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He’s Relapsing – Are We Enabling Him? CRAFT and Encouraging Non-Use

A member of wrote in to our “Pose a Question” blog with concerns about her son being stuck at home and struggling without his Suboxone program. Relapses continue to occur. His brother has thrown illicit drugs in the trash and insists that the family be stricter. The parents are feeling torn about whether they are enabling. Can the family be of any help? Read this blog for our insights on how applying CRAFT strategies and “encouraging non-use” through your actions in the face of your loved one’s substance use disorder can be helpful.

[Original question sent in to our “Pose a Question” blog on our member site]

“Our son has relapsed again and again. Blames everyone for his use. His 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 I don’t know what to believe anymore. He 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 I 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…he says he needs to “wean off” so he wants to use again today. And so it goes. I am addressing counseling for the whole family at this point as his brother feels we need to be stricter. I am at a loss. Thanks for letting me vent.”

First, 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, and to make use of our community in these strange, isolating times. Brava!!

When you are feeling frustrated and at a loss, remember your bigger goals: to reduce your loved one’s use, to get him into treatment, and to take care of yourself.

There are so many things to address in your statements. Let’s look at a couple of 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”

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.

Using CRAFT to Shift the Focus Toward Recovery

So here are a few suggestions in this vein:

: 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.

Two: 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” (we go over this approach in detail in 2 of our eLearning Modules), 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 tendency to get lost in worry…” or “Sorry, I didn’t mean to heat things up.” )

Three: 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 of our CRAFT eLearning modules. This could be monumental. Here are some posts we’ve written on the topic of harmonizing the family’s approach: CRAFT/detox; Family/anxiety; CRAFT/intervention? . 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 and watching at their leisure? Maybe even writing in to the Discussion Blog for guidance?
  • Would they prefer to read the eBooks – Can you print one out for them?
  • Try our Communications module, or our module on when your loved one is using – see this blog post for a snippet of that)
  • 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?

Four: Whether or not the rest of your family does or doesn’t embrace CRAFT, you can still be dropping little nuggets of wisdom/CRAFT-dom 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” – we go into detail about one of the most important skills in CRAFT in our eLearning Module 4.

Briefly, with “reflective listening” you simply summarize what you hear your loved one saying, with no additions, no analysis, no judgment, no attitude. They feel heard this way.

Allow him to feel heard. Perhaps draw a line between what he’s suggesting and the more CRAFT-y way of seeing it. “Being strict” is about Do’s and Don’ts; Rules; Enforcing those rules; Punishments. That’s not how doing CRAFT would approach things; 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 that son is 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 with SUD, 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 sowing 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?

Our eLearning modules 5 and 6 are your best friends while you try to make heads or tails of all of this. We’ll take you through a few steps you might come up with after watching them:

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).

Instead of saying “Aren’t you sick of this…?” Try this:

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 Allies 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” – as we explain in our modules – like when your son mentions a positive thing he hopes for in the future, or when he mentions feeling bad) and not when he’s using or withdrawing.

Start the “planned conversation” (we go into this in detail in our modules; for a snippet of how to do it, see our recent blog post) by gently passing him your list of treatment options. Remember that the more options you provide, the more he feels he has some choice in the matter, some power over the outcome.

We are confident that as 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.

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.

*          *          *

With a membership to Allies in Recovery, you will have access to this article – and thousands of others – in full. Allies in Recovery members have unlimited access to a complete archive of our blog posts and the ability to search by topics of interest such as those mentioned above.

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 Workshop– just for finishing half the eLearning CRAFT Modules!

If you’re not yet a member of Allies in Recovery but want to join us TODAY to get trained on how to reduce the chaos of addiction in your family and in your lifeclick here.

A membership at brings you into contact with experts in CRAFT – the proven, most successful method for getting your loved one into recovery. Our unique, award-winning learning platform teaches you CRAFT, so you can play an important role your loved one’s recovery journey.

With Allies, you’ll get information critical to understanding your loved one’s alcohol/drug addiction; you’ll learn the strategies and skills you need to engage your loved one onto the path to recovery; and you’ll also get guidance on how to identify and cope with the flood of emotions you are feeling – because when you are coping better, you can better help your loved one.


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