Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Influence

Helping Your Child with Addiction

Dear Crucial Skills,

Our twenty-year-old son has unfortunately been using prescription drugs for some time now. He came to me and my wife for help, and we immediately placed him in a well respected center for a twenty-one-day medical detoxification and rehab program. He went willingly and seemed to learn quite a bit about the entire rehab process, and what was required of him in the near future. Although he got clean, we suspect he is still not equipped with the skills to stay that way. We would like to apply the model in Change Anything to help him stay clean and live a happy, productive life. Here are our questions: Do we apply the model in a certain sequence or all at once? Are there sources of influence that need to come before or after another source? Should he help construct activities within each source or should we create them before we present anything to him? What are some known best practices when applying the model to this problem?

Anxious to Start

Dear Anxious,

As parents, family members, and friends, how we long to help those we love. I have found over the years that knowing how to help, and even defining what love means in these situations can be difficult. So I applaud you for your help and love to date, and for your questions about how to help and love in the future. Needless to say, situations like the one you are facing are complex and with the few details I have and more that I’ll assume, I may miss the mark on some parts, but I hope that as I address your questions a few principles or tactics will be useful.

Before I get to some answers, I’ll provide context for readers who are not as familiar with the Change Anything approach as you are. When someone wants to change his or her behavior (and thus the results he or she is getting), often this person fails because he or she is blind and outnumbered. That means that there are more influences encouraging bad behavior than there are influences that encourage good behavior. The fact that you helped your son find professional help is noteworthy. And your suspicion that he is not well-equipped to deal with challenges now that he is home is spot on. Let me explain. Like everyone who goes to a program, he was a subject. At good programs, all Six Sources of Influence™ are applied to helping the clients do the effective behaviors. Again, for those unfamiliar with the Six Sources of Influence, a little side track here. At the rehab center:

Source 1: Personal Motivation—Your son gets in touch with the reasons why doing drugs is dangerous and why being clean will bring happiness and success.

Source 2: Personal Ability—Your son learns new skills like saying no, overcoming urges, and so on.

Sources 3 and 4: Social Motivation and Ability—Your son is not surrounded by accomplices, partiers, or pushers, but by cheerleaders, caregivers, and coaches.

Source 5: Structural Motivation—Your son gets rewards for small wins: gold stars and other incentives.

Source 6: Structural Ability—The environment is controlled to make the good behaviors easy and the bad behaviors impossible.

The big point I’d like to emphasize here is this: many programs are effective when the client is the subject. They influence the subject in powerful ways, but they don’t always equip the clients to be their own agents when they go home. Clients often remain blind to the skills and strategies that helped them succeed while in rehab. So when they get home, they can’t see the influences that will cause relapse. They haven’t been equipped to be their own scientist or agent. How do you help him see and use enough influence so that he can control his own behavior at home?

So now to your questions:

Do we apply the model in a certain sequence or all at once?
Yes and no. The first step in the model is to diagnose. Why is your son behaving like he is? What caused his problem? What and who is helping or hindering? What are the times or conditions when your son is most tempted to take drugs? These are “crucial moments” and will help you identify and determine a plan to achieve the desired results. Focus on the vital behaviors and the sources of influence he needs to add and eliminate to make positive change much more probable. So, first diagnose his current behavior and that will lead to a specific, customized plan.

Are there sources of influence that need to come before or after another source?
Your son will need different sources of influence to change his behavior than someone else’s son or daughter would. Customization is important. What specific influences are helping, hurting, or missing altogether? Identify them first and then design strategies to turn those influences in his favor. By doing so, you’ll marshal enough influence that your son can change for good. Marshaling enough influence simultaneously—not sequentially—is key.

Should he help construct activities within each source or should we create them before we present anything to him?
Your son should lead this process, so he knows that he is the capable captain of his own ship, not just a passenger along for a ride on a larger vessel. You can be the guide on the side. There are two goals here. One is to create a plan so that he stays clean. The second is to have a process that motivates and enables him to be his own agent.

What are some known best practices when applying the model to this problem?
This question requires more space than I have. I will say that we tried very hard to identify best practices in Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success. The chapter entitled “Addiction: How to Take Back Your Life” is our best shot.

I’ll end where I started. Bless your hearts for helping and loving your son to this point. I hope that the suggestions I’ve offered will assist you in aiding him to be his own agent and, on his own, do the behaviors that will help him live a happy and productive life.

Best Wishes,


You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Influence

2 thoughts on “Helping Your Child with Addiction”

  1. Charisa

    Like Influencer and Crucial Converation folks, the people at Teen (and Adult) Challenge have hit the mark and have been successful where the other “experts” fail. If this family sincerely wants their son to be drug free for life, and it sounds like they lovingly do, they need to contact Teen Challenge for help. This is the one organization that truly equips people to live successfully outside a clinic environment. Like you mentioned, part of the reason that drug rehab clinics are successful when the subject is in the clinic is that they make it impossible not to be successful. What happens when they are released is not controlled and the subject is not usually successful. Patients of Teen Challenge ARE VERY successful when released! Check out their statistics and you’ll wonder why not all clinics use their model. Like the question asks in Crucial Conversations, how would I handle this if I really wanted to reach my goals?

  2. De J

    While I believe the principles and practices of Crucial Skills and Influencer are great tools, I’d like to suggest an alternative to these parents who obviously love and support their son very much: Apply the principles to yourselves, not your son, and find a 12-step program for yourselves that will help you heal from the affects of his disease and prepare you to continue supporting him in healthy ways. The addict has to find his own desire, motivation, and continuity; and this comes through working an ongoing recovery program that helps him to look at and address his disease and the effects it has had on his life. The Six Sources are are, as Al pointed out, present in most rehab programs and are also very similar to the process experienced by working the 12 steps of NA, AA, or other 12-step programs (there’s even a Pills Anonymous fellowship these days). Nar-Anon, AlAnon, Families Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous are all wonderful programs where you will meet people just like you with exactly the same experiences you’ve had/will have. Of course, I’m speaking from the same set of experiences–as a recovering addict myself and the family member of addicts both in and out of recovery programs. Best wishes, much strength, and lots of hope to you in your journey.

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