Should I allow my addict child to live at home?

Faced with the difficult decision to kick your child out of the home for drug or alcohol abuse? You might not need to go that far. A look at ALL your options here.

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Do I let my son or daughter live at home?

Having your [adult] child live with you is indeed tricky when they are abusing alcohol or drugs.  Do you throw them out, as some would suggest, or do you keep them home, where you can keep a close eye on them and help protect them from harm?

As a parent, both of these choices probably sound terribly difficult.

Here, we’ll explore this issue in depth. Then, we’ll give you an opportunity at the end to share your questions or thoughts. In fact, we try to respond to all legitimate comments with a personal and prompt reply.

So, what do families actually do?

In all the years we’ve been working with families at Allies in Recovery, I’d say our informal polling has found that families are about evenly divided between which is harder: having them home or having them live away from home. Neither is easy.

When they are home, the urge to overly focus on your loved one can be exhausting. When they live away from home, the worry of not knowing if they’re okay can be equally draining.

There IS another way – Use the CRAFT principles to guide you

In our work using CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) with families, the issue of housing has come up time and again. So, how do we at Allies in Recovery help families think through their decision about what to do, when it comes to children and housing?

To review the main principles of CRAFT, family members are encouraged to:

  1. reward non-use (rewards range from hugs and pizza to housing and college)
  2. disengage, remove rewards, and allow natural consequences to occur when there is use (natural consequences range from oversleeping and missing work, to not being bailed out when arrested).

Humans like to be rewarded, and we’re not alone: dogs, dolphins, and countless other species also respond positively to rewards. We are all a lot more likely to repeat a behavior if we are rewarded with something we value. With CRAFT, rewards are a way to reinforce moments of non-use.

However, keep in mind that a reward is a good reward when it is rewarding to your loved one.  I may like it when the cabinet shelves are clean, but that doesn’t make it rewarding to my loved one.

An example of implementing rewards: Your son comes home from school on time and his eyes look normal, both indications he didn’t smoke pot on his way home. You take that new gaming video out that you’ve been saving, give it to him, smile, and comment on how you love it when his eyes are clear.

Rewards influence future behavior

A reward is given when your loved one is off substances in the moment. Rewards should be easy to give. Good examples are a scrunch on the shoulder, a kind word, or just listening intently. The person needn’t know the reward is for non-use. A reward just feels good and it’s that good feeling that can actually compete with an urge to pick up a drink or a drug.

This is what CRAFT does so well. It helps families focus their energies on what their loved one is doing right. It’s the flip side of “not enabling use”, which we’ve all heard of by now. CRAFT says enable the non-use through words, actions and things that signal to your loved one that sobriety for even one day is worth celebrating!

Belief also influences future behavior

We spoke to a mom not long ago who was holding on to her anger about her son’s drug use. Her son had been off drugs for a week, but she didn’t trust it. She had seen it over and over. It was “just one week” after all.

Yes, people try and fail to get sober. Day 1 of sobriety can be meaningless or it can be followed by Day 2, and then Day 3.  Families need to act like there will be a Day 2.

Providing housing is a reward

Q: How do we define “housing”?
A: Housing is allowing someone to stay at home rent-free or providing rent for someone.

A simple as it may sound, housing is often a huge, complex issue to sort out.

Housing, like paying for college or providing a car, is tricky to use as a reward because it is hard to meter out little by little, and conversely, hard to take away when you see use. Ideally, a reward is given for non-use in the moment, and taken away when there is use – hard to do with these big-ticket items.

According to the CRAFT model, housing can be granted in support of non-use or very limited use because the loved one is making a real effort to address the substance problem.

How does being home influence their behavior?

Providing housing is not a black & white matter, as in “they should never be home” or “they should always be allowed to be home”.” It’s a matter of how “home” influences their behavior.

Home or no home depends on whether your child is following a treatment program and maintaining a good level of sobriety, or whether they are actively using with no efforts to stop.  Ask yourself:

  • Is being home an aid to staying sober?
  • Or, is being home providing a cushy, free pad that helps subsidize their drug use?

