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We Don’t Want to Enable His Use

Sprout in the cracks

dunn9 wonders how to keep communications open while avoiding common pitfalls with her Loved One. She wants to use CRAFT but is concerned about enabling his use.

© Stanislav Kondratiev via unsplash

We’ve spent time watching the craft modules. It has helped. We need to work on the implementation.
We invited our son back into the house after he lost his latest housing after a few days. He only lasted a few days at home due to stealing and drug use. This cycle has been repeated multiple times this year.
We’re trying to keep communication open. He only wants to engage when he needs help with something.
How does one balance keeping communication open while not enabling?
Thank you.

Communication is such a big part of any relationship. It forms the foundation for our interactions. To be most helpful in addressing your son’s addiction, you need to be able to control some key aspects of your communications. Your words, your tone – even the decision of whether or not to speak at all – are tools for implementing CRAFT. You’ll need to practice with these, in order to gain and maintain control over your end of this equation. This isn’t easy. You’ve probably spent a lifetime trying to talk to your son, with varying degrees of success. Every family has patterns of communication that ultimately need to be “unlearned.”

There’s no shortcut to improving communication. Learning Module 4 provides a framework and some useful pointers. It’s a matter of practicing, starting with the basics, just as you would when learning any new set of skills. Notice the reflective communication skit in this module, which is about a son asking his mother for money. I suggest you take a deep look at Module 4 again and then go to the skit. See if you can identify the pointers mom uses to respond to her son. She uses most of them.

Enabling is such an important concept with CRAFT. And it is a term that comes with some heavy stigma in our society, due to the way it is commonly used. However, if you look up “enabling” in the dictionary, it doesn’t mention drug use or any other object of enabling. That’s because “enabling,” in itself, is a neutral concept. You can enable use or you can enable non-use (see Learning Module 5 about using rewards for non-use). Enabling is about your ability to influence someone – in this case, your Loved One. Try to start thinking about this term in a more neutral sense, to open up new possibilities for the role you can play in this relationship.

With addiction in the mix, parents are often seen as providers-in-chief. When you give something, you are intending for it to help. But handouts for someone with addiction typically do not help to pull the person up, as they may for a young adult in a different circumstance. Rather, the gifts or gestures of help often end up feeding the addiction, leaving your Loved One at a standstill or actually causing him to lose ground.

Your son returned briefly to living at home. Having a Loved One back at home can be a huge and likely all-consuming challenge during this shutdown. The communication between you and your son would be the first place to start. Take the work of CRAFT is small bits. Start by biting your tongue when you sense Negative Talk coming out (See “My Negative Talk Habits” worksheet in Learning Module 4).

During the moments when your son is not high, enable that behavior by positive communication (See “Adding in Positive Talk” sections of Learning Module 4) and actions (Learning Module 5). Start small and don’t go overboard. You’re just offering something new to begin softening your communications “I appreciate your help with xxx,” or “You look nice today,” etc.

If you cannot or should not give your son something he is requesting, it could sound like this:“You want money to go away with friends for the weekend (reflective listening). I hear you. I can understand how important this weekend is to you (understanding statement). I get how important it is to be with friends right now (compassion). You’ve been home but a short time and I know you are continuing to struggle with the drugs. I am deeply worried about giving you money (“I” statement). Can you suggest another way I can help that doesn’t involve money (offer to help)?”

One of the main building blocks with CRAFT is careful communication. Nothing about this is easy. We are very patterned in how we communicate with Loved Ones. One of the most important pieces of this is staying neutral and staying in the present. Even though you’re directly addressing your feelings and worries, you are not focusing on them, or on his drug use for that matter. You are softening your communication, rather than creating a scenario in which he becomes instantly more defensive. We know that route all too well… it doesn’t get anyone very far. The overall takeaway should be that you hear him/see him, you are keeping things in the present, you can calmly address (and even neutrally deny) his request for money, and that you are willing to help in other ways. All other details aside, the message should be: you are there for him, in the present.

As communication improves, so does your son’s willingness to talk to you. As he becomes more willing to talk, he will open up and begin to say when it hurts (we call this a “dip,” see Learning Module 8) or when he wants something to improve in this life (a “wish,” again Learning Module 8). We call these ways of talking “change talk,” indicating that your son wants change. As family members, we watch very closely for these signals, and do plenty of work to prepare for these moments, behind-the scenes. Here is the window of opportunity to engage him into treatment.

When you first start practicing CRAFT, the changes don’t happen overnight. We typically tell family members to expect that they’ll be practicing CRAFT for 4-8 weeks before they might see a shift, an opening, or visible progress. There is a huge component of this that simply involves being patient. These patterns did not emerge overnight, and they won’t disappear overnight. But with CRAFT, you have a unique and tested set of skills that provide the best environment for ushering your Loved One towards treatment and recovery. Don’t underestimate the power of small, simple shifts. Over time these little shifts add up and lead to substantial change.

Your son didn’t last too long at home and you may have fewer opportunities to practice CRAFT with him out of the house now. This does present a challenge. But you did just have him at home and chances are you’ll be in a position to discuss this again sometime soon. And you can still seize every opportunity and conversation that presents itself. Maybe you acknowledge that the last brief stay at your house didn’t go well, and then briskly move on. Remind him that you are there for him and practice the reflective listening, empathy, “I” statements and offers to help. Further, you can offer examples of what you are trying to do differently – owning your behaviors and your part of the equation. This can be very powerful. Continue to look for ways to improve the conversation with your son. Maybe you reach out and simply let him know that you’re thinking of him. Nothing heavy, just let him know you’re there. When he reaches out again for help, be ready with a new approach to the conversation. Don’t rehash the past. Remember that, although cycles have repeated over and over, you can’t predict how things will unfold. Each interaction is a new and golden opportunity. And even the smallest success is going to give you both hope.

While your son is out of the house again, don’t forget to spend a significant amount of time attending to your own well-being. Try to release anything you’re still holding on to about this last episode. Find ways to center and uplift yourself; focus on what brings you peace of mind. Write in your journal, visit the Sanctuary… You may also find inspiration in posts like this one from Laurie MacDougall.  There are many valuable insights in this piece that may resonate with your situation.

We are glad you’re here on the site and we welcome you. Thank you for writing in with this important question. Many of our families are dealing with communication issues, and struggling with the question of housing as well right now. I hope that the next time you connect with your son, these suggestions help pave a path towards new possibilities for both of you. Sending you 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"...)