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You Can Make Friends with Enabling

Friends enabling

Momoftwins' son is stuck at home, struggling without his Suboxone program. Relapses continue to occur. His twin brother has thrown the drugs in the trash and insists that the family be stricter. The parents are feeling torn about enabling. Can the family be of any help?

" Hi. Update. Relapsed again and again. Blames everyone for his use. His twin brother found his drugs and threw them out and that led to some crazy behavior. I have found a program which he now says he doesn't want to go to. We are trying to understand but feel we are at the point of really just enabling him. Truly don't know what to believe anymore. Says he is talking to someone about a rehab but I don't know if it's true. He drives a car that we pay for, we put gas in, we pay insurance. I think that is enabling. When he is coming off drugs he gets very angry and agitated. He was up last night sick all night. I tried using CRAFT when talking by saying how sorry I felt for him but also said "aren't you sick of this?". That set him off. We were up with him as he was scared at how sick he got. Still… says he needs to "wean off" so wants to use again today. And so it goes. I am addressing counseling for the whole family at this point as his twin brother feels we need to be stricter. I am at a loss. Thanks for letting me vent."

© Helena Lopes via Unsplash

First of all, we commend you for being committed to using CRAFT and for returning to the member site again and again. It's such a healthy instinct on your part, to ask for professional guidance, to continue to sharpen your tools and adapt CRAFT to your situation, to make use of our community in these strange, isolating times. Brava!!

There are many questions in your recent comment. Let's look at them one by one.

He blames us all for his use and relapses

Yup. Typical. When everything feels wrong (which it sounds like it does for your son right now) we desperately want to find something or someone to blame. You guys are right there, and you love him unconditionally, so picking you all as the scapegoat(s) is safe, easy and obvious. It would behoove you and your family to practice growing thicker skins to better weather such accusations/blaming. It's very, very common for this to happen. Make sure his brother knows not to fall in the trap of taking this personally or seriously.

So, in one word, IGNORE.

His brother threw out his stash and says we should be stricter

A twin brother. This is a special constellation for your afflicted son to be dealing with. Someone who is closer than close, can probably read his mind, and cares about him beyond measure. So much potential beauty in such a relationship, and also So Much Intensity. For your son, as he struggles and continues to fall, living with both of you in the same house might be like having two mothers, or two twin brothers!

CRAFT works (the studies have all shown it). And why does it work? Because the family can be turned into the perfect weapon. Not only do you care deeply, but you know the Loved One inside out, and (despite all past and current tensions/blaming/drama) the Loved One deeply wants and needs better connection with you. So many of the necessary elements are in there.

What are the remaining elements needed? Getting informed. Getting on the same page as much as is possible. Honing your methodology. Taking care of yourself and remembering that the entire rest of the family needs love, attention, calm, stress relief, and care as well. Including you of course.

So here are a few suggestions in this vein:

1— Shift your attention to the rest of the family — for a few hours, or days if you can. They need to come back into the center (your son with SUD is likely currently occupying that spot whether he wants to or not). Focusing on each other, and on some of the positive things you can do, feel or create together, will be a way of gently applying a balm to the open wound you all feel right now.

Incidentally, your son with SUD will most likely feel some relief from your pulling back and towards each other. Or he may miss all that fussing and (consciously or not) wonder what he needs to do to get some of that connection you'll be fostering amongst yourselves.


2— Therefore watch out for a typical, but even bigger, reaction at first as you apply these little changes. If there's backlash, use de-escalation talk, keep it super simple and short, and put it back on you (ex: "I'm trying to  pay better attention to my own needs, I have a tendancy to get lost in worry…")


3—  Do what you can to get the family on the same page — or at least getting them to open their minds to watching a few modules. This could be monumental. Here are some articles we've written on the topic of harmonizing the family's approach. You know them best. You know what reasoning to use when suggesting they take a look.

  • Would they most enjoy doing so together, with you?

  • Would they feel better creating their own account (currently 100% free to do) and watching at their leisure? Maybe even writing in to the Discussion Blog for guidance?

