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We Need Help Rewarding Our Son Who Smokes Pot Daily

marijuana joint rolling

thislifesucks is using CRAFT with her son who smokes pot every day. She has some questions about fine-tuning the rewards she's using…

"My 17 yr old son is getting high (marijuana) daily. My husband and I are new to Allies in Recovery. I've kept the school looped in on his behaviors, which escalated this past weekend to staying out all night, largely as a reaction to us blocking the app's on his phone, and then cutting the cell service altogether.

I heard from the school today that my son chose to meet with a social worker yesterday, but did not attend the substance abuse group meeting today. He is supposed to attend these meetings for 4 weeks as part of earning phone privileges back. Do I accept the meeting with the social worker in place of group?

Also, he sometimes has legitimate after-school activities (such as basketball), where he may ask for a ride home. I think it's safe to assume he is smoking before these activities, so I'm inclined to let him get home himself, but I don't know if picking him up afterwards might encourage the positive behavior of staying with an organized activity, as well as denying him further opportunities to smoke (on the way home).

Thank you so much for your assistance, and this website."

Welcome to Allies in Recovery. You’ve asked two questions. The first has to do with privileges being cut for staying out all night. He is a daily pot smoker.

Sounds like you restricted his cell phone use in response to his pot use. He responded by staying out all night. But, all of this moved him to go talk to the school social worker. These things are rarely smooth, but the trend is in the right direction. He didn’t go to the substance group that was agreed to.

The general “rule” is to meter out rewards for non-use….rewards that can be given and taken away day to day. It’s not easy. The cell phone can work, but 4 weeks is a long time to do anything consistently. How about attendance to the group one week = cell phone back for the week, regardless of whether he is high or not.

You are rewarding the attendance. After the four weeks of the group, move to rewarding the non-use in the same way, but day to day.

Your son is unlikely to stop using pot altogether, all at once. Go through the Learning Modules and educate yourselves about his patterns of use, and how he appears when high and when he is not high.

You already know that he uses prior to his athletic practice. Your second question is whether to pick him up after practice when he is high. For now, pick him up. Ignore the use for as long as it takes to get him through the 4 weeks of the group.

The basketball practice is something you want to encourage. It is exercise. It may also be something he does less well high. For now, leave it. Pick him up. I don’t see getting picked up as a reward for now. Just work with the cell phone. You hit on a good reward. He loves his cell phone.

You are looking for shades of improvement. The trend is less use —> more time not high.

Lastly, 4 weeks is not much treatment. Is there an ongoing group he can continue with? What does the social worker suggest? Look for a practitioner of Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach (ACRA). It’s effective with pot in teens. Don’t rely just on the social worker. Look for everything that is available in your area.

Let us know if this helps.



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 getting “into the weeds” as Dominique says. I need help getting back on the path.

    My 19 yo daughter completed residential treatment in March. Promptly relapsed. She reached out to the center to get help again and was readmitted. After a couple weeks, she and a male client (25) were discharged due to violating the fraternization policy. They have been dating since. Needless to say, the relationship is complicating her recovery, especially now that he has relapsed (late June).

    My daughter was strong in recovery when he relapsed. Her plan was to “let him relapse, go to treatment, and then be here for him when he gets back.” She viewed sobriety as a way to maintain power in the relationship. It was her narrative — a way to stay on track. But he didn’t go back to treatment. He is trying to function while using, still attending summer school classes at the university.

    To manage the stress, she’s smoking weed now. Daily. Large quantities at times. On that slippery slope again.

    Marijuana was the drug that primed her brain for addiction to meth/heroin. Historically, she uses it like oxygen. She often smokes throughout the day. She never just takes a “couple of hits.” I’m seeing old behaviors return — things that trigger my fear, almost like PTSD.

