His Need for Friends is Outweighing His Desire to Get Sober

It is difficult for our Allies member to see her son struggling to make friends while at the same time using alcohol to overcome his social anxiety. By following the CRAFT principles of effective communication, she is able to step back and allow him to experience the negative consequences of his drinking, and to focus on rewarding his positive choices. This is easier said than done, but her loving support and commitment to CRAFT is guiding him in the right direction.  

Originally published in our “Pose a Question” member blog:

“My son is now actively drinking. He was craving social interaction with friends and recently joined a kickball league. On the one hand it was good because it got him out of his house and interacting again. But they drink after their games. He told me he wanted to try moderation, but his attempts have failed every time. I followed the CRAFT modules on Alliesinrecovery.net and withheld positive reinforcement when he was using. Meanwhile I was able to find a place nearby that has recovery coaches. I waited for the right moment and was able to talk to my son about it. He admits that his attempts at moderation are failing miserably. He called and was able to set up an appointment to meet with a recovery coach. He planned to go to work early so that he could leave early and meet his coach, but he drank with his friends the night before. He didn’t go into work early and had to cancel the appointment.

His anxiety is at an all-time high. The desire to socialize with friends is the most important thing to him right now. He’s struggled with social anxiety all his life. I think his attempt to form social relationships was initially a good intention, but because this circle of friends involves drinking, it’s pulling him in the wrong direction. I don’t think he can imagine a circle of friends that doesn’t include drinking. 

I worry that the need for social interaction is outweighing the desire to get well. He knows that drinking is negatively impacting any positive effects from his ECT treatments and his medication for depression and anxiety. He hasn’t entertained the idea of total abstinence at this point. I’ve been pulling back right now and letting him feel the weight of his choice to drink. I don’t think moderation is a reasonable possibility for him because he started drinking as a teenager and has a long history of it. I’m waiting for a moment when he reaches out for support. I’m not sure what else to do.

I’m hoping he is still going to follow through with his recovery coach. He usually gets a big bout of anxiety when he’s drinking. I assume part of the anxiety is caused by drinking.”

The quiet intervention you did with your son was quite good. A real CRAFT success!  

On the one hand, playing kickball is a positive outlet for your son. Physical activity helps to reduce stress and builds confidence. The fact that he found this team and joined on his own shows a real motivation for change. I can understand his feelings of anxiety when it comes to hanging out with his teammates after the game. Many people who experience anxiety use alcohol as a way to feel at ease in social situations. It is particularly difficult to abstain when everyone around you is drinking. Unfortunately, drinking after the game is common in our society.

You found a recovery coach, a very important first step!  

Recovery coaches and/or peer advocates are models of recovery. Often these individuals are in long-term recovery themselves or have a loved one with substance use disorder so they understand the challenges first-hand. Perhaps the recovery coach can provide your loved one with effective strategies to help him manage the situation. A recovery coach can gently introduce him to others who have embraced a sober lifestyle. Recovery coaches are familiar with the treatment services available and can help you navigate the system of care in your area. A recovery coach can also help your loved one access additional community supports and accompany him to mutual-aid meetings.

Listen for those moments of “Change Talk”

You demonstrated a great deal of patience and strength by waiting for the right opportunity to speak to him. You chose a time to talk when he was more receptive. We call it “Change Talk” when you catch your loved one showing signs of a “wish or a dip.” A wish is wanting something more for yourself, perhaps a college course, or a license, while a dip is feeling down, perhaps because of anxiety or the bad feelings that accompany a negative consequence from drinking. Our eLearning Module 8 “How Do I Get My Loved One Into Recovery?” goes into greater depth about Change Talk, including examples of what to have ready at hand – such as a list of recovery options – and when and how to suggest it.

Be ready for those windows of opportunity to open 

Your son took the initiative to call and make an appointment with the recovery coach. Despite the fact that he ended up drinking the night before and wasn’t able to follow through with the appointment, he did reach out for help and will likely do it again when he’s ready.

This happens. It may happen repeatedly, but you know your role. The script remains the same, you just have to repeat the performance at the next window of opportunity.

The next time you see a wish or a dip, you can suggest he call the recovery coach again. Leave the coach’s name and phone number someplace he can find it easily, such as the refrigerator door. If your son says no or misses the appointment, just let it be. Do the same as you did this time and back away. Thank him for listening to the suggestion and say “we’ll talk about this again some other time.” There are plenty of opportunities when you learn to look for them.

Pay Attention to His Patterns 

The more you become aware of your loved one’s patterns (answer the Key Observation questions in our eLearning Module 3, “What’s Going On When My Loved One Uses?” so you get really good at recognizing signs of use), the better you will see these opportunities to step in with the recovery coach idea. Opportunities do occur and you’ve learned to identify them. Nice job.

Check Out the Allies In Recovery Resources Tab for Additional Support 

Your Loved One may also be interested in attending a mutual-aid meeting. Click on the Resources tab at the top of the page (for members of AlliesinRecovery.net) and you’ll find information about various support groups for people in recovery. There is a new section on virtual self-help meetings like SMART Recovery and a global online recovery community called In the Rooms.

Each meeting has something unique to offer. I am certain that the recovery coach will be able to explain the differences and help your Loved One find a local or virtual meeting specific to his needs and/or age group. We are also here for you anytime you need additional support. Allies in Recovery offers Treatment and Resource Support Calls for our members where we discuss your situation and connect you with resources.

I believe you are right to step back, regardless of whether the drinking causes the anxiety or the other way around. My hunch is to let him feel the anxiety, as you’ve decided to do, and focus on those moments when he feels bad (a dip) to bring up the recovery coach. He called the coach once; he will very likely do so again. Your son wants friends, but he has also expressed the desire to moderate his drinking.

Rinse. Repeat. You are very close.  Keep up the good work, and keep using CRAFT.