When you are trying your best to work with a family member in recovery from Substance Use Disorder (SUD), it can be frightening and disappointing to discover they are using again. What to do? One of our AlliesinRecovery.net members wrote in about her son having a recurrence of use, and she wonders whether she should confront him or not. She feels she can’t bear the emotional rollercoaster of her son’s recovery journey. We weigh in with some reminders from the CRAFT approach about how to manage her own thoughts, feelings, and reactions. We suggest she stay the course and not confront him – at least not yet.
“My husband and I went to the family therapist without our son – he said he didn’t want to talk to anyone who was not an addict themselves. He was happier going to his CA meetings and getting support there. We had a couple of good weeks and then a friend from abroad came home to get married and my son drank at the wedding, not excessively, but he had a couple. Then last weekend he drank with them again. He slept at a friend’s house so we would not know he had been drinking. But by his voice message on the cell I could tell, and a friend of mine who was present confirmed it. He has also been smoking marijuana oil in his vape – again he thinks we don’t know, but his girlfriend and friend confirmed it. He is still living at home, looking, and ACTING like he’s in sobriety, but 2 nights ago he went out again with friends drinking and did not come home. Whether he used cocaine as well we are not sure. I do not want to accuse him of anything because the reality is we have not witnessed him under the influence. But we know he is quickly slipping back into his drug/alcohol use. He has now stopped all meetings. I felt so low yesterday and spent quite a long time away from home crying in my car, as I did not want to return home and see him. I am so sad and disappointed that he has chosen to go back to this destructive way of life. I am in mental torment – I even wished I didn’t have to live if I must live this way. Should I confront him and let him know how I am feeling? I know he will lie and get angry if I tell him what I know. Or should I just let him keep sliding down the slope until he reaches the bottom again? If and when that happens again, I don’t think I will be strong enough to handle it.”
[This question originally appeared on our member blog at AlliesinRecovery.net]
By practicing CRAFT strategies, you are doing what you can to address your son’s drug use. You are reasonably sure he is slipping with alcohol and pot, and he may have used cocaine again. It feels awful to you, and you can’t see how you can continue like this.
Agreed. Let’s address you first. Your hope, your expectation, was probably that your son would be on a straight line out of addiction. The CA meetings and the family therapist are signs, and his words and promises have been in support of this notion. But…
Straight lines directly into abstinence from substance use rarely happen
Think of recovery from SUD as a graph with wavy lines eventually leading to abstinence from substance use. It can help you take some of the ups and downs in stride a bit more. It doesn’t mean that his periodic recurrences of use won’t bring up some very difficult feelings for you. But they happen in context of a journey. You don’t have to think of these episodes as the final stopping point.
The Rollercoaster of Emotions – Let CRAFT help you manage yours
We like to say, when you are doing well, you are better able to help your loved one.
So, the first thing is to look at your thinking. Family members go through such a rollercoaster of emotions in the face of their loved one’s behaviors. We address some ways in which we can learn to slow down with our thoughts and feelings in our eLearning Module 7, “How Do I Care for Myself When Negative Feelings Get in the Way?”
In this Module, we go over several concepts, we give detailed examples, and we offer you “Key Observation” Exercises. Here are some of the basic concepts we review:
- Determine what you are feeling. Label the feeling.
- What caused that feeling? Look at the thought that led to the feeling.
- Are you adding unnecessary weight to that feeling? How might you be distorting the feeling? (Such as Tunnel vision, awfulizing, black and white thinking, generalizing, projecting, negative thinking, blame, unfairness, should’s, or “Heaven’s reward”
Sometimes we also get caught thinking that constant vigilance will prevent anything bad from happening. We ask you to remember that feelings are temporary, they will come, and they will go. We ask that you create a little space between the event and your reaction to the event. This gives you the opportunity to change your reaction, and to make your response more reasonable and thoughtful. We also offer a simple but effective breathing exercise in the Module.
This piece of work you can do with yourself really is a critical part of CRAFT. It shows us new directions to take with our thinking before the torrents of feeling take over. In looking at this piece of your own puzzle, it becomes worthwhile to ask:
What are you expecting?
If you equate any use by your son as a sign of COMPLETE failure, you will feel terrible and you will be “in mental torment.” All of us on this site can relate to being in that state. And yet, though it is familiar and understandable, it really doesn’t serve anyone in the situation. We all know how completely exhausting it is to be in this state. But we really can’t help anyone when we are in the throes of this pain. Use the lessons in our eLearning Module 7 to attend to yourself, your thoughts, and your feelings first. Give yourself permission to take the time you need to bring about some transformation here, no matter how small. Use the small steps to gain some momentum for yourself towards a new outlook.
Don’t lose sight of the endgame
I believe your son is on a trajectory, part of a longer process, in which he is testing what he can get away with. HANG ON! Don’t lose your grip on the boundaries you have set. Don’t lose sight of the longer end game….
Your son is on this trajectory. He has admitted the cocaine is a problem. He sought out and attends CA sporadically. He is testing the reach of his addiction by “chipping” with alcohol and pot, and this may well lead him back to a cocaine binge for which he will feel terrible.
So be it. You can’t control this, and it is likely important that he feel that darkness and shame you’ve described in earlier comments that the cocaine causes.
You are gathering information about his use. As you say, some of this information has not been directly observed in real time. Holding off on reacting in this case is sound. Overall, as you gather information, this helps inform how you assess your son when he walks through the door.
Remember: Step Away When You See Use
It is hard for the family to use CRAFT when a loved one uses several drugs. It is a lot to manage, and you need to feel as if your plan is manageable to be able to stick with it. Therefore, continue to reinforce non-use (with positive reinforcement, rewards, and alternative activities, as described in our other eLearning Modules), and step away when you see him high or withdrawing from cocaine. Leave the other drugs alone for now.
For the time being, I suggest you consider ignoring the alcohol and pot and focus your CRAFT efforts on the cocaine use. You will know when he has likely used cocaine by the length of his absence and how he looks when he does come back home. Don’t tell him you are choosing not to focus on the alcohol and pot, but internally, know that you are drawing that line – for now.
I suspect he will more easily scare himself with the cocaine. The alcohol will lead him back to using cocaine – they go so well together. So, cocaine use may have already happened or will happen shortly.
Learn to Manage Your Responses Using the CRAFT Approach
Use our eLearning Module 5, “My Loved One Isn’t Using Right Now; Now What?” and our eLearning Module 6 “My Loved One Is Using Right Now; Now What?” to manage your responses. Don’t let your fear drive you. Your son is on the move.
We go into much more detail in our eLearning Modules, and we give concrete examples. But here are some basics:
When your loved one isn’t using:
–Use rewards when there is non-use (verbal, non-verbal, stuff, or activities)
–Actively enable moments of non-use
–Use Positive Reinforcement
Or, when your loved one is using:
–Step away and disengage
–Allow Natural Consequences
Focus on making smaller behavioral and communication changes when your loved one is using. And remember to take care of yourself.
What about Moderation?
Moderation will likely fail for your son with the alcohol because it can easily drive him to cocaine. Perhaps he can moderate the pot. Either way, I’d recommend leaving it alone for now. We’ll be happy to see you addressing the pot, once the alcohol and cocaine have clearly reminded your son how scary these drugs are for him. In our eLearning Module 1, we talk about moderation, and it’s worth revisiting that discussion when you get the chance. We also have another blog post about it, here: https://alliesinrecovery.net/it-okay-for-your-loved-one-to-drink-alcohol-in-moderation/
As you fine-tune your approach and find ways to manage your own thinking from one day to the next, please remember to go easy on yourself. You have reached out from a hard place and our hearts are with you. You are doing a great job. And you always have our support. You are not in this alone. Sending you peace and love.