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Recovery is Often a Gradual Process That Takes a Great Deal of Self-Awareness and Humility.

man studying

Allies member exhausted is wondering how to help her LO transition to graduate school which is 2 hours away.

©Min An/

“After moving in with us about three months ago, our 33-year-old son, who can abuse alcohol, has been doing reasonably well. He is planning to move in about 90 days to a town about 2 hours from us, in order to attend graduate school. We are wondering how best to help him with this transition? Any advice or thoughts are appreciated.”


First of all, kudos to your son for the past three months of recovery progress! That is a big accomplishment! The fact that he has shown significant signs of change is incredible when you recognize how difficult it is to get to this point. People do not transform their drinking habits overnight. Recovery is often a gradual process that takes a great deal of self-awareness and humility. In the early stages, denial can be a huge obstacle. Even after admitting there may be a problem, it is common to experience ambivalence about stopping. The fact that he is doing well at this stage is something to celebrate!

Reinforce His Own Positive Wishes and Goals

His plan to enter graduate school is a wonderful example of a wish that has become a goal. CRAFT teaches us how to reinforce our LO’s positive behavior by giving small rewards that are meaningful to our LO. Module 5 talks about what to do when there is non-use and because this is such an impactful social skill, it can be applied in many different situations. You might ask yourself “Is this a behavior that I would like to see repeated?” If it is then reward it. Exercise 16 can assist you to identify appropriate rewards that are personally meaningful to your son and will help reinforce his recovery.

Returning to College Can be Exciting and Challenging

Graduate school is an important step for your son and the structure can be helpful for his recovery. It is an excellent example of your son putting in place a substitute behavior that can get in the way of drinking. Grad school is just so much more fun academically than undergrad and usually comes with a cohort of people serious about school and their future. (This in no way means there won’t be temptations ahead).

In earlier writings and we explore returning to college and some of the services available on campus for those in recovery.

Always be Prepared

Together you can gather information on how to access the counseling services offered at the school and research the Recovery Community Organizations in the area as well…including peer recovery support and mutual aid meetings. I wonder if you can get your son to plug into those services, even before he gets there. The group he forms an attachment to on campus is going to be key.

While your son may be very dedicated to pursuing a graduate degree, it may be difficult for him to anticipate the stressors involved. Add in the fact that he is early in recovery, moving 2 hours away from family, and the uncertainty of COVID, and things can get pretty overwhelming.  

If you are helping him financially, you can consider asking him to share his grades and the results of regular drug and alcohol testing. You’ll also want to pay as short-term as possible for tuition, fees, and lodging.

As always, CRAFT principles apply in this situation. Communication and planning are keys to success. Have an open and honest conversation about the potential pitfalls. Take it one semester at a time and see how it goes, all the while looking for windows of opportunity to reward positive behaviors.

Graduate school is no small commitment. Your willingness to support his efforts to achieve this goal send a strong message of support. Above all, be sure to let your son know that you are there for him if he needs you. Ask him to please let you know what you can do to support him in this endeavor.

Consider Your Own Needs as Well

Let him know what you need to be able to relax from 2 hours away. The occasional meeting at a halfway point…the courtesy of returning phone and text messages…add in those things, whether or not you choose to provide financial support. Truly think about what you need for your peace of mind as well. Ultimately, his recovery is his to navigate.

Things are definitely moving in the right direction and we wish your son all the best as he navigates this next chapter in his life.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you need additional help. 


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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"...)