  • Would they prefer to read the eBooks (try the Communications module or My Loved One is Using Right Now, Now What?) Can you print one out for them?

  • Would your husband and/or your son be up for watching a module together then talking with you (or each other) about the various ways they could see themselves applying the principles?

  • What about having them read this post?

4— Whether or not the rest of your family does or doesn't embrace CRAFT, you can still be dropping little nuggets of wisdom/CRAFTdom for them without necessarily labeling them that way. For instance when your son talks about the family needing to be "stricter" with his brother, even if you fundamentally disagree, try responding to him with reflective listening. Allow him to feel heard. Perhaps draw a line between what he's suggesting and the more CRAFTy way of seeing it. Being strict is about Do's and Don'ts; Rules; Enforcing those rules; Punishments. The equivalent in CRAFT is going to be about enabling use or enabling non-use. The more you try to force someone with SUD to do anything, the less success you'll have. Forcing people in general is not highly successful. 

So if he's open to it at some point, maybe watch Module 6 together, or simply talk with him about how the family can have more of a united front — not against his brother but Against the Drug Use. Throwing away the drugs comes from a beautiful desire. He wants to protect his brother. But this type of "war on drugs" approach simply won't work in the long term and may even (as you've described) create unnecessary tension and more freak-outs in the short term.  Consider a conscious campaign in which you are sewing seeds for your son and husband: the reality that none of you will be able to prevent your son from using, but that each of you will certainly be able to make significant strides in building back a bridge of trust and communication, stone by stone.

How enabling can be your friend

This is a biggie. We really encourage everyone on this site to move away from the outdated idea of "Enabling or Not". The questions you will need to ask yourselves (perhaps 100 times a day) are:

  • How do I encourage (enable) moments of non-use in my Loved One?

  • How do I discourage (or not enable) moments(s) when he is using?

Modules 5 & 6 are your best friends while you try to make heads or tails of all of this.

So…we turn back to your own examples.

The car: you're financing it, you're paying for insurance,  you're making it available, etc. Is this enabling?

First of all, let's modify the question —> Is letting him use the car enabling (furthering, getting him closer to, rewarding) a behavior that you want to see, that will help him, such as recovery activities, the Suboxone clinic, a social-distanced support group, outpatient treatment, or even visiting with a friend or family member with whom he doesn't use?

If YES, then great! Let's enable his non-use!

If NO, if your best judgement tells you he is taking the car to visit friends who use, to go see a dealer, or to do other activities that will bring him farther away from your goal of having him use less, get into treatment, etc., then heck no, he can walk or spend a few hours trying to get a ride for his errands!

If it is too hard to tell, or you're afraid that your deciding "yes" or "no" each time might spark his anger too much, then inform him that you've made a family decision that as long as the relapses are occurring and there are clear signs of him using, you simply don't feel comfortable lending your car ("I" statements, always, especially for decisions that could be seen as punishments). Remind him that as soon as you see that he is making real observable efforts, and the car is being used for those efforts, you'll be happy to lend it again (or at least to reconsider your decision).

CRAFT: the better you know it, the better it works, the better the results!

Good for you for keeping CRAFT principles in mind when you approach your son to communicate with him. We are doing our best, and we will make mistakes. That's just the way it is.

It is essential, to really see big successes with CRAFT, to come back to the Modules over and over. Watching them once is an amazing start. But for the long-run, make the CRAFT method second nature. Pick one module a day and set aside 30 minutes per day to go through them all again. Or if time doesn't permit, do less each day. But keep at it.

We are here for you, for the questions you have and the encouragement you need, but the actual learning must be done by you.

Some of that learning happens in front of your screen as you watch the modules and review the Key Observations again and again (Our friend Laurie MacDougall found the Allies site years ago; she helped usher her son into recovery and now helps other families learn CRAFT. She often talks about how watching the modules, and re-watching them again and again, has created an ongoing learning experience. She claims she still notices "new" details each time!). Check out her growing network of Allies/CRAFT-driven REST family groups by clicking here.

