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We’ve Set Our Boundaries. He’s Breaking Them.

When it comes to their son’s involvement with drugs, Lovingmom11 and her husband are clear about where their boundaries are. Their son, regrettably, is crossing that line. Although he has taken some positive steps—including seven months of drug treatment—he is still using pot, and has returned to selling it. Now his parents are considering an ultimatum: stop selling or move out. Allies writer Laurie MacDougall makes a case for pressing the pause button. Taking the time to apply CRAFT skills with a Loved One can build the relationship and make positive change far more likely.

“My son was in drug treatment May-December of 2021. He is now 18. He is living at home with his father (my husband) and I. Things are better, but still not what I would call good. He does have a full-time job landscaping, which has been a GODSEND. He got that job on his own and gets himself to work each day. It’s been more than 3 months. He is using weed, which his father and I don’t think is the best choice for him, but we tolerate. It has come to our attention that he has started selling weed—again. He was selling before he got into treatment. Also we have seen cough syrup in his room and feel he is abusing this as well.

We made the decision to give him an ultimatum to stop selling drugs or get his own place. This felt right. It feels like a decision on his part—more than a substance use issue—which feels different. We have a right not to have large amounts of weed in our home. We have told him that outside of a small amount for personal use we will confiscate any large amount of drugs we see in our house (he is very brazen about everything—he keeps the weed in a bag but not hidden—very easy to find.)

I have recently rediscovered my Beyond Addiction book and this site, and I realize the CRAFT approach might not condone this type of an ultimatum—but maybe it will since it’s a selling situation? Honestly I love the CRAFT principles and although I loved my son’s treatment facility, some of what we were taught there was more traditional than CRAFT. So I’m starting to wonder if there is a ‘better’ way to go about this. Thank you so much in advance for your help with this! Also I just realized that our “solution” to this problem might be (like I mentioned) to confiscate any large amount of weed that comes into the home—maybe this is a better solution than to ‘throw him out.'”


Hi Lovingmom11,

Wow. Sounds like there was some forward progress with your son. Treatment from May to December is a long time. You expressed that things are better and that he has had a job landscaping for more than three months. The job was all his doing, and he is managing his responsibilities on his own. Kudos to him!

Here we go again

There are also some behaviors (old and new) starting to pop up that are concerning for both you and his dad. You had already expressed that you did not want his pot in the house, and you have found some—so he is not respecting that boundary. You’ve noticed a cough syrup bottle in his room and suspect that this may indicate troubling behavior. And it has been brought to your attention that he is selling weed again.

All of this behavior in your son screams Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Often our Loved Ones (LOs) engage with treatment for a period of time, come home, start on a progressive, positive path, and then slowly slip back into old behavior patterns. Life stressors start to reappear and be compounded. All sorts of triggers appear as well: old friends, access to money, anxiety and depression, boredom, relationship problems, etc. And our LOs have not yet mastered the coping skills necessary to deal with everything.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? That as the pressure builds, they might stumble and return to what’s comfortable, to what they know, to what’s worked in the past?

Make space for your feelings — just not in the driver’s seat

I do want to make one comment on “feelings.” It is really important to notice what you are feeling, and to pay attention to those feelings. If you are feeling uncomfortable, anxious, stressed, or challenged in any way with your son’s behavior, notice it. Try to identify why, to see what’s going on that is triggering these feelings. But at the same time, it’s important to pause and not react to what you’re feeling. Difficult feelings can mislead us into acting in ways that are not well thought out or helpful. We often react to such emotions to soothe ourselves. It’s important to wait until the emotions are more manageable so that we can think through our response and not slip into old behavior patterns, especially those that tend to be punitive.

So listen to your feelings and identify them as an indication that something needs to change or be addressed. But try to not react to the emotions. This is a tough but exceptionally useful skill to develop: observing the feelings but not letting them take control.

First things first

The first CRAFT step is to prioritize the most troubling behavior, and then address each less damaging behavior over time. In your case, the two behaviors that need to be addressed pretty quickly are 1) the bottle of cough syrup in your son’s room and 2) the selling of weed. The amount of pot your son is bringing into the house may be related to the selling, so if you address the selling, you may be addressing the quantity problem too.

