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“Heads Up” Tips for Those New to SUD

Have you ever looked back on a particularly stressful time in your life and wished you’d known a few things ahead of the struggle? Or maybe you were offered some “heads up” advice when enduring a hard time and found that the advice you received drastically helped you through the situation.

In one of our “Coming up for Air” podcasts, a discussion took place as to what tips parents and other family members may need when first facing the crisis of addiction, alcoholism or Substance Use Disorder (referred to as “SUD”) with a loved one.

I’m sharing some of these points in a blog post for you. Do check out our recent blogs and podcasts, where we talk about how to apply the Allies in Recovery approach – using CRAFT – when your loved one has SUD. CRAFT is an evidence-based approach and has helped thousands of families understand and address SUD of a loved one.

The following “Heads Ups” are by no means set in stone, but were (or would have been) very helpful when my own family was in the eye of the storm (as detailed in my book Unhooked).


When our loved one is in active use:

Metaphoricallythey have hijacked brains. Realizing and remembering that is tremendously helpful. What you are experiencing will make it seem like you’re dealing with their evil twin.

Tug-of-war communications will happen. Prepare yourself for when this starts. When someone is in active use, it’s often the case that neither of you can hear the other’s point. Do not expect logic to rule. Don’t take the hooks. It’s not personal. Protect yourself, stay in peace, don’t get lured into discussions or debates.

Grandiose conversations may occur. They will tell you their big plans. They will tell you someone is coming to hurt the whole family. Things tend to develop at a rapid pace and explode into high drama in a matter of moments. Maintain calm, walk away, end the conversation, stay safe.

Chasing away friends and relationships – does not work. Trying to drive a wedge between your loved one and their closest friend or a romantic partner only causes you to actually become like glue: they will bond over it. I thought if I scared or hurt the people involved with my son, they would go away. People don’t go away just because you are drama!

Chasing them, being a detective, threatening, arguing, shaming and force – do not work!

Again – shaming does not work. Take out the shame, and instead try accountability and consequences with consistency.

It’s okay to drop the weapons. We tend to believe if we show loving kindness and compassion, it means rolling over or being taken advantage of. This is not so; there are better ways to handle conflict that don’t involve more conflict!



The CRAFT Method  (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) is a method of applying a softer, kinder approach, and it’s scientifically proven to be effective. CRAFT is what Allies in Recovery has been teaching to thousands of families for almost 20 years. Check out some of Allies’ other blog posts to see what CRAFT is all about.

It helps to take things a day at a time. Uncertainty is sickening, sometimes you will have to take things a breath at a time. Cope with things as they occur.

Everyone else seems to speak a foreign language. When you are going through the nightmare of a close family member or loved one acting out of SUD, no one will understand unless they are going through it, have been through it or are professionally trained to understand the dynamics. The nicest, most well-meaning people, just can’t grasp what it’s like. It’s not personal.

Maybe distance yourself from the folks who can’t understand or be there for you, for a time, and surround yourself with those who can.

I made my world small. I had to remain vigilant and safe on my own behalf. Look out for yourself, protect your heart, guard your personal information, tighten your circle.

At the same time, you DO need support…

Don’t try to go it alone – Get support, and Get Informed.

You will sometimes feel crazy. Stay strong. Take breaks. Seek support.

You will need support, don’t go through it alone. There are online groups, face-to-face meetings in every city (such as Nar-Anon, Smart Recovery, etc.) and professionals trained to help relieve the burden.

Allies in Recovery has these groups and support options:

  • Weekly CRAFT-informed online support groups run by an experienced LICSW
  • Weekly Online CRAFT Skill and Educational Groups facilitated by our virtual program trainer
  • Weekly Online “Office Hours” with our family advocate
  • A “Pose a Question” Blog where you can ask a question about your situation, and have it answered thoughtfully by Allies staff – and you can search an archive of answered questions on the site asked by other members just like you

These options are available if you sign up for Allies in Recovery membership. We do have many public blogs you can read if you aren’t yet a member. I think you’ll find them helpful – most are answers by Allies staff to other families who, like you, are facing the SUD of a loved one.