    I observe a lack of engagement with recovery activities. She has IOP once/week and therapy once/month. She says the IOP group is not helpful — mostly middle aged people with alcoholism. She has blown off two classes she enrolled in — pole dancing (fitness) and memoir writing. She isn’t attending any meetings. She quit her job after a month. And so on. In short, she is not doing anything to support recovery, probably because she doesn’t want to be in recovery, at least not entirely sober. Trying to figure out what to do with that, while she lives with me and her younger brother. Our “recovery agreement” is not holding up, and I need to do something about it in a CRAFTy way.

    We still have a strong connection, but it’s unraveling. Her behaviors are causing me to feel less (emotionally) safe around her. I am “getting into the weeds” by asking questions of her that only further erode the relationship. (For example, I found marijuana leaves/stems in my outdoor trash can, and beer pong drinking cups (?), and quickly approached her on it, in a way that wasn’t helpful.) I have been working on self-care, with the limited time that I have as a single parent with a demanding job. I called in sick today so I could pace myself, and sort some things out.

    She lives in the detached garage (a bare bones ADU) at my house. I need to ask her boyfriend not to stay the night there anymore. It’s not healthy for her recovery. This is bound to affect my relationship with my daughter. Any advice how to do this in a CRAFTy way? In a way that preserves my relationship with her? Let’s start with that — I know I tossed a lot out there in this post.

    I know things could be worse. She is doing well compared to many of her treatment peers. (They just lost one to an overdose, his memorial service is soon.) But I see the path she’s on, and it’s hard to witness. I guess that’s what we do…we watch our loved ones cope or suffer with this chronic brain disease. It’s hard for me to accept at times.

    1. An addendum: Seems that my (less than CRAFTy but heartfelt) conversation w her on Sunday helped. She got up early on Monday to take the train to her addictions therapist, attended an NA meeting, and went to the gym. Need to acknowledge those positive behaviors!

      I will ask the boyfriend that he can’t stay overnight in her ADU. I will talk to her first. Ideally, SHE will ask him not to stay overnight anymore, now that he has relapsed/using (as a way for her to practice her own CRAFT!). Any tips on phrasing these conversations are welcome.

      Just posting here yesterday, and taking the day off to rest, helped me feel a bit more grounded. Still not sure what to do if she continues on this slippery slope w cannabis use. I can’t have her here if she fully relapses, but I have no financial resources for sober living. Hate that treatment/recovery for this chronic brain disease costs so much money.

      1. Your daughter was homeless, living on the streets with a man who was all around bad news. You were able to get her into treatment. She went, relapsed, called the treatment center and was readmitted. She then got kicked out for fraternizing with another client, a young man she is still seeing, who has since relapsed.

        Her room, a converted garage on your property, is where she stays. She is smoking a lot of pot, and showing little effort with her recovery work (both treatment and self-help), as well as classes and a job she quit after one month.

        She is hanging on by her fingernails. Poor thing. She must be very uncomfortable.

        Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to Fireweed3 here:

  2. Hi,
    I know that my husband and I are supposed to disengage with my son when he comes home high–not sit and watch TV with him, minimal interaction. My question is, can we ask him to remove himself when he’s high? My husband and I only get a couple of hours at night to catch up on our favorite programs, and I resent the idea that we should get up and give the TV over to our son. Could we do instead reward him if he seems sober, by asking if there’s something we could all watch? And if he’s clearly high, ask him to go to his room, so we don’t have to see him in his current state? So far as we know, he’s mainly using weed, but he can frequently seem slurry or slow, because he’s so high.


    1. Excellent question for a CRAFT nerd like me (Dominique). A reward or the removal of a reward is always imbedded in a context. In this case:

      The family is resenting what they have to do to remove the reward when their son is high. The parents enjoy watching TV together in the evening. They don’t want to go to their room and leave their son, when high, alone watching THEIR TV.

