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We’ve Never Talked About His Substance Use!

talking about substance use

An Allies in Recovery member and family were on the verge of doing a classic intervention on their grown son whose drinking and weed smoking were wreaking havoc across the entire family. Then they discovered Allies in Recovery and CRAFT. Excited about acquiring this new skill set, the family remains nervous about how to best leverage the approach, knowing that they’ve never had the opportunity as a family to talk about substance use, the conflict, or their own concerns. Where do they begin?

My wife and I are thrilled to have discovered the CRAFT approach and this website. Thank you! My question is, as parents of our adult, married Loved One, whom we see only once every week or two, how can we fully leverage the CRAFT approach to have a positive influence on Loved One and our Loved One’s family? Now for some background.

We are brand new to, but spent a few hours so far reviewing the eLearning modules. They are great! We are starting to get the picture. Our Loved One is married, with three children. We are increasingly concerned about both our Loved One’s physical health, mental health and family as substance use continues. We have been watching this decline in slow motion while we tried to get the Concerned Significant Others in our family on the same page about what was happening and how serious it is. Now that most family relationships have been fractured, we are finally getting on the same page. We were in the process of planning a Johnson-type intervention, with the help of an interventionist, when we discovered these materials and have since taken a step back. We had been wrestling with how to actually accomplish an intervention without a lot of collateral damage and could not figure it out.

We have all just been walking on eggshells and trying to keep the peace, which of course ultimately has not worked.

We have not talked with our Loved One’s spouse about our concerns regarding substance use or mental health challenges…We did not want to go behind our Loved One’s back and did not want to put our Loved One’s spouse in a position to having to choose between us and our Loved One or in a position to be seen as “disloyal” by our Loved One.

The CRAFT approach has given us a new vision of how we might venture into real conversation about our love, concerns, hopes. We can see how powerful the CRAFT tools would be for our Loved One’s spouse, but how do we fully leverage the CRAFT approach?


Thanks so much for your detailed explanation of your situation, which gives lots of important details to help us better understand the layout.

You and your family are deeply concerned about your grown son, married with children, whose substance use continues to worsen, as do his physical and mental health. The family has largely remained silent on these topics of concern, and you’ve already underlined some of the pro’s and con’s.

Every situation, no matter how alarming it seems, has both pro’s and con’s

The pro’s, according to your description, include never having had any “bridge-burning arguments,” no blaming, no shaming, etc. with your Loved One. This is indeed positive! Another enormous advantage is the recent coming together of the various family members whose concern is growing, in part because of the “fractured relationships” your Loved One’s addiction has left in its wake. The more united your front can be, the more success you are likely to have in shepherding your Loved One forward.

The con’s include the feeling that going from no dialogue/acknowledgement of the elephant in the room (for years) to wanting to address it (now) frankly feels scary, and confusing.

He’s a grown man, we’re concerned with respecting his privacy; we also want to avoid huge explosions…

In our point of view, it’s not “going behind his back” to suggest Allies in Recovery to your son’s wife, siblings, or anyone else who needs to be on the same page. We’ve said it many times: Addiction is not a fair fight.

The privacy you would normally proffer an adult son in his 40’s is put aside when addiction is raging. Your son and the family are in danger. Drastic times call for using whatever means you can.

That being said, you referred to having begun the process of organizing a Johnson-type intervention. You then backed off, both because you discovered CRAFT/Allies just in time, and because you sensed that there would be untold collateral damage. This was wise, I believe. You have referred to fearing atomically explosive reactions/defensiveness on the part of your son, which has engendered the current eggshell reality. CRAFT will surely be a more gentle approach, and allow you to move more gradually, without any terrible shock, away from the eggshells and towards more authentic communications, in which you are each standing on solid ground. No power plays. No dictators.

Tiptoeing is not part of CRAFT, but dancing is.

Our site provides basic training in CRAFT. It takes 8-12 weeks when you’re working the program daily, leaning on our materials and guidance often. As you know from the Allies in Recovery self-guided e-learning modules, you are rebuilding trust, finding ways to gently open up communications, and allowing yourselves to express concern but only in chosen moments when you sense he is potentially receptive.

That’s where the “dancing” comes in. The more aware, compassionate, knowledgeable and subtle you can be, the better dancer you will be. You’re also learning the graceful exit required of the family when the Loved One is in using mode: no conflict necessary, you’re just deciding to go somewhere else or to do something else. Your absence will be felt, and he’ll put two and two together soon enough.

CRAFT has you become private eyes, in a way. You gather evidence, you put it together, and you start to see a more complete picture of your Loved One’s use: where it happens, and when, and why (what triggers him) and so on.

