your son are already laying out some of the most important elements of an agreement that would grant him financial support from you: regular support/counseling for recovery (can you also set up a way to monitor his attendance by having him sign a release form?), drug testing to which you’ll have access, and the monitoring of his grades (maybe not the be-all and end-all but a good general indicator of the seriousness of his commitment to his studies).

Leverage is one of the main issues here. Though college tuition is no small commitment on your part, and can feel like a substantial risk, your being willing to reward his recovery and other steps forward is also a strong, rewarding message of support. You are leveraging what you can, matching his effort, willingness and optimism with your own. Psychologically, there is a difference between your taking that risk and providing your support now versus doing so later IF he hasn’t messed up.

Either way, using the way we’ve laid out in previous posts on the college topic, or using the way you and your son have initially sketched out, you are going in the right direction. The ‘financial support now‘ option is more immediate, perhaps a stronger message of support and good faith, but the choice is yours. We know the stakes are high. We wish your son all the best as he navigates this next chapter of his life.



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"...)