The CRAFT Approach: Encouraging Healthy, Constructive, Positive Changes for Your Family

“My son is using drugs and it’s wrecking our family. I’ve tried to talk to him, but he just gets mad and then we just stop talking. What should I do?”

We often receive this kind of call here at Center for Motivation & Change (CMC). It’s a terrible call because of the anguish involved. It’s also a wonderful call, because we have the tools needed to help. A call like this provides our CMC clinicians the opportunity to invite the family member to learn about CRAFT.

Community Reinforcement and Family Training, or CRAFT, is an approach for families who have a loved one struggling with substances but who is not really interested in making changes or getting help. CRAFT is about learning a different method to communicate with and support your loved one. It’s about taking care of yourself, while also learning how to interact with your loved one in a way that increases the likelihood of making a real change.

The old method – either help them, or help yourself by distancing yourself from them – was never a choice you should have to make. CRAFT teaches you a series of strategies such as:

  • Understanding how to communicate positively (even when things aren’t going so well)
  • Using positive reinforcement to focus on what is working, while allowing for the bad stuff they are doing to impact them
  • Taking real steps and developing real awareness of what it means to take care of yourself, not as an afterthought, but as a priority for the whole family

Parents have been told a number of things that are neither helpful nor practical: “Let them hit bottom, they have to figure it out for themselves”; “There’s nothing you can do, helping them is enabling their use and means you are ‘co-dependent.’” These “tough love” messages are often excruciating for many parents.

The good news? You can help your loved one without taking those steps. CRAFT works to change your interactions with your loved one so that sober behavior is more rewarding to them than continued alcohol and drug use.

CRAFT is “menu-driven.” This means that different components and procedures are selected from the CRAFT “menu” based on the family’s particular needs. Where the treatment starts depends on the substance user’s behavior, severity and openness to change. It also depends on your emotional state, experience and history as a family.

CRAFT research (and our clinical experience) has demonstrated that by learning skills and understanding what motivates your child, positive change can occur. Evidence shows that positive outcomes occur at a much higher rate with the CRAFT approach than with other, more well-known approaches, such as either the 12-Step Anon programs or Intervention approaches.

Why? Probably because CRAFT is positive, aimed at encouraging healthy, constructive changes, and is focused on helping your child develop or re-develop a life. In addition, CRAFT is a behavioral approach, interested in changing behaviors (theirs and yours), not just talking about them. And as we mentioned, it is geared toward improving your life as well. Research studies repeatedly find that family members feel much better throughout the CRAFT process, whether or not their loved one ultimately gets into treatment. Best of all, using the CRAFT approach, the substance user in the family seeks treatment at a rate of about 65-75%, 2-3 times higher than interventions or Anon approaches.

CRAFT works. It may require work, practice, stumbles, practice and more practice. But CRAFT also teaches you that “you can help.”

Perhaps most importantly, the skills, strategies and insight you gain through CRAFT are built for the long haul: what you will learn now will remain applicable beyond your current situation; it’s not just useful when “trying to get him to say yes to treatment.” Saying yes matters, but what matters more are the changes you can make in your family, because these changes are the ones that provide the fuel for lasting change, not just for putting out the immediate fire.

The Center for Motivation & Change is a unique, NYC-based private group practice of dedicated clinicians and researchers providing non-ideological, evidence-based, effective treatment of addictive disorders and other compulsive behaviors. CMC’s treatment approach is informed by a strong commitment to both the humanity and the science of change, providing a unique, compelling, and inspiring environment in which to begin the process of change. Staffed by a group of experienced psychologists, CMC takes pride in their collective record of clinical research and administrative experience but most of all are driven by an optimism about people’s capacity to change and a commitment to the science of change.

The CRAFT Approach

Through Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT), family members motivate loved ones to seek help for addiction.

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    October 28, 2015 at 1:17 AM

    Hi – it’s 5am and once again I have been up all night trying to deal with my beautiful ‘lost’ 20 year-old son. A clever, sensitive, remarkable child, loved and funny, who grew into this poor damaged young man whose needs are as intense as when he was a baby. He is stoned all day which at least seems to supress the dreadful night terrors he has always had – but I am undone with my fears for him. I am very interested in the CRAFT approach. I too have fought with the advice that I should throw him out and make him stand on his own feet. I am worried that he is getting increasingly dependent on me and that amounts to me being his enabler. My husband – his father – left over a year ago because of this issue. Love, a healthy diet, some type of routine. How do I create boundaries and sense of purpose or consequences in someone who cannot care about himself on any level? Wracked with guilt. Never had any help from doctor. It’s heartbreaking. I need to implement something that tips the balance towards improvement. Will really look into this and try to learn a new strategy

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