How to Help a Loved One With Addiction

by Michael Walsh

“How to Help a Loved One With Addiction” - article by Michael Walsh

Helping A Loved One

Using the Craft Model for Addiction to Support a Loved One With a Drinking or Drug Concern.

Watching someone you love battle addiction is one of the most painful experiences imaginable. Whether it’s a child, parent, relative, spouse, or friend – the heartbreak, and confusion often leave people feeling isolated and desperate. 

We get it because we've been there ourselves, and we've helped many families who’ve been there too. It can feel like you’re trapped on an emotional rollercoaster, circling through conflicting emotions of guilt, self-blame, frustration, anger, sadness, and anxiety. Afraid you might push your loved one away, but knowing you can’t go on living in the chaos. 

The good news is that there is support available, and you don’t have to travel this road alone. 

Supporting yourself while also supporting others. 

You’ve probably heard that phrase, “put on your own oxygen mask first” right? 

It seems sensible and easy enough. But in reality, it’s really really hard to do when you find yourself living with a loved one’s addiction. 

You might find yourself struggling with questions like: 

  • How can I show compassion without condoning negative behaviors? 
  • How can I honor my own values while still being supportive?
  • How can I set healthy boundaries while also being empathetic and caring? 
  • How can I keep my family safe while respecting my loved one’s privacy? 

These are complex questions, but the answers are worth pursuing. 

Learning to care for yourself and your family while also providing support to your loved one is the key to living with less chaos and increasing the likelihood that your loved one gets the help they need.

So how do you learn to strike the right balance? 

The Community Reinforcement & Family Training (CRAFT) model of addiction teaches you to build rapport, leverage positive reinforcement, and set healthy boundaries. And it does so for the entire family, which can feel like a breath of fresh air if you’ve been single handedly trying to care for everyone involved in the wake of an addiction.  

Let’s take a closer look. 

What is the CRAFT model for addiction? 

Based on research and rooted in compassion, the CRAFT program leverages the close connection you have with your loved one to increase their chances of accepting treatment. The program helps you and your family change the way you interact with the person who is misusing substances, so that everyone involved can lead a more stable and healthy life. 

Research shows that families who undergo CRAFT training are successful in getting their loved one to accept treatment roughly 70% of the time. [1,2]

While the ultimate goal of the program is to get your loved one into treatment, an important aspect of the CRAFT program is learning to focus and improve your own life even when conversations about treatment are not going well with your loved one. 

Understandably, when we love someone it’s easy to funnel all of our energy into trying to help that person get better. But the road to recovery is rarely a linear one, and CRAFT helps us learn to cope with the inevitable ups and downs. 

What will I learn in the CRAFT model for addiction? 

Whether you sign up for one-on-one sessions with a provider, or choose to learn in a group setting with other members of your family, the CRAFT facilitator teaches you to: 

  • Identify your loved one’s triggers 
  • Take better care of yourself
  • Stay grounded in your own values
  • Communicate your own needs
  • Break unhelpful patterns
  • Develop a plan to keep your family safe
  • Learn new ways to talk with your loved one about treatment 
  • Help your loved one access treatment when they show interest 

Some of these might sound similar to other support options like Al-Anon, or the drug and alcohol interventions you may have seen on TV, but there are key differences to the CRAFT model for addiction. 

How is the CRAFT model for addiction different? 

CRAFT addresses everyone involved. 

Oftentimes people find the CRAFT model for addiction after searching for a Nar-Anon or Al-Anon alternative. Unlike Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, whose primary focus is to support family and friends, the CRAFT model supports everyone involved, including the person misusing drugs or alcohol.

CRAFT is non-confrontational.

With CRAFT, the focus is on invitation and opportunity.

Instead of confronting your loved one in an attempt to dismantle their denial, you learn to: 

  • Identify windows of opportunity where they may be more receptive
  • Talk about treatment options in a less intimidating way

And, instead of teaching you targeted skills for use in a drug or alcohol intervention, CRAFT teaches you lifelong skills that remain relevant as your relationship evolves over time. 

