My Son is 1500 Miles Away and Binge Drinking. Can CRAFT Still Help?

An Alliesinrecovery.net member worries about her son who is 1,500 miles away, since his binge drinking continues to be a regular reality. She asks if working on her own patience the only thing she can do now. We have a lot of suggestions for her. She can absolutely still use the CRAFT approach, and there is also the whole world of online recovery options to reference.

This question originally appeared on our member site “Pose a Question” blog:

“I have been wondering how to help my son who is struggling with severe binge drinking when we are living 1500 miles apart.

God bless all of the families who are dealing with substance use disorders inside of their own homes. I can only imagine how traumatic and exhausting that is. I don’t wish that kind of stress on anyone.

It is also stressful when the loved one is so far away that there are few opportunities to be present for any “wish” or “dip” that may take place. I guess in this situation, I need to work on my own patience. It is so difficult for me to see him risk his health, safety, and possibly his future while he (hopefully eventually) comes to realize his need for change. I wish there was something I could do to be more proactive.”

You’ve brought up a great point, and we agree with your observation: both situations are full of tension — living under the same roof as an actively using loved one, or living out of reach of your actively using loved one. No one actually chooses either situation, of course.

What we choose to do with the situation is another story. And figuring out what is possible to help a loved one who is far away is yet another step, which we’ll attempt to help you look at now.

The CRAFT travel bag: What you can do when your loved one is far away

Here are some options you can consider. What seems feasible will depend on the particulars of your situation, your loved one, and the connection and communications you already have.

Make your phone call with CRAFT intention. Considerations include:

  • Know what the drinking/using pattern is, and call during times where he’s less likely to be drinking or hung over (For members, our “Key Observations” Exercises in Module 3 really help you lay this out. You chart out signs of use, external and internal triggers for use, the positive and negative consequences of use, and noticing your own reactions around their use or non-use. It really helps you get a handle on your situation and when and how to apply CRAFT concepts!)
  • Script out a sentence or two that gently but swiftly get you off the call if you sense he’s been drinking or is hung over;
  • Stay off all hard topics; stick to pleasurable and neutral ones; (for members, our eLearning Module 4 helps you learn how to do this really well!)
  • Listen attentively;
  • Practice reflective listening whenever you have the chance (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. We go into depth on how to do this in our eLearning Module 4, part 4)

Aside from phone calls, what other means of communicating are available to you?

Some families talk on the phone with their far-away loved ones, others text or email, and yet others have very limited contact.

Just because you’re currently in one of the lesser-contact categories doesn’t mean a change is out of the question! Gradually getting back in touch, for those of you who have been out of touch with your loved one, might be a matter of a text message here and there, very light, no strings attached, no heavy emotions/baggage.

Are your texts CRAFT-y?

“CRAFT-y texting” is a theme that has been coming up more and more among our members. It’s a gray area in many ways because you can’t see your loved one, there are no social cues, no facial expressions or tones of voice to guide you (nor can you smell their breath or see the state of their eyes). Texts are also often misinterpreted, for these same reasons.

So, to make your texts CRAFT-y,

  • keep them short;
  • keep them light;
  • try to send them at times of the day/week when your loved one is least likely to be using/withdrawing;
  • do not send them if you know your loved one is using;
  • keep the frequency light as well — make it more of a nice surprise than a routine that they can get bored with or numbed to;
  • use the text to reinforce the facts that you’re there for them, you’re ready to help when they’re ready, you’re not in a rush or pressuring them, they can count on you and you know they’re on their own time-line.

Examples:

“Just thinking about you. Love, mom.” (good)

Have you called the detox?” (bad)

“Don’t forget, I’m here and ready to help when you’re ready.” (good)

Have you changed your mind about treatment?(bad)

Be ready with treatment, always! Is your List up to date?

This is absolutely one way that family members who are far away can really be proactive and prepared for the next “wish” or “dip.”  (We explain this important concept “wish” or “dip” – moments when your loved one expresses a hopeful statement about the future, or, expresses frustration with where they are at; these are potential openings for you to offer concrete treatment options).

With internet and telephone, you have all the tools you need to do good, thorough research on treatment options in your loved one’s geographical area.

Keep that treatment list up-to-date, make changes and additions, update the waitlist info, etc.

A silver lining to the COVID crisis: Online meetings are proliferating, and thus very accessible!

Online meetings of every flavor are available in this day and (COVID) age.

Clearly, having to move from in-person and in-the-flesh, to online behind a screen, has been detrimental to many who were just getting a foothold in early recovery.

