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The Pot’s A Problem But I Fear Pushing Him Back to Heroin

mom showing son a brochure at table

Ivy2015 has successfully used the CRAFT principles taught on this site to help her son into inpatient treatment for heroin addiction. He is now 9 months out and has not relapsed…but he is at home, and mom worries about his pot use and fleeting motivation…

"First of all, I would like to say I am very thankful for the Allies in Recovery site. It has helped us with our 23-year-old son so much. I appreciate all the hard work Dominique and the other members have done to make this such a great resource.

In December of 2017, our son went into inpatient treatment for heroin addiction. He was there for 45 days. When he got out of treatment, he went into outpatient treatment. Currently, he is still going to outpatient treatment and sometimes he sees a therapist and psychiatrist. However, he is a regular cannabis smoker. He has also been diagnosed with depression and PTSD. He is currently trying to obtain a medical marijuana card. We have stopped trying to get him to quit marijuana. It seems to be the lesser of two evils. There's one thing that is concerning to me, however. Sometimes, he is very motivated to work, get more education, and go to therapy. At other times, he gets extremely tired, and just wants to stay in his room playing video games and watching TV. When I go into his room and talk with him, he is very pleasant to be around and very polite. But, at some point I want him to be able to stand on his own two feet and live on his own. With his sporadic motivation to work, it makes it difficult to save money and excel in his career. I'm unsure if it's his depression, the marijuana use, or something else that is causing him to occasionally be so tired and unmotivated. I'm also feeling like I'm in between a rock and a hard place. If I push him too hard, I'm worried it will stress him out and cause him to turn back to heroin. But if I don't push him hard enough, I'm worried that will also hinder him in becoming an independent adult. Any guidance and this area would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again for providing such a great site for moms like me."

Dear Ivy2015:

I am very glad to hear your son accepted and completed treatment for heroin addiction. He is currently abstinent from the heroin but you are concerned about his marijuana use. You have chosen not to address the marijuana as it is the lesser of two evils.

CRAFT researchers at the University of New Mexico suggest just the strategy you have taken:  addressing the more pressing and dangerous drug first. In your case, the family applies the behavioral and communication strategies specifically to heroin, and “allows” the pot use.

We’ve written elsewhere about marijuana use, how strong the drug is in its current form, and how it dampens motivation, in a sense making the person a passive observer of their own life.

On the flip side, a little marijuana can help with depression; a lot, however, tends to aggravate depression. Getting the depression treated is therefore important. We list cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in our list of evidence-based resources. Your son is experiencing important life changes. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) may also speak to him. With ACT, the person articulates values that are essential to him/her and works to align day-to-day behaviors with those values. Since he is showing ambivalence for things he does value, like work and therapy­—sometimes on, sometimes not—clarifying the behaviors that align with those values may help tip the balance, and lower marijuana use.

Your son is 23. You worry that pushing him to stop the marijuana might upset his early recovery from heroin. You are also concerned that he may be getting stuck in place, unwilling or unable to step out fully into his own life. It’s been over 9 months since he stopped the heroin.

So, yes, the pot may be leading him to choose bedroom and video games over work and therapy. I’m not sure what his relationship is with his therapist. But could you find a group or individual therapist trained in ACT or CBT as fallback?

I suggest you look at Learning Module 8 and prepare yourself for a talk around the kitchen table during a sober moment, perhaps when your son has articulated a wish or a dip: perhaps a specific desire for more than life is currently providing, or a dip, a low moment in which he complains of feeling down or feeling stuck. As we suggest in Learning Module 8, script out the talk in which you'll suggest the addition of more treatment…

…I am so proud of you for everything you are doing to address the heroin problem. I can’t tell you enough how much calmer I feel, how much my life has changed knowing you are safe.

In thinking about what’s next, I’d like to see you (get your own place, go back to school, work in your chosen career …..). There’s an expert I found that can help you better address your depression and occasional lack of motivation. It’s been over 9 months. I hope you agree, it’s time for the next step. I wonder if together we can think through how your dad (other?) and I can help you. What would you like to try first? If you can tell us what you need next, we’ll try to help. I don’t want to be involved in the details so much, so we’d like you to pair this with going to talk with the expert. How does all this sound to you…

If he pushes you away, thank him for listening. Tell him you’ll talk about this again soon. Find another time and be ready to roll out the script again.

In the meantime, doing CRAFT on your son to address the pot use is unlikely to cause him to return to heroin. Start with the behaviors of Learning Modules 5 and 6. Step away when you see him high (likely after a period locked in his room playing video games), step in and reward when you believe him not to be stoned. It’s gentle and positive. Are there things you can do together, that your son likes, that get him out of the bedroom?

Your instincts have been good. Your son is responding. He is showing greater interest in his life, and your influence can help bring him to the next level. As responsibility for himself expands, his use of pot should decrease. It is definitely an easier drug to reduce from than the heroin. To start, let’s see if any of these suggestions helps lower the amount he uses.

I always feel like apologizing at this point, since I am very aware of all the work and heartache you have already been through, and here I am suggesting a whole new campaign! Remember to keep watch over your own emotions and stress going forward. Let us know how this works.



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. Smoking marijuana is a ritual. There were other rituals related to his heroin use. I wonder if he might be able to reduce his marijuana use if he breaks the ritual down. There are dispensaries that offer tinctures which are drops that you put under your tongue. You can get tinctures or drops with varying levels of CBD and THC. If he used drops instead of the weed itself, he would break down the ritual of lighting up, deep breathing, and the slow exhale and he could more accurately measure how much of the chemical he gets. It would take the fun out of it and he could accurately ease himself away from the drug. Break the ritual which is addictive on its own.