In both cases, intervening early is imperative. The earlier the better. These things have a way of spiraling out of control if we are unsure how to respond, or if we are not completely convinced that something is going on.

Prepare yourselves for those key conversations

And in both cases, initiating conversations to try to understand your son’s thoughts, perspectives, and ideas for solutions will encourage him to be more open with you. Even if that first conversation does not result in a solution or ends in an intense way, it will still get your son thinking about what he should do. It will let him know that he is not “getting away with anything,” a notion which would just dig him into a deeper hole. Here’s what a couple of these conversations might sound like:

Cough Syrup: 

Hey, I have to talk to you about something. I happened to be putting your folded laundry in your room and I noticed an empty bottle of cough syrup. I’m concerned about this. I love you very much and want to know what’s going on. I’m hoping you will share with me.

Let’s assume he tells you he drank the syrup. You could then continue with:

What do you think will happen if you continue to drink cough syrup?

What do you think should happen if it continues?

How do you plan to stop? And what can we do to help support you?

Then add a boundary:

Dad and I aren’t okay with using. We love and care for you very much and will support your attempts to stop. We agree that if it continues, attending an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) and counseling is a good option, and that is something we are going to stick to.

That last example assumes your son is ready to suggest those support options himself. But what if he doesn’t suggest an IOP or counseling? What you say to him then might sound like this:

Dad and I aren’t okay with using cough syrup. We love and care for you very much and will support your attempts to stop. We just want to be clear about our expectations if there is a struggle with stopping. We are going to expect you to attend an IOP and some family counseling. We love you and have confidence that you will find a path forward.

Large Quantities of Pot and Selling – An Alternative to an Ultimatum:

(these two issues could be addressed at the same time)

Dad and I are concerned. We have told you the amount of pot we are comfortable with in the house, and we noticed there was a larger amount in your room than what we agreed to. We have also had indications that there is selling going on. We wanted to come to you first and hear your thoughts on this.

No matter his response, sticking to your boundaries, of only personal use amounts of pot in the house (which are more than reasonable), is important. At the same time, encouraging him to be a part of the solution will bring his defenses down. I would also encourage you not to be the one to dispose of the pot. Instead, he should be the one to take responsibility for removing it:

What do you see happening in the future if things stay on the same path of selling? And then, What do you think should happen if things don’t change?

Again, give him space to speak. Sometimes our LOs can surprise us by answering these questions in ways that are pretty logical and well thought out. Sometimes, not so much. Either way, lay out what your expectations are and what will work for you. If you can include their ideas into the expectations, great:

I know that we had said we would confiscate and throw the pot out if we found large amounts around the house, but we feel uncomfortable going into your stuff. So, tonight we need you to find a way to remove the pot from the house. We are not comfortable with it here.

Be sure to discuss what will happen if there is continued selling. Really think and talk this through in advance as Mom and Dad. Will you require him to move out? If so, will you help with the move? Are there places he can go that you could support? Instead of throwing him out, can you offer other housing options, shelters, recovery homes, etc., so that he doesn’t land on the streets or feel his only way to make it is to sell? If he’s arrested, what are you willing to help out with? A lawyer? Bail money?

Leaning in to those CRAFT communication skills

After thinking all this through, you’ll want to use your CRAFT communication skills to let him know what your thoughts are and how you plan to handle this issue in the future. This too can be relayed to your son in a very compassionate and caring way while still holding to your own values and boundaries.

There are a lot of CRAFT communication skills (especially those from Module 4), packed into the conversations outlined above. There’s owning your own piece, making a request, , and offering to help. There’s setting boundaries in a kind but assertive way. Conversations in which you employ these skills can promote a collaboration with your son, giving consideration to his thoughts and his autonomy.

Things may not go as planned

Indeed, they often don’t. But using CRAFT skills will help build your relationship with your son. You and Dad will be a safer and more confident space for him when he needs and wants support—even when he does not make the best decisions. It may be difficult for us to deal with, but isn’t that what we want as parents? To help them navigate through life while still handing over their life reins?

I hope this post is helpful; it’s intended to inspire you on your journey. I know the conversations outlined above might not work in your situation, and that’s OK. Find what works for you. You are the experts in your family. Dig in and start the eLearning Modules. Get creative in how you use your CRAFT skills.

And please remember, you are not alone. The Allies community is always here to support you.



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"...)