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We’re Visiting Him Soon – How Can I Address His Denial?

Sad man

me4clean is preparing to visit her Loved One after not seeing him for a few months. He is still actively using and is not willing to talk about treatment. With limited opportunities to connect with him, Mom wonders how much of an influence she truly has on her son’s recovery.

© Ian Espinosa via Unsplash

We asked for help on a planned visit to our son, who lives a great distance away, in February. He is on his second DUI and still drinking heavily. We tried a lot of the suggestions given at the time on how to talk with him, and provided him with some resources. Sadly, he has not made any attempt to stop drinking, nor has the desire to seek help. We are planning another visit in a week and will try to address it again, and wondered, if there is any new or different information we can review. He doesn't even want to talk about help, because he feels he has it under control. He just drinks a lot, somehow gets to work and performs his job well. His social life entirely involves the bottle and no one else. Since he is 30 yrs old and has been drinking heavily for years. Is there nothing we can do or say to help him see what he is doing to himself?
We thank you for your help.


There are limits to what a family can do to help their Loved One with addiction. CRAFT helps family members create the best set of conditions around their Loved One. Once this is done, the action step that remains on your part is patience.

For now, your son doesn’t want to talk about treatment. If your stance is one of a loving and attentive listener, he will eventually open up. He needs to feel safe enough to do so; this could be tomorrow or six months from now. You'll need to adjust your communication every time you see him or talk to him on the phone. However, as you keep practicing CRAFT, it will soon become second nature.

You are now building a bridge between you and your son. He will cross over when he feels motivation for change. The time to address your son’s addiction is not when you see him, but when he is ready to talk about it. Perhaps this happens during a visit. Remember to look for talk of a wish or a dip. You have provided your son a list of resources in the past. Perhaps you update the list and leave it for him during your visit.

Your son has a small, tight little life. Work, home, bottle. Something is bound to upset this; addiction is messy. You’ve got the resources figured out. Now dig deep for patience and wait for him to express a wish for more in his life, or wait for him to feel bad because of the drinking and its consequences.

Before your last visit with him, we wrote to you about him being in the middle stage of substance use. He is still fighting hard to secure boundaries around his drinking. He is still hanging on to the feeling of control over the alcohol. He is processing and moving forward at his own pace.

You are wondering what more you can do to help him. Today, in this moment, less is more. Not battling to get him to face the truth is not equivalent to abandoning him. You just don’t want this to be a fight between you. In fact you don't want to be fighting about anything at all with him. Ideally, it will be all of you united against the use. Right now focus on being on the same team (which doesn’t mean validating his use).

We have another family member whose son is younger than yours, with an almost identical situation. The mother helps him shop for food on Saturdays, along with breakfast out, since he doesn’t drink in the morning. It’s a reward for not drinking on Saturday morning. It reminds her son that he has a mom who loves him and wants to spend time with him. He probably looks forward to a big breakfast out and, yes, even to his mom’s company.

When you visit your son, is there a way to do something similar — when is he not actively using? Rather than focus on the imperative of getting him into treatment, spend the weekend looking for moments of use and non-use and lining up your own behavior with it.

Being far away from him most of the time shouldn’t change how you respond. Keep the CRAFT principles in mind and apply them on the phone, in texts, and in person. You can be listening for a wish or a dip or a request for help on the phone as well as in person.

Upon your arrival or later during your stay, you might see signs of use. You should be prepared, for it may trigger you. If you are seeing use, it will be time to disengage and gently step away. This is not a punishment for his behavior. It is just you securing your boundaries and not engaging with his use. Head to module 6 for guidance on what to do when your Loved One is using

If you find yourself having to create space between you, use this space to focus on yourself and on your own needs. You have been to the modules and you have read through the resources we provide here, but we always want to remind you to care of yourself. We cannot state enough how critical it is for you to find ways to center yourself, to recharge and to calm down. Dealing with your son’s substance use disorder is so draining and puts such a heavy weight on your shoulders most of the time. Practicing CRAFT can be a great relief, providing direction and motivation to what normally feels like a helpless situation but it can also be tiring at times.

Self-care, journaling, reading a novel by a beloved author, exercising, taking a long walk in nature or meditating can all help you tend your inner fire. You’ll need this fire to be roaring as you walk towards recovery alongside your son. We oftentimes disregard such activities as selfish acts or a waste of time. Too often, we value care for others (especially our children) over care for ourselves. However, caring for yourself is at the heart of everything; it plays a major role in helping your son deal with his substance use disorder. Don’t underestimate the power of setting an example. Seeing you take care of yourself and witnessing the positive results of that could inspire him to do the same.

More and more families have to help their Loved Ones from a distance and communication is always a challenge; your question is relevant to so many. We are all rooting for you as you keep moving forward. We hope this helps and thank you for reaching out and asking this important question.



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. Thank you so much for your question. Your situation is very similar to mine, and I have been wondering how to help my son who is struggling with severe binge drinking when we are living 1500 miles apart.

    God bless all of the families who are dealing with substance use disorders inside of their own homes. I can only imagine how traumatic and exhausting that is. I don’t wish that kind of stress on anyone.

    It is also stressful when the loved one is so far away that there are few opportunities to be present for any wish or dip that may take place. I guess in this situation, I need to work on my own patience. It is so difficult for me to see him risk his health, safety, and possibly his future while he (hopefully eventually) comes to realize his need for change. I wish there was something I could do to be more proactive.

    1. You’ve brought up a great point, windchaser, and we agree with your observation: both situations are full of tension — living under the same roof as an actively using Loved One, or living out of reach of your actively using Loved One. No one actually chooses either situation, of course.

      What we choose to do with the situation is another story. And figuring out what is possible to help a Loved One who is far away is yet another step, which we’ll attempt to help you look at now.

      The CRAFT travel bag: What you can do when your LO is far away

      Here are some options you can consider. What seems feasible will depend on the particulars of your situation, your Loved One, the connection and communications you already have, etc.

      Read our full response to windchaser here: