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We’ve Never Broached the Subject of His Substance Use!

eggs eggshells

Cyclist and family were on the verge of doing a classic intervention on their grown son whose drinking and weed smoking are wreaking havoc across the entire family. Then they discovered Allies and CRAFT. Excited about acquiring this new skill set, the family remains nervous about how to best leverage the approach, knowing that they've never talked openly as a family about the substance use, the conflict, or their own concerns. Where do they begin?

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My wife and I are thrilled to have discovered the CRAFT approach and this website. Thank you! My question is, as parents of our adult, married Loved One, whom we see only once every week or two, how can we fully leverage the CRAFT approach to have a positive influence on Loved One and our Loved One's family? Now for some background.

We are brand new to the group, but spent a few hours Monday reviewing the elearning modules. They are great! We are starting to get the picture. Our Loved One is married, with three children. We are increasingly concerned about both our Loved One's physical health, mental health and family as substance use continues. We have been watching this decline in slow motion while we tried to get the Concerned Significant Others in our family on the same page about what was happening and how serious it is. Now that most family relationships have been fractured we are finally getting on the same page. We were in the process of planning a Johnston-type intervention, with the help of an interventionist, when we discovered these materials and taken a step back. We had been wrestling with how to actually accomplish an intervention without a lot of collateral damage and could not figure it out. (read full comment here)

Welcome, cyclist! Thanks so much for your detailed explanation of your situation, which gives lots of important details to help us better understand the layout.

You and your family are deeply concerned about your grown son, married with children, whose substance use continues to worsen, as do his physical and mental health. The family has largely remained silent on these topics of concern, and you've already underlined some of the pro's and con's.

Every situation, no matter how alarming it seems, has both pro's and con's

The pro's, according to your description, include never having had any "bridge-burning arguments," no blaming, no shaming, etc. with your Loved One. This is indeed positive! Another enormous advantage is the recent coming together of the various family members whose concern is growing, in part because of the "fractured relationships" that your Loved One's addiction has left in its wake. The more united your front can be, the more success you are likely to have in shepherding your Loved One forward.

The con's include the feeling that going from no dialogue/acknowledgement of the elephant in the room (for years) to wanting to address it (now) frankly feels scary, and confusing.

He's a grown man, we're concerned with respecting his privacy; we also want to avoid huge explosions…

In our point of view, it's not "going behind his back" to suggest Allies in Recovery to your son’s wife, siblings, or anyone else who needs to be on the same page. We've said it many times: Addiction is not a fair fight.

The privacy you would normally proffer an adult son in his 40's is put aside when addiction is raging. Your son and the family are in danger. Drastic times call for… using whatever means you can.

That being said, you referred to having begun the process of organizing a Johnson-type intervention. You then backed off, both because you discovered CRAFT/Allies just in time, and because you sensed that there would be untold collateral damage. This was wise, I believe. You have referred to fearing atomically explosive reactions/defensiveness on the part of your son, which has engendered the current eggshell reality. CRAFT will surely be a more gentle approach, and allow you to move more gradually, without any terrible shock, away from the eggshells and towards more authentic communications, in which you are each standing on solid ground. No power plays. No dictators.

Tiptoeing is not part of CRAFT, but dancing is.

Our site provides basic training. It takes 8-12 weeks when you're working the program daily, leaning on our materials and guidance often. As you know from the modules, you are rebuilding trust, finding ways to gently open up communications, allowing yourselves to express concern but only in chosen moments when you sense he is potentially receptive (Module 8).

That's where the "dancing" comes in. The more aware, compassionate, knowledgeable and subtle you can be, the better dancer you will be. You're also learning that graceful exit that is required of the family when the Loved One is in using mode (Module 6): no conflict necessary, you're just deciding to go somewhere else or do something else. Your absence will be felt, and he'll put two and two together soon enough.

CRAFT has you become private eyes, to begin with. You gather evidence, you put it together, you start to see a more complete picture of your Loved One's use: where it happens, and when, and why (what triggers him) and so on.

Once the ABC's are clear to you, you move in a bit closer, you keep adding bricks to the bridge over which we hope he will one day walk to seek your help … then you start really looking for those openings, where a glimmer of motivation for change is shining through. In the meantime you will have been preparing your request (Module 8) and researching treatment options.

