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I Want to Talk to Him, But I Don’t Know How

woman doesn't understand

Allies member Strawberry poses a number of great questions about talking to her son. She’s found a lot of benefit already from the training and support offered by Allies In Recovery, but is still looking for guidance about when, and especially how, to raise the subject of his substance use. Allies CEO Dominique Simon-Levine reviews the key question to ask first—Is my Loved One using now?—and how CRAFT can help you answer it and take the next steps. 

©Karolina Grabowska/

Thank you for all you do. I have been using your site for some time and have appreciated the guidance, the REST groups, and the blog postings. I have been through the modules, and I love listening to the Coming Up For Air podcasts. Everything is so helpful. When listening to the podcasts, I have picked up so much information that goes along with the modules.  

In one of those podcasts, there are good discussions about disengaging with your loved one when they’re using and engaging when they’re not using. From the podcast, it is obvious that, like me, many people have a hard time knowing when their Loved One is definitely using, although sometimes it’s very clear cut. What I am experiencing with my loved one is that he may be using early in the evening, but by the time he gets home later at night, it really is difficult to tell.  

I have been assessing his level of engagement with me and am still finding it difficult. I am trying not to get too caught up in it, but it can be tough to know when exactly I can reward and when to pull away. He has done nice things when I think he might be high, and he does nice things when he isn’t. But I’ve also seen the side of him that no mother wants to see—he has been belligerent, money-seeking, and likely withdrawing. I also see that his mood elevates before be goes out some days, so that may be a precedent, but his mood seems pretty stable as of late. I recall what Dominique said in one of the podcasts about the maintenance level, so I suppose that could be happening.  

I have been using CRAFT tools for months and they have helped me in the way I see this situation. It is challenging at times because I am the only one in our home that practices this method. My son knows that I am aware of his use, yet he still avoids the subject with me. He does not want to talk about it, but I am feeling a vibe that his avoidance may be a way to protect me as he doesn’t want to hurt me. My relationship with him has always been good, and I am his target when things go wrong…not uncommon I think!  

I would like to know if anyone has any tips on when to engage the Loved One about drug use. It seems when my Loved One is not using and in a great space, the focus is on positive reinforcement and good conversation. It is very hard to bring up substance use when things are going well. Are there any suggestions you could give on how to broach those more difficult conversations? Examples of when to do so? I have heard in several podcasts that being positive and easy on yourself is a great thing, and that that doesn’t mean there won’t by any hard conversations. But when is the best time for them? I would love to hear some stories or examples of how other people approach talking about use, and what worked best. I appreciate that everything is individual and one size does not fit all. 

 Finally, I know that Laurie’s REST group meets three times a week  I try to attend when I can, but the times cut into my work hours. We are in different time zones! I am also interested in Kayla’s group but have not had a chance to connect yet. Is there any opportunity to record any of these sessions for those who can’t attend? I am also interested to know if there is any possibility of Allies in Recovery setting up a Canadian site with similar resources for folks in terms of the counseling re: CRAFT. If so, I would definitely be interested in becoming officially trained so that I could help others. I find that there are not many counselors trained in CRAFT in Canada. I believe that the SMART recovery program is similar but my understanding is that SMART is more for the person who has the substance use disorder rather than family members.  

Thank you again for all you do.

Welcome to the site. It sounds like you are finding the information on our site helpful with your son, and it’s good news that his mood is more stable. Still, you’ve identified two places that are difficult for you with CRAFT. Thanks for sending in your questions; you’ve hit on two of the biggies.

Are they using? It’s not always easy to tell 

You are not the only one to have trouble telling where the line is between use and non-use. It would be nice if it were black and white, but that is almost never the case. Being falling-down drunk is clear,  but “just maintaining” vs. “being high” on heroin can be hard to distinguish. For instance, your Loved One maintains by taking a Suboxone strip bought on the street when he goes to work to avoid getting high, craving, or withdrawal. You have decided to consider that maintaining with a Suboxone strip as non-use.  You will want to behave and communicate differently when you assess your Loved One is not using in the moment. Let me explain. 

The exercises in Module 3 are there to help you build a practiced eye. I would go through them again, and then review what you wrote. How has it changed?. You’ve been watching him through the CRAFT lens for a while now. You recognize the mood shift up before he goes out: is that enough to say that those are the occasions when he uses early and comes home late? You say it is hard to tell when he comes home late. Without asking your son if he has been using, answer this question: 

Has your son been using on the nights when you see his mood go up before going out, and he stays out late? Add in your instinct, your experience, and your answers from Module 3. 

