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There Are No Signs That He Wants to Talk to Me

man smoking in dark room

Terrilyn wrote in twice this week. Her teenaged son is smoking marijuana and perhaps now exploring other substances. She's unsure of her ability to really know when he's high or isn't, and thus, unsure of how to reward or remove rewards. Also, he's showing no interest in talking!

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"I am feeling a bit stuck. I have changed my behavior toward my young son who has been using for quite some time. I fear that he is now into other things other than marijuana. I just want to be clear on how and when to approach his use? He is still in a stage where he is hiding it. He is not home often and I don't see him very often. Sometimes I can tell when he is high and sometimes not. My question is do I wait until he's ready for change or gives me the hint that he is? He seems like he is responding well to my neutral demeanor but there is still no signs that he wants to talk with me. Do I wait for this and just keep building the relationship? How long does this stage typically take? I have seen him in the past in active with withdrawal, money seeking, but it's not all of the time. I feel like I am in the middle and watching him get worse yet there are more "red lights" than "green lights" right now and some days it's hard to tell if he is sober. Thank you!"

and her second comment:

"Hi. I’m really having problems knowing when my loved one is high. I’ve gone through module 3 and I’ve listened to the podcast about module 3. It’s all very helpful but I’m stumped. I feel like I’m doing things wrong in terms of the rewards. Sometimes it’s clear cut… he’s high, his eyes are red and he’s happy. Other times, he’s in a good mood and his eyes are not red. There is the time before he goes out to use that I’ve seen him happy and elated (going to use), time when he appears to be craving (i.e. when he wakes up and is eager to leave), and then the time when he comes home after a day of being out with friends… he’s tired, wants to eat sweets, and doesn’t talk or make eye contact. This happened tonight. He came home with his girlfriend. Prepared himself some sweet snacks and didn’t talk to any of his family. His eyes were not red but my feeing is that he used earlier on today. He used to smoke weed but my feeling is that it is more now.

One more issue that I have is that my son rarely comes home at night without his girlfriend. She’s a nice girl and she never appears high but I believe that she is enabling him in terms of doing things for him and just plain mothers him. I’ve seen him in his craving stage verbally lash out at her and have meltdowns. She leaves, they text and argue via phone, he uses, and then they are back together the same night. It’s so twisted. I feel it difficult to remove myself and rewards from him when he is high because she ends up rewarding him anyway. This is not intentional on her part but it’s defeating the purpose. Do I tell her about craft? She’s 17 and loyal to him too! I don’t even know if she realizes how much he uses.

I’m feeling very lost and his use is increasing."

A teenaged son who's almost never home is very challenging. Your question is, when can you discuss his drug use?

New communication skills to help you change up the established patterns

You are correct to be focusing on your communication and improving your connection. The patterns between you are likely well established. You're changing up your demeanor to be more neutral, and this is creating a noticeable change.

The more you use the communication skills from Module 4, the more sparks of positive talk/feelings you'll experience between you. Perhaps your more neutral stance can include eliminating those pesky negative talking habits that slip out of our mouths, an easy place to start (Module 4, video 1 and Key Observations Exercise #14).

For instance, you may think that arguing with good logic and evidence, or pointing out where your Loved One’s future is headed should they continue down this “tragic road,” are important points that bear repeating, meanwhile…your Loved One has seen and heard this so many times before that the shut-off valve was kicked on at your first breath … he’s seen it all before: your stance, the timing, the look on your face …“That’s just mom hitting the ceiling…estimated time of completion: 1.5 min…hmm, I wonder what’s for dinner.”

You've now begun changing it up and he is “responding well.” We suggest many little ways to change it up. There's so much to try. What’s next?

Our colleague Laurie MacDougall, founder of REST Education & Support Groups, suggests you always ask yourself what the goal is, before employing new a tip or tactic or strategy. Here, your goal is to be able to talk about his drug use.

Teens and drug use: They can surprise you and mature out of it by themselves

I assume your son is in his late teens. He may continue down a road of increasing drug use or he may find something that interests him that is currently out of reach, and reduce or stop the use altogether to obtain it.

A fair number of teens mature out of drug use. Often it's something that competes with the drug use that becomes more important, like making money or wanting a career. Young people start to hunker down and get to work. They use less, and in turn, drugs just become less important.