Some of the learning will necessarily happen "in the field," that is, in your home, in your family. And it will be trial and error. Harness the scientist, the researcher in you. Notice what seems to really work, or have positive results. Notice when the results are not as great as you expected. Ask yourself why. Don't succumb to guilt. If you got it slightly wrong, welcome to the club, we're Humans!

You shared the example of asking him "Aren't you sick of this?" during a period of very uncomfortable withdrawal.  He got triggered and became angry. As you delve back into the modules you'll re-encounter the idea that "moments of use" include:

1.  the moments just before they use, or are looking to score,

2.  active using,

3.  withdrawal, hangovers…

So, next time you may wait to ask your question. Or you may want to put more emphasis on reformulating everything into "I" statements. An alternative to the "Aren't you sick of this?" question could be:

"Son, I can't hide from you that I am worried sick about you. It's so hard for me to know how to help." or


"It's so hard for me to see you suffering like this. I am going to give you some space and take a walk to clear my head."


Treatment, Treatment, Treatment

Yes, treatment remains the BIG GOAL for your son. It won't fix everything about him but it will give him a huge boost, a huge leap forward on his path to recovery. All roads to treatment are worth considering. Neither you nor he can know ahead of time which type of treatment or support  will fit like a glove and really carry him forward.

It may empower your son for you to try to get him to share his ideas on what types of treatment would be best for him — but beware! This type of conversation can only happen if you've got the right conditions (a wish, or a dip, and not using or withdrawing).

Start the planned conversation by gently passing him your list of treatment options. I know you've been doing lots of research on treatment options. This is clearly not easy work, given all the factors. But remember that the more options you provide, the more he feels he has some choice in the matter, some power over the outcome.

We know that what we're asking you (and the family) to do is not easy… but at the same time we are confident that if you can continue working the program, you will start to see more results, and feel the signs that you're getting closer. Your son is lucky to have you on his team. Right now he can't see that but he will one day.

We send you all our support and encouragement for the road ahead. One day at a time, one moment at a time, it's all any of us can do.



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. Hi there. Well an update. Our son said he would “try rehab” because his friend was going and spoke highly of it. I dropped him off at the rehab with his friend. I am not exaggerating when I say he called me 1 hour after I returned home to say “not for him”! I told him that he had to give it a try. He thinks walking in was a try. They then called me to say he needed to go to a detox facility (I am sure his drug tests came back by then). When dropping him off at detox, he waited for them to leave and ran away. Somehow he took a train back to Massachusetts and got to my house around 12:30 am. Said we betrayed him by not getting him when asked and now will never trust us. (He has trust issues). We are making a plan that if he lives in this house he needs a program (outpatient) where he attends every day. Not sure if he will go for it. My question: If he does not heed our rules what should we do? Please help. Thank you.

    1. Your poor family. The COVID pandemic, and the accompanying problems with access to treatment, are certainly keeping you and your son busy.

      Your son agreed to follow his friend into treatment only to run away (home!) when he learned he needed to be detoxified. Keep in mind that admittance to a detoxification unit is only for those in physical danger from drug withdrawal. You need a medical reason to be admitted to a detox. This means that your son is dangerously dependent on whatever he is taking. He will certainly need a detox.

      Detoxes do what is called a cleanup, where they take the person off everything but MAT. In order to enter outpatient, he will need to be clean 3-4 weeks, and to be stable on his MAT. (We weren’t 100% sure by rereading your recent comments whether he continues to take his Suboxone spottily or is off it completely.)

      Outpatient therapy should be on the list you prepare as well. Rather than choosing for him though, you will have a list of treatment *options* to give him. Include on this list any shelters in your area. Put the detox units at the top. Let him sit with it.

      Though the vision may seem too far away and currently unattainable, your strategy should be based on ushering your son towards a more independent life. How to move towards that, with concrete steps?

