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I Want To Support Him. Am I Doing It Right?

Allies member BlueJean is working on CRAFT, and that work has generated questions. How does she show her boyfriend that she cares and is committed, while at the same time influencing him in the direction of recovery? Laurie MacDougall responds that the answer depends on another question: is he using right now? Whether the answer is yes or no, CRAFT offers guidelines for the most helpful response.

Hello, I’ve been going through the modules and trying to apply the CRAFT method with my boyfriend who is an alcoholic. I do not live with him, so this makes things a bit more difficult.

He works from home and tends to drink lightly through the day and continues on through the evening. With the CRAFT method, I don’t know if I’m supposed to visit him if he’s drinking or not. I also don’t always know if he’s been drinking, but most likely he has had something in his system. His sleeping patterns have been completely disturbed from his drinking.

I want to be there for him and I know that if he is alone he is more likely to drink more. What am I supposed to do? I have told him that I want to support him in recovery, but I can’t encourage his habit that is harmful to him. Was that wrong?

Please give me some advice on some good approaches and options for how to handle this situation. When he gets drunk he says things that he doesn’t mean and can be irritable and angry. He forgets that he said those things during his drunkenness or says he doesn’t know why he said them. Any advice would be welcome and very helpful. Thank you so much for this wonderful site and all you do.

Hi BlueJean,

You are not alone in this: lots of people do not live with their Loved Ones (LOs) with substance use disorder. There are both benefits and challenges to having your LO living with you (or not). When they don’t, you may not be able to implement CRAFT in every moment of every day, but you may have more space to really think through some strategies for dealing with your LO’s use.

I would suggest you start with Modules 5 (My Loved One is Not Using Right Now. Now What?) and Module 6 (My Loved One is Using Right Now. Now What?).

Module 5 is all about rewarding your LO when they are not using or (in some cases) when there is minimal use. You have indicated that your LO tends to drink lightly through the day. You have indicated that he drinks lightly through the day, I wonder if the morning or early afternoon (when he has not been drinking much), would be the best time to intervene? At some time when neither of you is working, could you go by and plan an activity for the both of you? Maybe a breakfast or early walk in a park?

A plan for every circumstance

When you arrive, if he appears to have been drinking a lot, you find a way to excuse yourself and promise to try again next week, or even the next day. This lets him know that when he is drinking too much, you’re not interested in spending time. But you are also leaving the door open for him to manage his drinking long enough to spend time with you. By giving him another opportunity to reduce his drinking, you are sending the message that you believe he is capable.

In the beginning, this type of strategy might be a little frustrating for you: what do you do when you show up and the plans fall through? Have alternative (backup) plans. Maybe call a friend and have a cup of coffee together, or have some errands to run in mind.

If you show up and he has only been drinking a bit or not at all, spend time together. Maybe go to breakfast or lunch together. Or do an activity that both of you enjoy. Start out with short ventures together and gradually build on the amount of time you spend out and away. This type of strategy does not mean that he won’t drink during the day. He probably will. What it does do is break up and delay his drinking for a while. It also gets him out of the house and reminds him of how enjoyable it is when he is spending time with someone who cares about him.

You can also use this approach with phone calls. If you are able to identify times when he is drinking, find a way to end those calls. This alone should reduce the irritable and angry words he forgets because he has been drinking. This is also an emotional boundary for you: it is inappropriate under any circumstances for him to treat you (or others) that way, and it is your responsibility to send a calm but firm message to him that you are not going to let it happen. Really, it’s futile to engage in conversation with someone when they’ve been drinking to the point that they’ll forget it anyway. So just make sure everyone is safe, and then end the conversation. If he is not drinking, or moderating his drinking, stay on the phone and engage with him.

Safety comes first with CRAFT

One thing to bear in mind with CRAFT is that safety is of the utmost importance. If you think that he or you are in danger in any way, getting to safety takes precedence. Call for a wellness check or go by and make sure he is okay, but then disengage as soon as you know.

It’s important to give him space and let him deal with the natural consequences of a hangover and his own thoughts of guilt and shame. Check in again later.

It is wonderful to hear that you’ve been working on the CRAFT modules, BlueJean. Stay with it. Practice, practice, practice with patience, patience, patience: it will pay off. Keep us updated on your progress. Wishing you and your boyfriend all the best.

Laurie MacDougall


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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"...)