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You’re Going to Mess Up the Rewards Sometimes

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E320 feels she messed everything up with one episode of removing rewards. Did she? When she thought he'd been drinking and left, is it possible she inadvertently triggered him to go drink? CRAFT asks you to make numerous split-second decisions every day. You're going to get it wrong sometimes. What then?

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The reason for this post is to share an incident and check that I'm on track or not. I am really working on applying CRAFT to my husband when he drinks. Figuring it out successfully or not. Tonight, I was sure he was drinking while mowing. I went out and told him clearly I was leaving because he was drinking, that I was going out to eat, and I would be back before bed. He just stared at me without saying a word. So I left and he was silent as I drove away. Then about 20 minutes later he calls. He says I wasn't drinking, that it was a water bottle. I was shocked and quickly apologized. I told him I was going to grab a snack and come home. When I got home he was gone.

Now I'm sure he's drinking and feeling guilty and blaming myself. Feeling like although I didn't cause this I helped it to happen. Now should I stay up until he comes home or remove myself since I really expect he's been drinking? I turn off all the lights and go to bed. I am so conflicted. If I helped to cause this, shouldn't I be up to console him and encourage him when he gets home even if he's been drinking? I feel really guilty and keep trying to reassure myself that it's not my doing if he drinks. He doesn't need to respond by drinking.

I wrestle with being in bed with all the lights off. I think he's going to come home mad at me and a quick apology or chat will settle things down, I feel so guilty and upset with myself. Finally I get up and go into the living room and pretend to be asleep when he gets home. But I know it's clear I was waiting up for him. What a cop out. He wants to talk when he comes home two hours later. But not about drinking or us or me, but about his night. He tells me details and says I drank sorry. I drank three beers. It was a bachelor party. I'm not sure if he's sorry that he has to tell me, or sorry because he knows I don't approve. He doesn't seem sorry that he drank them. And there was no profit in me being there for him. So, even if I'm part of the reason he drinks in a particular situation, I need to apply CRAFT and remove myself when he drinks. He asks me right before bed do I want to talk. I say no but tomorrow I would like to talk. I feel like I finally have said what I should have all along. Tomorrow I will ask him why he's sorry.


Thanks for writing in and sharing what happened. In a nutshell, you suspected your husband had been drinking, you acted in consequence, he denied it, you felt bad and went back, but he was gone, this time drinking (he confirmed it later). You felt you'd really messed up, perhaps even causing his drinking episode. The remorse and guilt is eating at you.


There's actually a lot in your message that I want to address. Maybe first and foremost, it would be helpful for me to let you off the hook…


Applying CRAFT in real life: You're gonna get it wrong sometimes!


Yes, CRAFT has been scientifically validated. And our members continue to report validating results each day. That being said, we family members are human, just as much as our struggling Loves Ones. Human behavior cannot be reproduced to a T day in and day out. We falter. We're flawed. Perfectly imperfect!


In the Learning Modules, we clearly spell this out: it's not easy to make split-second judgements (about whether or not the LO is using right now). You will get it wrong sometimes. This is OK.


Each and every time you come into contact with your Loved One, we ask you to take a moment to assess the situation, especially the question of using or not:

  • Consider the clues you can gather in the moment, plus the knowledge you already have about signs, symptoms, and your Loved One's habits;

  • Allow your gut/instinct (the little knowing voice inside) to weigh in;

  • Take a deep breath and allow the needle to point to Yes (using) or No (not using);

  • Go with it and act accordingly!


We must do our best to be at peace with our assessment and ensuing acts, even with the knowledge that we will not always get it right.


If it comes to the Loved One's attention that you've made a mistake, and they point that out, feel free to acknowledge you made a mistake, apologize, and move on. Example:


"I apologize. I'm probably a little over-sensitive about the substance use. Great that I was wrong!"  or

"I'm sorry I jumped to conclusions. I admit my worry can get in the way sometimes."


Feel free to use your private journal to write out a few short, light sorry/owning it statements now. This will allow you to practice and have a few at the ready, should you need one.

The ABC's of CRAFT: A few reminders

I picked up a couple of details from your comment that I wanted to use as examples to remind you, and anyone reading this, about a couple of very common Do's and Don'ts.


  1. "I went out and told him clearly I was leaving because he was drinking."

    It's so great that you have integrated the idea of "he's using —> remove rewards/disengage."

    We suggest something subtler if you need to say something when you do so. No need to mention/name the use, so for example, "I'm going for a walk, I need some air."  He will quickly feel results of the pattern you create by disengaging when he's using, or coming in close/engaging when he isn't. He'll quickly put two and two together. No need to complicate things (and risk inflaming the situation) by pointing to the drug or alcohol use.