Get informed – learn as much as you can about SUD and about treatment options in your area. You might start here:

With a membership to Allies in Recovery, you’ll also have access to Treatment & Resource Support facilitated by Allies founder, Dominique Simon-Levine, and Internationally Certified Peer Recovery Specialist and Community Health Worker, Leah Germinara. We work with members to review the needs of their Loved One (LO) and explore the levels of treatment and various types of recovery-oriented supports. We’ll help you get started on your search for the most appropriate providers, help you build a list of beneficial resources specifically for your Loved One, and empower you and your family every step of the way.

Try a “Planned Conversation” – part of the Allies CRAFT-informed approach

Allies in Recovery sometimes can help our members assemble an appropriate list of treatment options to offer your loved one at an appropriate moment. Allies teaches you how to do a “planned conversation” and to have options – not ultimatums – at the ready.

When our loved one is in treatment:

They will call with complaints. There may be urgent calls about a bed not being comfortable, the treatment center is a rip-off. Their roommate is confrontational. The counselors can’t be trusted. And so on. This is common and is most likely the disease inciting them to leave and go use, more than anything else.

Do your best to end the call and trust the process, notify those in authority at the treatment center if necessary. If you feel that there is validity to their claims, look further into it. The point is, these claims more often than not are an attempt to run back to their comfort zones and unhealthy patterns. They are stressed out and turning to old coping skills. Time and trained professionals are able to calm this.

They will call for “creature comforts,” such as a favorite blanket, certain soda, or sometimes tobacco products. Your response may in fact be your part of the disease (the ways you have supported use, consciously or not), tempting you to drop everything in order to fix, help and comfort. Think it through — you don’t have to rush to save the day!

One dad described for me how he drove over an hour with a carton of cigarettes for his 19-year-old son, when in most cases he would never allow him to smoke, let alone contribute to it. But the relief of his son being in treatment and the dad’s remaining urge to fix and comfort caused him to jump into action, which he eventually regretted.

This time is yours. When a loved one has entered treatment, take time to calm down and care for yourself. This is your time to take a break, take a breath and assess what needs to become well in your own life.



“Relapse” – what we now call “recurrence” — is part of recovery

Even if it is a shock, it’s (still) not personal. When our loved one has a recurrence (of use), it hits us in the hope! But it can lead to new growth and better preparation for not going down the same roads next time.

We can’t stop a recurrence. When your loved one is out of treatment, walking on eggshells to prevent recurrence won’t prevent recurrence. Safeguard yourself to remember that relapse – recurrence — could and probably will happen in the process of figuring recovery out.

(The language used around recovery is changing with the times; “relapse” is considered a stigmatizing term, as are many others in the SUD world – see our blog post about stigmatizing language.”)



It’s a process

It takes time. These issues didn’t develop overnight, they won’t be resolved overnight, no one gets well overnight!

Life can become better than before. “Post-Traumatic Growth” happens more often than Post-Traumatic Stress. We can rise high after the terrible times of life, if we choose not to become stuck in them.

Recovery is not one size fits all. What works for someone else might not work for you. What went wrong in someone else’s life, might actually work out well for you. What it took for someone’s son/daughter, husband/wife, brother/sister etc., to find recovery could be the exact opposite of what yours will need. Professionals and programs help us decipher what best fits the family needs and personalities.

“We all walk the same road differently” ~Bill Valentine



Join award-winning Allies in Recovery today to access CRAFT-informed blog posts and podcasts – all searchable by topic – AND our eLearning CRAFT Modules (available in video or PDF) that teach you the strategies and skills needed to engage your loved one onto the path to recovery.

Membership at Allies includes direct contact with CRAFT experts via our ZOOM support groups, CRAFT skills and educational groups, treatment and resource support, and virtual office hours. CRAFT is the proven, most successful method for getting your loved one into recovery.

By using CRAFT, you’ll learn information critical to understanding your loved one’s addiction and how to play an important role in their recovery journey. Whether with our self-guided eLearning or live ZOOM groups, you can tailor your participation to what’s best for you.

Additionally, you’ll have guidance on how to identify and manage your own emotions – when you’re faring better, you can better help your loved one.

Read our reviews to see how other families have come to call us a “lifesaver.”

If you’re an Allies member, check out the member site for our “10-day Challenge” to claim your reward of a complimentary One-Day CRAFT Workshopjust for finishing half of the eLearning CRAFT Modules!

Join us TODAY to get trained on reducing the chaos of addiction in your family and your life.

You’re not alone – you have Allies.


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