With CRAFT, the family steps in with treatment (and other) options

The “C” and "R" in CRAFT stand for "Community" and comes from its parent approach: Community Reinforcement Approach (Read up on CRA here). With CRA, the counselor helps the person being seen for SUD to surround themself with activities that have the potential to pique their interest and lure them away from drug use.

With CRAFT, you (the family member) play counselor. You make the list for your son of activities he could really get into, like drumming lessons, perhaps a glass blowing apprenticeship, or a weight training class with access to a gym. On the list, you add specific local treatment resources that can be accessed if and when your son is even a wee bit interested in “cleaning up” his drug use, even for a limited amount of time, which is what people who use cannabis do, they take a "T Break." If your son has anxiety or depression, add in a psychiatrist; if he struggles with learning, include someone that can help with that.

You are the one thinking about options and activities that could compete with his “hangout” time with friends. Is there anything that — even occasionally — diverts him from going to his friends? Work on this list, which includes positive, healthy activities and perhaps some low-hanging fruit in the realm of recovery places, like walk-in recovery centers and self-help meetings (some, like young peoples meetings in AA, are designed for his age group).

We show you how to prepare the treatment options and when to bring it up

Everything I just described above, you'll find explained in Module 8. I recommend families work on this list in silence and have it ready should your Loved One just come out with, say, something like: "I need to stop the pot….” and you're there ready to respond right away: "Oh wow, did you just say stop the pot? Well, I happen to have some ideas of things that might help you get your mind off pot.”

If you suspect your son is in trouble with drugs then you could both spend the next chapter of your lives together, from months to years, in a dance with his problematic use. Teens rarely stay abstinent for long after leaving treatment. By improving your communication and finding the best connection possible with your son, you will lay a foundation of openness and connection that will serve you both well in the years to come, regardless of where along this continuum your son lands and where he goes from here.

That openness and connection is your best prevention method when it comes to drug use (and for you, it will prevent fear and frustration). He will then be comfortable telling you when he's ready to do something different in his life. If after 4-6 weeks this hasn’t happened, Module 8 talks about implementing the planned talk around the kitchen table with your son.

Where to start when you're unsure of their using patterns

Module 3 helps you see the patterns in your son’s use. Since you have little information to go on, keep it very simple. You don’t know what he's using but you do know what times he's likely to have been using.

Perhaps it looks something like this:

Out of house between (8 PM-1 AM – main party time) and with Slippery Jimmy (pot dealer and Loved One’s best friend) this always =’s pot and alcohol? (and potentially something else?); home at 1 AM sleep until 11 AM. So 11 AM – 4 PM (roughly) would be the withdrawal period from the night before. Between 4 and 8 PM (eating, showering, hanging out). Out of the house by 8 PM.

Perhaps he's out of the house by noon most days and then back for dinner.

Anyway, you get the idea. You’ll need to insert into this weekday pattern his school attendance (how often, which days, when?) and how the pattern changes on weekends.

Since you're seeing some effect already, let’s go to the next piece, which for you might be going from neutral (which I agree should be your default for the present), to moments of rewarding (see Module 3: Exercise 12 and Exercise 13, as well as Module 5).

To start, why don’t you focus on just this little gap in the day  (which in my above example was from 4 – 8 PM), where you could insert a small reward to start, when you see him doing something positive. Even something small like putting the bowl in the dishwasher might be highlighted.

"Hey, thanks for putting your dishes in the dishwasher. It saves me time."

Finally, your son’s girlfriend may find it helpful to watch the videos on our site if she thinks your son is struggling with drugs. It would be interesting to talk with her about it, though it could also create tensions. This isn’t a fact-finding mission. It's just a heads up. You're worried and you're getting help from this site. How about she takes a look? Does she perceive your son to be in trouble? She may not.

 This being said, whether or not his girlfriend gets on board, your actions (rewards, removal of rewards) count. They will be felt, they will have an impact.  You must – at least in the beginning – focus on the actions you can take. This brings you away from hopelessness and into useful action.

I hope this gets you started on this next phase of action. Thanks so much for writing in and sharing your concerns. Keep us posted. All our best. 



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 am feeling so blessed to have been directed to this site. Allies in Recovery is a God-send to me and I can’t thank you enough. We do not have anyone in my Province who practices the CRAFT method. I phoned many counselors and most had not even heard of it. I found someone who uses components of CRAFT so am thankful for that. I want to thank you for your prompt and meaningful response. I am so appreciative of everything that your organization does for people and the humility you show. I have also started listening to the Podcasts which I find amazing.