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to thislifesucks here:

  3. An update, and some clarifications:
    While we had suspended our son’s cell phone service, he was not truly without a phone; we live in the city, and there are WiFi hotspots everywhere, so he was still able to call and text, most times, and we were still able to track his movements (which he was unaware of).
    We negotiated to give him back the app’s on his phone, in exchange for coming home last Friday night. He was then out all night Saturday night, but claims to have been on his way home when he was mugged. There are lots of holes in his story, especially when combined with what I saw of his movements via the tracker, but the upshot is that the phone is gone, and now we truly don’t know where he is when he isn’t home. That said, we are not at this point moving to replace it. He insisted on having an iphone, and paid the difference between the cost of an android and a refurbished iphone. He’d had it about 3 weeks.
    Further adding to the home stress is the fact that we are transitioning my other son (a bio-sibling, both are adopted through DCF) home from a residential program, and my younger son’s behaviors are threatening the older one’s transition–he is tending to return to the program early from home passes, because he is stressed by his brother’s absences/disappearances. We filed a CRA on our younger son on Friday, at the recommendation of our older son’s DMH caseworker. He felt it would unfortunately be the best way to start to build current assessments that might qualify him for DMH services. I am a bit concerned that the court’s attitude may be that as long as he goes to school, and comes home at night, regardless of the time, that we should be satisfied.
    Lastly, (for now), I wanted to clarify that the 4 weeks didn’t refer to the treatment length, but rather to how long he needed to show active participation in order to earn back cell service.

  4. Four weeks is way too long to be without a cell phone for 17-year-old. My son went through six months of lock up with the Massachusetts DYS and I cannot tell you how great that experience was for him and for us. They had us all working with a fantastic system called parenting with love and logic, PLL. The therapist had us carefully craft a plan of rewards and consequences. The key was to not pile on too many consequences, and the most severe consequence was two days grounding with no technology. Then, on Monday morning he got a fresh start. This system worked well for respecting the curfew, practicing nonviolence, and keeping pot use out of the house. However, we have yet to craft a plan for him regarding his daily pot use. At the moment, he is wanting a learners permit, and we say no, not till you cut way back pot smoking. Now that he is going to school most days, is non-violent, has not been in trouble with the law since he was released in January, observes his curfew, keeps his phone online so we can track his location, now the next step is to approach his pot use . All of these things were creating huge problems, and the best approach was for us to focus on one problem at a time. The pot use will be very challenging because it is so pervasive in youth culture. Here in my town many of the athletes are using pot but they usually smoke after a game or on days when they have no sports. Also, unfortunately police, the DYS, and rehab clinics treat pot and nicotine use as a non-issue and look the other way. My son spent three weeks at MYR, and they gave him a nicotine patch.

    1. Love and Logic. Thank you. There is an expanded version for teenagers. I purchased a copy. The approach sounds similar to CRAFT.

      Just a note: We weren’t suggesting 4 weeks without a cell phone. We were suggesting cell phone as a reward every week after attending the group.

      Thank you

    2. Thanks for sharing your experience, Bernie123. I too find it very frustrating that no one seems to take the pot smoking as a real issue–my feeling is that if my son is willing to make home life a misery rather than give it up, it says something about whether he’s a recreational user, or self-medicating. We filed a CRA on Friday, but I worry that their only concern is going to be getting him to come home at night, regardless of the time. I’d like the bar for behavioral expectations to be higher than that.

      1. Thislifesucks and Bernie123, I relate to so much of what you’re going through. Thanks for sharing your stories. It does help to know we’re not alone. Our 17 year old son is smoking pot daily, and often, multiple times a day. We found pot yesterday, the second time this week. We keep telling him not to bring it in the house or we will throw it out, which we do. Before I found CRAFT and AIR, we told him we would call the cops, but now I understand that wouldn’t be the best way to respond. His use surges when he knows we won’t budge our boundaries.