Once the ABC’s are clear to you, you move in a bit closer, you keep adding bricks to the bridge over which we hope he will one day walk to seek your help… and then you start really looking for those openings, where a glimmer of motivation for change is shining through. In the meantime you will have been preparing your request and researching treatment options. All of these steps are described in our self-guided e-Learning CRAFT Modules.

If his wife were on board, you’d surely have a winning team

A united front is not necessary but would, of course, be a huge win. Getting everyone on board (or at least the key players, including his wife) will exponentially increase the chances of moving your son forward.

The skills we lay out in the e-Learning CRAFT Modules comprise the toolkit that anyone and everyone in a relationship with someone with substance use disorder (SUD) should absolutely have access to and use in their lives.

We suggest that you practice your newfound communications skills with your daughter-in-law, first. You mentioned that she has historically stood by her husband, no matter what. Yet chances are she is suffering in silence, and despite her desire to keep up appearances, she could surely use some compassion, support and most importantly, a solution! CRAFT was designed to remove tension and add understanding to the equation. This is a great place for you to begin. Use our Key Observations Exercises (that go along with our e-Learning CRAFT Modules) to help you sketch out exactly what you want to ask of her:

  • Is it that she accept to speak to you – or someone else – about what’s happening?
  • Is it that she watch a few modules on the website?
  • Is it something else?

In addition to the concern you express, your daughter-in-law will certainly need to feel that you remain non-judgmental of your son and his issues. You can also express to her that you are concerned about her, with all that she’s carrying alone, and want to find ways to improve the situation for everyone.

If you get a ‘no’ at first, it’s OK. You will have planted that seed and she can take the time she needs to think about it. You can keep working at finding (or creating) opportunities to bring it up again.

It’s fine to work on several branches of the master plan at the same time: Get started on your treatment list now.

Start the treatment list now. Has your son ever seen anyone in the past for his mental distress? Make sure to include supports for this is on the list. Make sure you check out “Unpacking the World of Treatment” in our final e-Learning CRAFT Module.

We want to remind families that getting a Loved One from zero treatment into some type of treatment is much more desirable than their staying with zero treatment whatsoever because they’re not willing to address what you believe is the primary issue. In other words, if he’s willing to address the mental distress but not the addiction, go with that! If the therapist is doing their job and your Loved One is cooperating, the substance issues will eventually surface.

Your profile says your Loved One’s substances of choice are alcohol and cannabis. Be sure to include resources for detoxification to support him in safely detoxing from alcohol on your list of treatment options.

There is no harm in telling your son that you are concerned and have found a resource that will help YOU (the family) through this. The site suggests you express your desire to be helpful in the ways we lay out in the modules. The family’s role is to:

  • partner with a Loved One as would a good, loving friend
  • shine the light and shepherd them towards treatment (treatment writ large — including places of worship, gyms, or perhaps even volunteering at a shelter, etc.,)

You want your son engaged in building his own insight. You want the family setting clear limits around the substance use.

We’ve never talked about substance use or family conflict openly. Where do we begin?

Your son is the father of a young family. You are seeing signs that the house of cards may collapse. Stepping in won’t be easy. You are not a family that talks about the hard things easily. Your son’s reactions have made you nervous and his siblings feel unsafe.

So step one:

  1. Get everyone you can to look at the eLearning CRAFT Modules and Key Observation Exercises. Don’t skip over our training module that discusses staying safe.
  2. A possible opening to talk: The talk you would have is just an opener, very brief. It would be spoken by the family member who he’s most likely to listen to without defensiveness. It might sound something like this:

“Son, I am seeing more signs that the alcohol and pot are causing disruptions.”

“I am concerned for your whole family. I want you to know that your mom and I (…and your wife, and your siblings…) are getting guidance on how best to offer you help and also handle our own worry and stress.”

“We love you so much. I want you to know that when you are ready, we will do anything to get you to help. Here’s the start of a list. I am serious about addressing the addiction we see evolving in you. We’re all serious.”

We hope this gets you off to a good start. Keep us posted. We are rooting for you all.


With a membership to Allies in Recovery, you will have access to this article – and hundreds of others – in full. Allies in Recovery members have unlimited access to a complete archive of our blog posts and the ability to search by topics of interest such as those mentioned above. (e.g., communication, alcohol, recovery for family member, mental health, family members doing craft)

If you’re an Allies member, check out the member site for our “10-day Challenge” to claim your reward of a complimentary One-Day CRAFT Workshop – just for finishing half the modules!

If you’re not yet a member of Allies in Recovery but want to join us TODAY to get trained on how to reduce the chaos of addiction in your family and in your lifeclick here.

A membership at brings you into contact with experts in CRAFT – the proven, most successful method for getting your loved one into recovery. Our unique, award-winning learning platform teaches you CRAFT, so you can play an important role your loved one’s recovery journey.

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 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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