Instinct, experience, and CRAFT guidance can get you there 

While it is almost never black or white, perhaps you answer YES with 60% confidence that your son is using. You are only 60% sure, but you need to behave and communicate like you are 100% confident he is using (Module 6). This means:  

If Yes: remove rewards, allow natural consequences, and remove yourself (Module 6). 

If No: reward (Module 5

Going back to Module 3 and working through the exercising after a couple months have passed is always a good idea. You will see how much you’ve learned just by building that practiced eye.  

When to talk, and what to talk about 

The other question has to do with when to talk to your Loved One about the drugs. Ideally, the only time you should need to talk about drugs is when you are requesting something from him, like staying away from the house when high or suggesting treatment. Talk of treatment or drugs is done carefully, semi formally, rarely. It’s a serious request to your Loved One (exercise 21 in Module 8 ).  

See Module 8 for how to talk about drugs and treatment. Module 8 comes at the end of the eLearning Modules but is worth listening to at any point. By watching the videos in the module, you’ll get a concrete idea of how to engage your Loved One into treatment and recovery work.  

The only other time you might mention drugs is when you see your Loved One high. If you can talk about drugs without setting off your Loved One, you might say: 

“I see that you are high, so I am going back to my room to read. Good night. Let’s talk tomorrow.” 

Many people find that talking about the drug does set off a fight, or a defense or denial, or all three. If you think it might in your son’s case, you might say instead: 

“Glad you’re home safe. You don’t look well. Talk tomorrow. I am going back to my room to read. Good night.” 

In both your questions, I sense a need to tell him things about the drugs. With CRAFT, you are going to communicate and behave in ways that discourage use, keeps you safe and calm, and sheds a strong light on treatment and recovery. You are not going to tell him things about his drug use.  

I hope this makes sense. 

One other aspect of CRAFT is how we use the term “engagement,” which I think is slightly different from how you’re using it.  

Treatment/Recovery is the prize to keep your eye on 

Your Loved One can indeed be nice and engaging with you whether he’s using or not. But rather than monitoring his engagement with you, CRAFT is looking for you to guide and monitor his engagement with the journey to treatment and recovery. When we use the word “engagement,” we are looking strictly at engaging your son into recovery services (again, see Module 8).  

You absolutely want to reciprocate and engage with your Loved One when you decide he is not high in the moment. But if he tries to engage with you when he is high, you quietly and neutrally disengage yourself, remove rewards, and allow any consequences that are safe and tolerable for you. 

This is hard for many families to do. When your Loved One is chatty and engaging AND high, you have to forgo this moment of connection, and step away, allow natural consequences and remove rewards. 

Does that help? Thank you for raising your challenges with several of these central CRAFT concepts. We wish you every success in supporting your Loved One and caring for yourself. 


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After So Much Hard Work, He’s Slipping. How Can I Help?

Your Loved One’s journey is in their hands. But CRAFT skills can make your vital support most effective. Renee’s son has been struggling with substance use for 15 years. He’s fighting hard for his own recovery, and that includes rebuilding his career. But lately, he appears to be slipping. For his parents, and for Allies writer Laurie MacDougall, this is something of an alarm bell. The good news is that Renee’s there to support him—and reaching out to Allies for the skills and support to do so.

“We Are Absolutely the Worst People” in Her Life: When Mental Illness, SUD, and Blame Collide 

Your CRAFT skills may be put to the test, but they’re still indispensable. Perhaps more than ever. At Allies in Recovery, we’re always impressed by the mutual support our members give each other—and wherever possible, we try to build on it. At the heart of this post is a conversation about how to take care of your emotions while staying connected with your Loved One (LO). It leads to a stark question many of us coping with SUD grapple with: how do you support a Loved One who blames, rages, and is verbally out of control? Laurie MacDougall tackles this vital, thorny issue. 

Does This Level of Violence Rule Out CRAFT?

Nohp’s husband of 48 years is struggling with heavy alcohol use. Recently his behavior has become more alarming, and even violent. Now she’s staying outside their home, and wondering if that violence means the CRAFT approach isn’t right for their circumstances. Allies CEO Dominique Simon-Levine thinks it probably is. While underscoring that no one can decide for her, she advises Nohp to explore the skills training and support resources offered through Allies in Recovery. Quite simply, they work, and have a track record to prove it.