      Can you reduce his footprint in your house to a daybed and a locker? Take over his room. The message is: Move on. You’re an adult. Reduce his reliance on you and your home. Make his stay a day-to-day choice dependent on his not being high. Read how to do this here: and additional posts that refer to the daybed/locker setup:

      There are many positives here. He has been willing to go to treatment on several occasions. This is huge! He is on the ropes, sort of speak, but he knows he needs treatment. He also knows he can count on his family (despite what he says about never trusting you again — don’t succumb to the guilting). You’re in good shape. Don’t give up.

      1. Hi There. Thank you once again for your encouragement. Much needed. My husband and I are creating a list of outpatient programs for him. He is currently NOT using and back on Suboxone. He did this alone and without our involvement so that is good. I think the Suboxone clinic also offers Sublocaid (sp). This is a once per month injection and he cannot then decide to take or not take as he does with Suboxone. He is not using right now. Our interaction is minimal as he feels we abandoned him when he wanted to come home from the rehab. I am not yet ready for the daybed/footlocker setup but will think of that if things escalate. It is sad also that I have called 3 different places to get therapy for myself to deal with all of this and have been told that they are not accepting patients or don’t “deal” with my situation. Other than Allies I am really alone in this right now. So sad. I live on the NorthShore in Massachusetts. Why is it so hard to get help for the family? Thank you again!

        1. Hello Momoftwins. I understand you’re feeling alone right now. It is so very hard to care for ourselves when we are disconnected from others. In my experience, I have connected with others through online and face to face meetings and forums. When I am connecting with others at those sites and meetings, I often share Allies in Recovery as a place for learning the most about communicating with my loved one and others as well as for learning to take the best care of myself. The Learning Modules here have helped tremendously.
          I wonder if you have been able to connect with Kayla Solomon via the Wednesday evening online meetings? She will help you tremendously.
          I connect daily and weekly with others who are living with a LO’s substance use disorder through Learn2Cope dot org and Smart Recovery forums. L2C has online meetings that are well attended and everyone there “gets it.” Both sites have fairly active forums for discussion and support.

        2. Hi gptraveler:

          Thank you so much. I did attend Kayla’s online meeting once and liked it but did not see the link on the website after that? I would like to attend again. I know I am not alone and there are so many families struggling with a loved one using. I do tend to isolate myself and feel very disconnected from others. Only 1 friend have I confided in. I love my other friends dearly but I know they would not understand and would pass judgment. Honestly, before I gained the knowledge that I have, I may have passed judgment too. Not proud of that but I am speaking the truth.

          I know I need support and thank you for your recommendations.

        3. Thank you momoftwins. So sorry you weren’t able to find the information for Kayla’s meeting. I was under the impression that everyone who attended even once would then automatically receive a reminder email every Wednesday morning. I can add you to that list.
          In the meantime, check out the Coaching & Community Menu —> Live Coaching & Support —> Join our free self-care support group for families with Kayla Solomon
          Best, Isabel

  2. Hi: Thank you so much for the very thorough and detailed information. So very helpful. I will certainly go back to the modules. Our son is currently not using (other than pot) and is taking his suboxone to help with cravings. One day at a time. You have certainly given me more valuable information and my husband has read the blog already so progress right there! Hoping to get my other son to read also as he is young and does take things personally.

    In a world where you don’t always know where to turn for help, this has been immensely helpful in dealing with a horrific situation.

    Thank you again for taking the time to advise and guide me in these unchartered waters!

    1. Yes, exactly — One day at a time, just as you say. Let us be thankful for these moments, or days, of not using. Try as best as you can to take these moments as invitations to refocus on you, recenter….

      What does re-center mean for you, with your life and your loves and passions and your body? What is doable? What is enjoyable? If you have a few moments to list some options for yourself in your Private Journal ( that will help manifest what you’re aiming for.

      Key Observations excercise #20 ( can give you some prompts and reminders in this vein.

      I’m thrilled you found some of our suggestions helpful. Yes, do go back to the modules. And then do it again ;—)

      Wonderful that your husband read the post — bravo, brava! You know best how to introduce some of these concepts to your son. Thank you so very much for the update, we are so glad for the respite and that your son is embracing his medication/treatment right now. Onwards and upwards!