        Our son is angry that we found the pot and that we threw it out. He blames us and tells us we wouldn’t have these issues if we stopped looking through his stuff. He calls us all kinds of names, swears, and blame shifts everything. We’re doing our best to step away, which is so much better than how we used to handle these situations. He blatantly disregards our request to not bring drugs in our home. This is frustrating. He keeps texting to ask me where it is. Our parent coach from Partnership for Drug Free suggested we tell him we’re done discussing it and that he can expect us to throw it out if we find it, but that’ we’d love to talk about other things with him, then I told him I love him. Done. I’m so tired of the same arguments/discussions that get us nowhere. The idea of stepping away is creating space for some sanity.

        I, too, am concerned that pot use isn’t taken as seriously as other drugs. I’ve learned that pot is so much more potent these days and withdrawals include vomiting, nausea, head aches, etc. Our son has these withdrawal symptoms when he surges. It seems as though things are spinning out of control for my son these last few months. He was caught at school with pot, we’ve found it in the house multiple times in the last month, he’s severely disregarded curfew several times – even didn’t come home one night after a school dance, has come home drunk and stoned more often (usually he lets it wear off a bit more before coming home), he’s failing school and uses during the school day – every day.

        I’m grateful I found this site, and some other great resources recently, just as his use is intensifying. The sense of helplessness and despair I was feeling was drowning me – the hardest thing being that our son isn’t who we know he is – he’s a stranger to us. I’m working on self care at the moment, which is hard, but I now know how important it is in helping my son. I hope at some point in the future we’ll be able to relate to our Loved One’s successes and recovery rather than their struggles, hopefully sooner than later.

        1. Hi Hopeful, Thislifesucks, and Dominique,

          I am writing in solidarity. We are not alone, and I think the majority of families with kids who are getting into trouble try to be invisible, I know I do. I’d love it if there were a parent group just to have people to discuss this with in person!

          Apologies, the DYS parenting system is called Parenting with Love and Limits by Scott P. Sells. The text book for the class that he wrote is called Parenting Your Out of Control Teenager.

          Wishing you good luck with getting good CRA personnel, Thislifesucks.

          All the social services around here have three letters – CRA, CSO, DMH, DYS ICC, IHT…it took years before we got DYS, and that was not our choice, it was court ordered because of the violence! But it was the best choice,and he is not violent and has stayed out of police trouble since he returned home about a year ago! But the dependence on pot and nicotine continues.

          We are all doing the right things by informing our sons of the consequences of a behavior and then following through. It is hard! I am a good person, but our son curses at me, then there are texts trying to convince me to ease up on the consequence. I stand my ground and tell him that I am glad that he is advocating for himself but No, this is the consequence. SO HARD for me to stand my ground but he NEEDS limits, and HE NEEDS to know that we will be consistent about enforcing them. It actually calms him down if I wait a few minutes!

          If you haven’t done this already, may I recommend that your sons get a complete neuropsych evaluation? Best thing we ever did, back when ours was in 2nd grade, and again in middle school. From this he got diagnoses (ADHD, ODD, early childhood trauma and a few learning disabilities) that have informed our plans for him, and sometimes the various police officers and the DYS works with us on approaching this from a mental health angle. We use Claudia Rutherford.

          Both of our son’s therapists have counseled me to start backing off emotionally. That is so hard, I’m such a mama bear. I SO want him to become independent, and he will soon be 17 showing few signs of those skills. Some days I day dream about hopping on a plane and running away to Costa Rica, it is just SO painful to watch the boy we spent so much time nurturing and loving throw away his youthful energy and health on such unwholesome and unhealthy things such as smoking. But as painful as it is, there are enough glimmers of maturity to help me through this.

          I have met a few adults who told me that they ‘self medicated’ all through their HS years, and now they have jobs, families and full and happy lives. I hope we all will be so lucky, but only time will tell. A LONG time!!!

          OK, I understand about the 4 weeks, and apologies for just blurting it out without reading more carefully.

          And thanks for mentioning self care Hopeful, you are right, it is important!

          Lets find ways to tell our sons that no matter what, we love them.

          Easy (formerly Bernie123)