However, there is no denying that attending an online support group (SMART Recovery or 12-step or other…is better than attending nothing at all. (For Alliesinrecovery.net members, we have an in-depth list of online recovery meeting options on our Resource Supplement page; members can meet with us via ZOOM for virtual Office Hours and/or a Treatment & Resource Support Call if they need help with their specific situation).

Of course he will have to take that first step, really admit to himself that he could use some help with his drinking, and log on to a meeting…but he can do it.

Countless others who were in his shoes, clinging to their denial of having a problem, explaining patiently (or not) to their family that drinking is a lifestyle choice, etc. have made that LEAP and sought out help. Countless people have been helped, or even “saved” by the simple but precious energy of a support group. So there IS reason to be hopeful.

A final note on your specific situation: there are many positives!

After reading through the description you wrote up on your public profile page, I am seeing many positives:

  • Your relationship is mutually respectful and you are close;

His substance use has not been a huge point of conflict in your communications thus far­—you’ve spoken about it and each listens to what the other has to say. This is HUGE! So many families on this site, who are working to repair their relationship with a loved one, can tell you that you’ve got a great head-start here!

  • You lived together “on his turf” for several months this summer;

This allowed you to observe what the current scene really is. You had the opportunity to update your knowledge of his using habits, which will make you more effective at applying CRAFT;

If you haven’t done so yet, go back through the Key Observations exercises on our member site (21 in all, they are sprinkled throughout the eLearning Modules). Write down everything that you observed, and perhaps make note (in your private journal on our site, for example) of any missing links you’d still like more information on; keep your detective hat on each and every time you speak!

  • He has started to experience some natural consequences to his drinking;

You report that he has several times lost a bartending job when he didn’t wake up because of a hangover.

Despite the angle he’s taking when he talks to you about his drinking (painting it as a choice, helps him connect with others…) there is a very good chance that he has experienced shame or disappointment in himself at losing a job (several times) because of the drinking.

We understand that you are concerned about his (and others’) safety, as he has stopped taking Ubers when inebriated because of the pandemic. This is hard information to have, especially when you’re at such distance from your son.

I am going to suggest something you may not be willing to do. It would be understandable if you can’t. This will depend on how you perceive the police in your son’s area. Are you in any way worried that your son would be treated more poorly than others, perhaps because of his skin color or his trigger temper when drinking?

If there’s no particular concern to that effect, could you see yourself calling the police and asking them to pull over your son as he leaves the saloon, which could well lead to a driving-under-the-influence charge. This takes your son off the road for a while until the case is settled and provides a significant consequence to his actions. It also stops him from hurting anyone or himself with his vehicle. It’s hard to write this, and probably even harder to think about actually doing it.

You could try talking to him first…

Look son, it makes me so frightened to think of you driving after your shift at the saloon. You will have been drinking. I am going to send you a really protective mask and I want you to promise me you will uber home after drinking in the saloon. No exceptions.

This could come as the last part of a planned conversation.

  • Several times over the last few years, you have witnessed your loved one expressing a desire for change (for members, see our segment on Change Talk in eLearning Module 8) (and specifically a desire to try cutting back on the alcohol;

You had the right impulse when he did so, you offered your support, bravo!

In all likelihood, he will come back to this place of expressing a desire to change. You may need to step up your response this time. You’ve been respectful and gentle, the bridge between you is intact, and your relationship can certainly withstand your adding a bit more emphasis and specificity to your suggestions.

Watch Module 8 and work the exercises, prepare your list and draft out what you’ll say next time he expresses a desire for things to be different! Be ready with the list that you can share with him when this happens (could be tomorrow!) NB: As best you can, have that list ready to send in electronic form, with clickable links – we want this to be low-hanging fruit for a loved one who seems to be only somewhat motivated!

  • Several of your son’s closest friends have expressed concern (which I take to mean they aren’t big drinkers, another plus!);

These friends could become your allies in helping your son, whether or not they live near him. If you think they might be concerned/motivated enough, you could share the Allies in Recovery site with them and ask them to watch some modules then you could set up a pow-wow (via videoconference, for example) to plan out a strategy. Imagine if you had a few more foot soldiers in your army!

I often say “Addiction is not a fair fight.” No guilt here. It’s not sneaky, this is about your son’s wellbeing and recovery.

Thanks so much for writing in. You mentioned cultivating your patience — this is certainly something to keep doing, it can only bring more peace to you. But we want you to see that despite the distance, there are actions you can take, almost daily, to keep moving your battle forward. Keep us posted and know that we’re in this together!

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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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