  2. "He doesn't seem sorry that he drank them."

    Addiction is messy. So is the human psyche. We can look one way, and be feeling another. We can say one thing, but really feel something else. We can think we know what is, or isn't going on in someone's mind, but we can't truly have any certitude. So whether or not a Loved One expresses or shows remorse for their actions, they may absolutely feel it. They may feel it before or during the using. They may feel it afterwards. They may feel it in retrospect, days, or even years later.

    The "cleaner" your interactions with a Loved One can be, the better.

    Avoid projecting on them what you think they should or shouldn't do, are or aren't feeling.  And we advise avoiding talk of use altogether, except for those (usually rare) moments of opportunity when a Loved One is expressing a wish for things to be different, or a dip (feeling low or hopeless…). Talking about their use — the why's and why not's of their use — is, simply put, a minefield. Prepare your talk carefully for when the time is right (Module 8).

  3. " If I helped to cause this, shouldn't I be up to console him and encourage him when he gets home even if he's been drinking?"

    Nope, you shouldn't. This one is pretty cut and dry. No matter what elements contributed to triggering an episode of use, once that use is happening (about to happen, happening, or still experiencing the after-effects), CRAFT is pretty clear-cut about how the family member responds to the use. So don't overthink it.

    To me, it looks like you figured this out for yourself within a few hours. I quote you: "… there was no profit in me being there for him. So, even if I'm part of the reason he drinks in a particular situation, I need to apply CRAFT and remove myself when he drinks."  Yes! You got it. Exactly.

  4. "Feeling like although I didn't cause this I helped it to happen….. I feel so guilty and upset with myself. "

    To my knowledge, CRAFT doesn't specifically address what to do with the (often misguided) guilt that family members can feel around the role they play in their Loved One's substance use.

    However, the program we've put together insists again and again on tending lovingly to our own emotional landscape, and working through the difficult emotions (that all humans have, but which are often ubiquitous when addiction is present). I wouldn't disagree with the idea that families—being the intricate, interwoven units they are—can produce or reproduce certain patterns. And I certainly believe that we each have our own work to do. This includes but is not limited to: self-care! self-care! self-care! And part of the art self-care is, of course, identifying the difficult feelings that arise, and working through them so they don't take hold of us.

    I really like listening to Dominique talk about emotions, why we have them, how they help us, and how we can use them to heal and grow vs. letting them get the best of us. Check out Module 7 for some really helpful perspectives on the world of emotion and feeling.


CRAFT helps us to know what to do when. How to handle our feelings about it all is another story


"I feel really guilty and keep trying to reassure myself that it's not my doing if he drinks. He doesn't need to respond by drinking."

As someone who has been working CRAFT with a Loved One (an ex-partner) I completely commiserate, and your comment has helped me to put some words on some observations I've made.

In the Learning Modules we haven't spoken that much about the effects on the family member when practicing CRAFT. I have noticed a few things, which I feel can be problematic if not kept in check.


  • The first one has to do with our perceived level of control over the situation and over our Loved One's actions. This is subtle, fine-line type of stuff. Yes, the studies on CRAFT have shown that we can indeed influence our Loved One in the direction of recovery.

    Yes, we can do things to encourage their efforts, but
    No, we can't make them want to do something.

    Yes, we do have full control over our own actions and behaviors, our attitude, the care we do or don't grant our Selves, and
    No, we don't have even 1% of control of their actions, behaviors, attitude, etc.

    Yes, it can be truly inspiring to be in the presence of another person who is taking sweet care of themselves, feeling well-balanced and centered, owning their own struggles and actively working through them — the power of presenting a model to be followed is not to be underestimated! But,
    No, we can't make them take care of themselves or even want to, especially not through coercion, guilting, power play or mind games.

    We cannot force our Loved One to do, or not to do, something. If we venture onto that road there are very good chances that things will backfire and resentments will be high. This is one reason that CRAFT outperforms all of the other intervention models studied.

    We aren't the reason they will do or not do something. No matter our actions, we are not causing our Loved One to use. They are free-willed human beings, who may not be using their free will as we wish them to, but the choice to use each and every time is theirs.  Just as the choice to not use, once they become more serious about recovery, will be theirs each day. They're the ones who will have that ultimate challenge, of having to say "no" to their beloved substance(s) day after day and hopefully year after year.

    And as our collaborator Laurie MacDougall points out, just as we can and should be "owning our part" as much as possible, you can also choose to respond to blaming by your Loved One in the following manner, whether you say it out loud or just remind yourself:

    "That's one thing I don't own."