CRAFT empowers you with a middle ground.

While other support programs encourage confronting or detaching from a loved one who’s struggling with substance use issues, CRAFT provides a middle ground by teaching you how to take care of yourself and your family, while actively encouraging your loved one to accept treatment using evidence-based tools and strategies. 

Unlike Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, you don’t need to accept that you’re powerless over your loved one’s substance use. The CRAFT model actually leverages your close relationship and connection to your loved one to encourage and support their recovery. 

The CRAFT model helps you find a middle ground by: 

  • Recognizing your loved one’s patterns of drug/alcohol use 
  • Breaking your unintentional participation in the substance abuse 
  • Setting compassionate boundaries 

For example, maybe your spouse has missed several family events due to the after effects of alcohol. He/She is embarrassed about missing these events and has asked you to make up lies in an attempt to cover up the truth about their drinking problem.

In the past, maybe you’ve been willing to do this, but it’s made you feel uncomfortable. Moving forward, you could decide to make a healthy boundary by explaining to your spouse that you’re willing to help them get ready for the event, but you’re no longer willing to be untruthful on their behalf. 

In this example, you show compassion by offering to help your spouse get ready, while also breaking your participation in the substance use and honoring your own values.

This is the kind of middle ground that CRAFT helps you establish – compassionate and realistic boundaries that serve to restore sanity in the home. 

Getting started with the CRAFT model for addiction. 

Addiction and substance misuse impact entire families. While there are no quick fixes, the CRAFT model of addiction offers a tried and true way to help restore sanity in your home. As you start to acknowledge your fears and talk openly about your realities, things will start to feel more manageable. 

Whether you’re looking to help a family member stop drinking, looking for an al-anon alternative, or simply have a question about substance use of any kind, feel free to reach out to us. We’ve helped dozens of families live more peaceful lives using the CRAFT model for addiction. 

We can help you make sense of what's going on, answer questions, and provide effective tools and strategies to communicate differently; ultimately to live better whether the loved one is actively consuming substances or is currently in some kind of recovery process. You can contact me through the contact page as well.

Here is a great three minute video introduction on CRAFT by the Centre for Motivation and Change in New York City. 

I’d also like to invite you to read more about my personal story here.

If you’re ready to explore the potential of working together, I’d love to chat. Michael is based in Victoria British Columbia Canada. The other Recovery Coaches on the team are based in Nanaimo, Vancouver British Columbia Calgary, Edmonton Alberta, Toronto Ontario, Montreal Quebec, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Because we all work virtually — we can work with anyone no matter what city, province or country around the world. We have clients all across Canada and the USA, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, New York City, Denver, Nashville, Berlin, Tel Aviv, London, Singapore and Australia. [updated March 2023]

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  1. Meyers, R.J., Miller, W.R., Hill, D.E., & Tonigan, J.S. (1999). Community reinforcement and family training (CRAFT): Engaging unmotivated drug users in treatment. Journal of Substance Abuse, 10, 1–18.
  2. Miller, W.R., Meyers, R.J., & Tonigan, J.S. (1999). Engaging the unmotivated in treatment for alcohol problems: A comparison of three strategies for intervention through family members. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67, 688–697.
Michael Walsh

About the Author

Michael Walsh

When I say I’ve been there, I mean it. I am a different person now, and I am fired up about helping other people get to the place where they, too, are living better, healthier, and bigger lives.

Contact Michael

Further Reading

View all articles

  • Addiction recovery resource by Michael Walsh on the topic of “The Secondhand Effects of Alcohol Use on Loved Ones and Society at Large”

    The Secondhand Effects of Alcohol Use on Loved Ones and Society at Large

  • Addiction recovery resource by Michael Walsh on the topic of “I Quit Drinking Alcohol – But When Does Not Drinking Get Easier?”

    I Quit Drinking Alcohol – But When Does Not Drinking Get Easier?

  • Addiction recovery resource by Michael Walsh on the topic of “Can You Recover From Addiction Without Formal Treatment?”

    Can You Recover From Addiction Without Formal Treatment?

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