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You Are a Reward

man on couch, woman walking away

Your Loved One just got home from work and poured his first drink of the evening. Or your Loved One just emerged from a long sleep in her room and you can tell she's still withdrawing. Or your Loved One is getting all dolled up to go out drinking with friends.

You, yourself, might be grumbling. You might be accusing, guilting or complaining. Or trying desperately to prevent them from going out. You might be brooding in a cold silence. This might be hard to believe, but your presence and your conversation, however negative, is something your Loved One counts on, and expects from you. The pattern(s) that you've established together are something stable and dependable for them. While your presence may be a trigger for your Loved One, it is also a reward.

Say it again?

This is so counter-intuitive, and so essential to succeeding with the CRAFT approach, that I'll say it again: staying in the room is giving your Loved One the gift of your presence.

The AiR program places great emphasis on disengaging, and removing rewards when your Loved One is using (or about to use, or in active withdrawal). Modules 5 & 6 teach you what to do when your Loved One is not using, and what to do when they are using. Key Observations Exercise #4 will help you get clear about how to tell when they are using, and Exercise #16 helps you brainstorm about what is rewarding to your Loved One.

The key question you will need to ask yourself and find an answer to, dozens of times a day perhaps, is: "Is she using right now, or is she not?" Your strategy will depend on the answer. They're using = you disengage. You remove rewards. They're not using = you engage. You reward.

How exactly do you define "use"?

Don't forget the "definition of use" that will help you determine the answer. USE could be any one of these three stages:

  1. the period when they're about to use, or looking for their drug,
  2. actually drugging or drinking,
  3. the period just after use when they're hung over or in withdrawal

Even if you think your attitude is appropriately punishing to them somehow, walk away.

Even if you have been missing them and this is the first opportunity you've had in days to connect, walk away.

Even if you would really like to bring up your concerns, because technically he's still sober, walk away.

If this sounds really hard, it may be.

Like this Mom did: PERSEVERE, even when it feels so difficult

We worked with a Mom whose 20-year-old son Simon* was addicted to pot and regularly used club drugs. Their relationship was already quite tense… since her divorce, she had watched her son becoming more and more distant and unhappy. She carried around large amounts of guilt about the divorce, and her professional life having taken her away from her family.

She had begun implementing CRAFT with her son, she could now tell when her son was high and she had stopped herself a few times from using sarcasm and humor as a way to give him a dig, and she was beginning to notice results.

One day she was faced with one of the hardest choices of her life:  Simon came and sat down next to her on the porch. This simply never happened — usually he avoided her like the plague. He had been so emotionally detached for so long. And now he wanted to talk. He was in a good mood, he even asked about her. Mom couldn't detect even a smidgeon of tension. But Simon was high.

Mom took a moment to remind herself: "Simon is using. And my presence and my conversation are a reward to him." As desperately as every part of her wanted to stay on that porch, wanted to connect with her son for once, wanted to feel the warmth of the human connection between them, she remembered her over-arching goal: getting Simon into treatment. Not rewarding this moment of use was important, perhaps even critical. Mom said, "you know, something feels wrong, I'm going back to the laundry," stood up, and walked away.


Your daily work applying the CRAFT principles will bear fruit

Not surprisingly, this seemingly small act of leaving her son alone on the porch, was a turning point for him. Mom noticed a shift, almost instantly. Simon was so rocked by his mother being the one to walk away for once. He had been seeking that human connection, too, and had come knocking where he thought he was guaranteed to get that. He knew about her guilt, he had used it to manipulate her. Never had he imagined his mom could turn him away when he was in search of warmth.

Something in Simon was paying attention now.  He actually stayed home that evening, though he was supposed to go to a party. The next morning he was sober, so she cheerfully offered to make him pancakes, one of his favorite breakfasts. Simon had not used since 4 PM the day before, a small record and a small change in the action that signaled Mom may no longer be in my pocket.

What we are asking of you is far from a simple fix, but these methods are proven to work. We are with you all along the way.

* name has been changed



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 found this post helpful relating to a friendship that doesn’t have substance issues involved, but the reward of engagement when behavior is clearly unethical has been a pattern. Arguing it through can be useless. “Nothing changes if nothing changes” is something I sighed to myself just today. I am so thankful for this site and the gifts of those who take the time to interact. I am encouraged daily.

  2. Thank you for this post, I never thought about it this way. I never thought that my presence could be a reward. I guess we all get so entrenched in the chaos that sometimes we can’t see how we might be contributing to the problem. Just having me there being engaged in his controversy and manipulation, something he (my son) knows and is familiar with, in many ways is just confirming to him that he doesn’t have to worry about change. He can count on me to stay steady and continue with the pattern we are in. If I remove myself I am taking a reward away and he will have to do something different too! Well thank you for this, I’m still learning something new every day.

    1. Well said! Thank you. Nothing changes, if not nothing changes. If you make a change, they have to make a change. It’s about getting you to make the best strategic changes possible…. This is your influence at work. Any one change may not, in itself, make a huge difference. But the sum total of these small changes by you is extremely important. It is the difference that forces them out of their “comfort zone.” It signals to your Loved One that Mom is no longer in their pocket.

  3. I found this to be extremely helpful today.

    For far too long, I kept trying to reason in the mornings with my husband about his drinking, thinking that if I could just make him understand that it was painful and dangerous that he would stop. The conversation then became about how much I criticized and tried to control him — which was true. I did manage to learn how to resist the impulse to lecture him. And as I have stopped, he has begun to interpret almost anything I say as me hectoring him. I react and it’s not good.

    It is something that happens maybe an hour or so after he has come home intoxicated.

    It really is a good solution to remove myself. I really don’t like that it’s necessary, because it is so constant, but I can be determined and creative.

    1. So glad this post helped you find a solution to try out at home. I understand that you don’t like the fact that it’s necessary and that the problem is so constant, but by removing the reward of your presence, you may just help to break a cycle and make room for new growth. Let us know about the creative ways you find to implement rewards or remove them…