Hazelden Betty Ford helps families of addicts with positive reinforcement

The addiction and recovery community has long known the power of family support in achieving sobriety. Now, a research-proven approach is guiding more counselors to teach families the power of positive reinforcement as a tool to convince a loved one to seek treatment.

"I know this works," said Dr. Joseph Lee, president and CEO of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. "I’ve gotten the passionate feedback from families that this is what they want. These are the skills that they want."

Dr. Lee is talking about a practice called CRAFT, or community reinforcement and family training. CRAFT was pioneered by two researchers at the University of New Mexico and has been in practice for at least two decades. It focuses on teaching families to use a non-confrontational approach toward a loved one who is battling addiction. And it is gaining more acceptance as a proven tool for families to persuade a loved one to seek sobriety.

"It’s kind of a basket of skills that families can use to learn to interact with their loved one in more effective ways," said Sarah Schwalbach, a licensed marriage and family therapist who has been trained in CRAFT.

"Since we started using it, we’ve found that it’s not only effective or helpful for families who have a loved one not yet ready to receive that help, but when they have a loved one who’s in treatment or post-treatment, these skills that CRAFT teaches are applicable, helpful and effective for all families," Schwalbach said.

Dr. Lee provided an example:

"We teach skills like this. They come into breakfast. They've had a rough night. It's obvious to everybody. But instead of putting them, throw down the gantlet, you say something like, ‘Hey, it's great to see you this morning. I love it when you come join us for breakfast.’" he said.

Dr. Lee admits it’s a small moment, but if the family builds on those moments, the person struggling with addiction starts to notice a difference.

"Some of that conflict starts to go away," explained Dr. Lee. "You start to build that trust, and you start to reinforce small behavior changes. And it leads to that person being much more willing to accept treatment."

Academic research shows CRAFT can work. A 2019 study by the Society of the Study of Addiction found CRAFT to be "twice as effective as other methods." A separate study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology showed 64% of the problem drinkers in its research entered treatment with the help of CRAFT training for their families.

Dr. Lee says CRAFT is not meant to replace the use of well-established family support programs such as Al-Anon, but it is supplemental help. It’s why Hazelden Betty Ford recently helped a CRAFT training session for its family counselors and those of several community partner organizations, such as Turning Point in Minneapolis.

"I want them to understand that they can learn skills to make a difference for themselves and their families," said Dr. Lee of the benefits of CRAFT training. "You don’t have to just live with the boundaries, and we can make that possible."

To learn more about the family counseling offered by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, visit their website.

To find an Al-Anon support group for families, visit here.