If his wife were on board, you'd surely have a winning team

A united front is not necessary but would of course be a huge boon. Getting everyone on board (or at least the key players, including his wife) will exponentially increase the chances of moving your son forward.

The skills we lay out in the learning modules comprise the toolkit that anyone and everyone in a relationship with someone with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) should absolutely have and use.

We suggest that you practice your newfound communications skills (Module 4) with your daughter-in-law, first. You mentioned that she has historically stood by her husband, no matter what. Yet chances are she is suffering in silence, and despite her desire to keep up appearances, she could surely use some compassion, support and most importantly, a solution! CRAFT was designed to remove tension and add understanding to the equation. This is a great place for you to begin. Use Key Observations #21 to help you sketch out what exactly you want to ask of her:

  • Is it that she accept to speak to you? (or someone else?) about what's happening?

  • Is it that she watch a few modules on this site?

  • Is it something else?

In addition to the concern you express, your daughter-in-law will certainly need to feel that you remain non-judgmental of your son and his issues. You can also express to her that you are concerned about her, with all that she's carrying alone, and want to find ways to improve the situation for everyone.

If you get a 'no' at first, it's OK. You will have planted that seed and she can take the time she needs to think about it. You can keep working at finding (or creating) opportunities to bring it up again.

It's fine to work on several branches of the master plan at the same time: Get started on your treatment list now.

Start the treatment list now. Has your son ever seen anyone before for the mental distress? Make sure that help for this is on the list. See this segment from Module 8, Unpacking the World of Treatment.

We want to remind families that getting a Loved One from zero treatment into some type of treatment is much more desirable than their staying with zero treatment because they're not willing to address the specific problem you believe is the primary issue. In other words, if he's willing to address the mental distress but not the addiction, go with that! If the therapist is doing their job and your Loved One is cooperating, the substance issues will eventually surface.

Your profile says your Loved One's drugs of choice are alcohol and cannabis. Be sure to include a detoxification unit for safely detoxing from the alcohol, on your list of treatment options.

There is no harm in telling your son you are concerned and have found a resource that will help YOU (the family) through this. The site suggests you express your desire to be helpful in the ways we lay out in the modules. The family's role is to:

  • partner with a Loved One as would a good loving friend;

  • shine the light and shepherd them towards treatment (treatment writ large—including places of worship, gyms, even volunteering at a shelter);

You want your son engaged in building his own insight. You want the family setting clear limits around the substance use.

We've never talked about substance use or family conflict openly. Where do we begin?

Your son is the father of a young family. You are seeing signs the house of cards may collapse. Stepping in won’t be easy. You are not a family that talks about the hard things easily. Your son’s reactions have made you nervous, his siblings feel unsafe.

So step one:

  1. Get everyone you can to look at the eLearning modules and exercises. Don't skip over Module 2 about staying safe.


  1. A possible opening to talk: The talk you would have is just an opener, very brief. It would be spoken by the family member who he's the most likely to listen to without defensiveness; it might sound something like this:

Son, I am seeing more signs that the alcohol and pot are causing disruptions.

I am concerned for your whole family. I want you to know that your mom and I (…and your wife, and your siblings…) are getting guidance on how best to offer you help and also handle our own worry and stress around your drinking.

We love you so much. I want you to know we will do anything to get you to help, when you are ready. Here’s the start of a list. I am serious about addressing the addiction we see growing in you. We're all serious.

Cyclist, I hope this gets you off to a good start. Keep us posted. We are rooting for you all.



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 for the very thoughtful comments/suggestions. First, we feel completely understood, which is a great place to start.
    Second, the suggestions are very helpful. We will expand our search for resources, including a broader range of options. We had not thought of using the communication skills first with our daughter-in-law, which sounds like a great idea. It is much more reasonable to invite her to check out the eLearning modules on the Allies website, than to force her to choose her role in a pending Johnson-type “intervention.” Love the image of “dancing” vs. “tiptoeing.” Thanks. Your framing of simple language for opening the door and putting the issue on the table was also very helpful. Thank you so much!

    On a separate note, we have also found it very helpful to participate in the REST family support group with Laurie MacDougall.

    This has all been a tremendous help!