  • Once we are clear on the extent of our actual control over our Loved One (we don't have any!), I find it's useful to step back and take an honest look at what beliefs we might be operating on. I'm referring to the fact that it is easy with CRAFT to get excited when the system of rewarding and removing rewards starts to bear fruit. But if we're not careful, this can give us the misguided idea that we're able to control more than we actually can.

    This, in turn, can lead us to misuse our perceived control, or inversely, to experience heightened guilt or remorse when we feel we could have done things differently or better.

  • Beware! Guilt-remorse-self-blame! Do you feel you could have prevented a using episode by being there, saying something differently, not saying something, etc.? I'm someone who tends to place a lot of responsibility / pressure / perfectionism on my own self… perhaps you can relate? I have begun to realize that we must be especially careful as family members practicing CRAFT. Our influence is real but limited. We have our own lives to lead, aside from trying our best to be there as much as possible to implement CRAFT and keep guiding our Loved One in the direction of recovery.

    The "I could have done it better" attitude that can arise when you're really good at seeing what didn't get done, what could have been done better or how you may have failed someone, is a slippery slope. This can easily become a vicious cycle in which we become exhausted, worn down by toxic inner dialogues. Then we require even more self-care to get back to a place of inner peace and centeredness (which is the ideal position from which to practice CRAFT). Get my drift? It is said that almost everything is better in moderation. I suppose CRAFT is no exception. We simply cannot be doing it 24/7, we cannot do it to perfection, and we cannot and must not do it at the expense of our own health or balance!


If I'm asking them to do it, shouldn't I be working on it, too?

We encourage our members to keep in mind that when practicing CRAFT and working the Allies program, it's great to hold yourself to the same standards you are looking for in your Loved One. Our choices and actions can and should parallel what we're asking of our Loved Ones:


  • Own your own issues! Module 4 on communication has good examples of this. "I" statements, in which you model taking responsibility for your own stuff, can be very powerful. They disarm your Loved One and at the same time give them a great example of what it would look like if they, themselves, were a bit more honest and upfront about the feelings behind their acts.

  • Let It Go!  If you've messed up, said or done something you wish you hadn't, after owning it in whatever way feels right (this may just be acknowledging it to yourself), please try to let it go afterwards. We're not at our best if we're ruminating over what should've been. Just like if our Loved One was doing great but messes up one day, we'll want them to be able to put that down, forgive themselves and move on to another day, where everything is possible again!

  • Trust In the Process. Trust, and faith, can only help you as you navigate the often-troubled waters of addiction and recovery. While recovery from the substance(s) is your Loved One's work, you will certainly also have your own patterns, emotions and needs to address. Know that this is all a process. Not a straight line, not an overnight cure. What can you have faith in? This is another journal prompt we encourage you to use: make a list in your Private Journal on this site. What inspires and reassures you? Make a list and come back to it.


So this may be a lot to process, E320. I was inspired by reading your comment, and I hope that you'll find some of this useful. To sum up the most important points, we all mess up when applying CRAFT, it's par for the course. But don't fret, there are usually many opportunities to keep practicing and getting better at it! The 3 C's you hear about can be a good reminder about your stance:

  • I didn’t cause it

  • I can’t cure it

  • I can’t control it

But thank goodness there's CRAFT! You can:

  • Positively influence

  • Model growth and change

  • Heal yourself and fine-tune your emotional landscape

All our best to you and your family.



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. Hello,
    My husband recently got an OUI. His license is suspended, until at least the court date in one month. His lawyer is recommending he install a Breathalizer in his car. He let my husband know that most likely his license will be suspended for several months or longer. Very gladly no one was hurt. We can afford this.

    My question is should we see if our insurance will pay for it? And are there consequences to doing this. And any consequences in general? It really would be help me for him to be able to drive. And he wants this, so he can drive for work.
    Thanks again for any help.

    1. We didn’t coin the term, but things “changing on a dime” could have been at the top of a short list of the 10 Things We’ve Learned in our 20 years of Addressing Addiction with CRAFT.

      Your husband was essentially trying to moderate, in the sense he had to sneak around the house and try real hard not to overdrink, get sloppy, or have a rash moment…

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to E320 here:

  2. Thank you for this extensive response to my post. It is full of so many specific points of learning. I have read and reread it many times. It provides me a lot of comfort and support. I must admit I haven’t digested it all or maybe even most of it. But I did get to be proud of myself, give myself a break, and not piercingly focus on my husband. Just what I needed to catch my breath and regain my balance. I feel like I’m breathing again. I’m biting off smaller pieces of CRAFT again. And taking much better care of myself. This is very good learning for me on how to take care of myself.