Please Help Me Improve What I Say to Her

Words matter so much — both the ones we speak or write, and the one we choose not to. Fletcher921’s daughter uses meth and opioids, and was recently suspended from her job. She showed her mother the suspension letter from her employer — an act of real trust. Her mother put effort and heart into her reply, but wants to do even better next time. Allies’ Laurie MacDougall reflects on how CRAFT could help in this effort, and the possible benefits for daughter and mother alike.

Don’t Give Up Too Soon On Medication-Assisted Treatment

Elaine’s son is struggling to quit opioids, but the path is hard. He’s had many rounds of detox, and is now trying to self-medicate. An initial attempt at Suboxone treatment made him feel emotionless and flat. But did it have to be that way? Allies’ CEO Dominique Simon-Levine reviews the challenges and great promise of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). MAT therapies often come with a period of adjustment for our Loved One’s.

It Feels Like Nothing Works With Him

If we focus on what’s ours to control, change is possible all the same. CRAFT skills can help you get there. Elaine’s son is back in the hospital, in a routine that’s become all too familiar to his parents. They’ve tried to help in many ways, but the health crises and the drug use that leads to them don’t seem to be changing, and Elaine’s begun to doubt they ever will. Laurie MacDougall gently challenges this idea. While a Loved One’s life isn’t ours to change, our own words, feelings, and behavior are. Allies in Recovery is committed to helping us learn to take control of these, and thereby give our Loved Ones the most effective support we can.

Do I Want to Have Children With Him?

There’s nothing simple about such a question. But here are some pointers in the search for answers. Whits wants children and loves her partner. But is she prepared to raise children with someone who’s progress with his SUD is uncertain? No one, of course, can answer that for her. But if there is a way forward together, it will require compassionate communication, as well as boundaries and self-care. That’s where the CRAFT approach can be so powerfully helpful.

The Discussion Blog on the Allies Website: Excerpts From One Member’s Journey

An important component of any member’s successful journey on the Allies website is participation in the expertly-moderated Discussion Blog. There, CRAFT/AIR trained staff interact with members by answering questions in both regular replies and in full, expert blog response posts offering guidance that any member can access. Members see other members sharing questions, frustrations, and successes similar to theirs, and also they often see how the Learning Modules are effectively used as referenced by our team experts and by members. We also offer dozens of supplementary podcasts by members of our Allied Team, discussing real situations with Loved Ones and using the CRAFT approach.

A Message from Founder, Dominique Simon-Levine

Founder & CEO, Dominique Simon-Levine, offers an update about the Allies in Recovery program, including new offerings and activities. Thank you all for being so patient as we navigated through the many hassles and challenges associated with developing and building our new website. We are so very grateful for YOU! (Pictured Left to Right: Nicole Castillo, Andrew Maxwell, Deborah Rodriguez, Sandra Munier)

You Don’t Have to Live in Manhattan to Access Recovery Services

And if AA isn’t what your Loved One’s after, there are usually alternatives
Kspring has been supporting her son on his recovery journey for years.
He’s come a long way, but the challenges still feel immense, and Kspring
is actively seeking new recovery resources that could offer a hand. Allies’
Laurie MacDougall did some digging. What she found underscores just
how much is out there—much of it independent of Zip code.

Learning Our Way Out of the Cycle of Recurrence

Even when a lot’s going right in our lives, the recovery process can be tough and painful. Outwardly, Bimba’s son’s life seems wonderful: good job, good relationship, education, financial security. Still, he only manages to remain abstinent for about 90 days at a time. While this stage of the recovery process is often brutal, there are resources and people ready to help. Sustained reinforcement —“getting the message about recovery”— is a vital piece of the puzzle.

She Really Is Making Progress. But There Are Days I Can’t Feel It.

We can’t resolve everything for our Loved Ones. That’s where reflective listening comes in.
Mgmcrosby’s daughter has multiple challenges, from substance use and problematic
relationships to depression and possible bipolar disorder. It’s no wonder that standing
beside her can sometimes be an overwhelming challenge. Reflective listening, one of
many CRAFT skills taught by Allies, can ease the burden.


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"...)