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Lecturing often falls on deaf ears. Trying to yell and punish your child may work in the short term but likely won’t have a lasting impact. Others will advise you to use “tough love” or to detach completely and let consequences pile up so that your child will hit “rock bottom.”
But there’s another way.
If your teen or young adult child is experimenting with alcohol and drugs or has a full-blown substance use disorder, you likely feel frustrated, overwhelmed and helpless. Community Reinforcement and Family Training, or CRAFT, is a scientifically proven approach to help parents change their child’s substance use by staying involved in a positive, ongoing way.
CRAFT, created by Dr. Robert Meyers and expanded upon by the psychologists at the Center for Motivation & Change, is an approach to help family members change the way they have been interacting with their child to influence choices around substance use.
CRAFT provides families like yours with tools to better understand your child’s reasons for substance use, ways to improve communication and to reward non-using behaviors while discouraging substance use. Equally important are the tools around self-care to handle negative emotions like anger, guilt and depression, and to address feelings of isolation.
Our CRAFT video series helps bring these principles to life via real families that have been there just like yours, and for whom the skills and practices of CRAFT were a game changer.
It’s helpful for family members to ask themselves what is driving their loved one’s behaviors around substance use. It could be anything from boredom and a lack of purpose, to feeling left out and insecure, to curiosity and thrill seeking. Understanding the “why” behind your child’s drug and alcohol use can foster empathy for your child and also help you think about ways to encourage healthier behaviors that compete with his or her substance use.
When a child is using substances, lecturing, blaming, criticizing, yelling and the silent treatment are common. The response on the child’s part is to get defensive or to deny that there is any problem, as trust within the family evaporates. CRAFT offers numerous communication tools to improve the way families interact and to create opportunities for a more open dialogue. Active listening can help you better understand what your child is experiencing, so that you can respond in a way that will encourage change for the better.
Learn how to have a conversation instead of another confrontation.
It’s easy to focus on everything your child is doing wrong when substance use is in the picture, but to motivate behavior change, it’s helpful to look for and reward what a child is doing that is healthy and productive. Helping a sibling, finding work, getting chores done, coming home on time, attending a family function sober and going to the gym are examples of behaviors families typically want to see more of, and positive reinforcement is the key to making that happen. Reinforcers can be as simple as a hug, a compliment, or a loving text message. Or they can be more substantial like a restaurant gift card, a round of miniature golf, a pedicure, a favorite meal or a full tank of gas. The important thing to keep in mind is to link the non-using behavior to the reward and choose rewards that the child likes.
Learn more about Positive Reinforcement.
It’s natural to want to protect your child from the consequences of their behaviors or diminish the impact, but life can be a great teacher if you let your child learn directly from their experiences. For example, a child might be hungover and ask a parent to call in sick at work for them. If the parent does this, the child may be able to keep the job, but it reinforces their drug use. It would be better if the child had to face the consequences of explaining the absence directly to the employer. CRAFT helps parents step back and allow others, like teachers, employers, law enforcement, non-using friends and romantic interests, to provide boundaries around substance use.
It’s likely that your child’s substance use has taken its toll on you, whether in the form of excessive worry, or not attending to your own needs to be healthy and happy. CRAFT offers the opportunity to examine your own emotional triggers to develop a more effective response. Taking time to nurture and renew yourself, and remembering that your worry for your child is not a proxy for your love, are at the heart of self-care. It’s also a way to model behaviors for your child so that they see how a healthy adult manages life’s ups and downs.
Learn more about Self-Care.
Research studies show that CRAFT has helped two-thirds of people with a substance use problem elect to engage in formal treatment. 1 The studies also show an improvement in the caregivers’ well-being, feeling less depressed and anxious. It takes time and practice, but relationships can get better and loved ones can get healthy.
For more information on CRAFT, please call our free Parent Helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE to speak to a trained and caring parent specialist.
Help bring CRAFT principles to life with these short overview videos about positive reinforcement, natural consequences, listening and behaviors making sense in our CRAFT YouTube series.