The answer to this can change at any time… so it helps to make everything temporary, and re-assessed weekly together, if possible.

First, do you part: Learn CRAFT Principles

If you’re new to the CRAFT model and your child lives at home or in a home paid for by you, we would suggest you follow our program for 8 to 12 weeks. In other words, clean up what you can on your end, in terms of your communication and behavior towards your loved one. In addition to these internal changes, CRAFT shows you how to unblock the situation and engage your loved one into treatment.

Home is not a place to continue to use

However, after you’ve become well-versed in CRAFT and begun applying the principles, if your loved one still continues to actively abuse substances and refuses any help, you will need to reassess their living at home.

Put another way: If you are inadvertently supporting a drug-using lifestyle by providing housing, it may be time for your child to leave home. Steer your child in the right direction by thoroughly researching the resources, then provide them with options:

STEP 1: Figure out addiction treatment options for your child.  Put some options down on paper. We provide a description of the kinds of treatment under Our Treatment Resources: Levels of Treatment Providers.

Be specific and make sure each suggestion is really possible (there is room, it can be paid for, (s)he meets the admission criteria…). Is there a phone number to call that gets to a live person at these places? If it is possible, include as options: residential, medication-assisted treatment, intensive outpatient therapy, various types of self-help, sober homes …

STEP 2:  Consider housing options if she does accept treatment. Some options might include your home (reassess weekly), or help with rent in a group house situation, or a sober house for, say, two months (the sober house only if she can get clean and meet the criteria for admission). Help with food and transport.

Or consider housing options if she doesn’t accept help. Outline options including  local shelters. Provide her the numbers for local homeless supports, social services, or community-based NGOs.

STEP 3: Allow your child to make a choice. Once the information is in her hands, the choice is hers to make.

Help your loved one formulate the plan and let them make their own choice. If they turn down the help, moving to the shelter is a natural consequence for an adult in their circumstances.

How do you talk about housing with your child?

a)  When your child is using….

The conversation is quiet, calm, and loving. For example:

  • “Our home is not a place where you can continue to use. When you want to get sober, there are programs on this paper. Choose one and get into it. We will help every way we can. We would love to welcome you home when you’re sober and in treatment.”

b)  When your child is working on addiction recovery …

When they are addressing the substance problem and tell you they want to come home, the conversation can go something like this:

  • “We are proud of you. We feel so good about the progress you are making. We like having you live here. We need to be clear that living here is transitional until you can afford and find a more permanent place to live. We’d like to take it week by week.
  • For your part, you’re going to have to show a good faith effort at staying sober and doing your recovery work. For our part, we promise to keep out of the details of that. If we have a concern, we’ll let you know.
  • Secondly, we also need you to help out with the bills a little. We realize that money is tight and that you have debt, so we’re going to ask for only $100/week (or $50/week), payable at Sunday dinner each week.
  • Thank you for listening to this and for being clean and sober. We are so proud of you.”

Then, ask them to contribute, even a symbolic amount

The key here is, this is less about the amount than it is about the transaction. Your child pays something and you feel like they’re not getting a free ride. It also makes sense to want to keep the amount of money in their pocket low…

Set your limits

Lastly, decide together as parents on what amount of use or non-payment you will tolerate from your child. For example: a brief lapse in sobriety with continued recovery activities may be tolerated; two weeks of non-payment of rent may be the limit.

If you feel you can say it, then add these limits to the conversation.  It helps to keep things transparent, should you have to ask them to leave.

The key is to stay flexible. Make it clear that housing is transitional and temporary, to be assessed weekly. If this sounds like work, it is. But looking at housing in the way we suggest – as a reward employed in the service of sobriety – is clear and puts everyone on the same page.

Questions about housing for kids and addiction

We hope to have covered this topic fully, but realize that you still make have questions. Please leave us your questions in the comments section below. You are not alone!

About the author
Dominique Simon-Levine is a Ph.D. substance abuse researcher, who is in long-term recovery. She runs an award-winning program for families called Allies in Recovery. Founded in 2003, Allies in Recovery has helped hundreds of families to climb out of the abyss of addiction. Her work is featured on HBO and on
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