CRAFT Teaches Friends and Families to Communicate with Loved Ones about Substance Use

A Free, Evidence-based Program for Coloradoans Seeking Support

Jessica Triplett
Statewide CRAFT Trainer
Behavioral Health Administration

Substance use disorder is a family disease. Even if only one family member is actively using, it impacts everyone.

Jessica Triplett knows from personal experience. When she was 16, her mom died suddenly. She found herself having to parent her 13-year-old sister while also taking care of her dad.

“Our life was completely turned upside down. I’m doing the laundry and I’m cooking and I’m getting my sister to school while trying to figure out how to do high school with a dad that’s always drinking,” she said.

Later as an adult, she learned about the Community Reinforcement and Family Training program (CRAFT). Her first thought was how this evidence-based, skills training program could have helped her family.

“I had no skills,” she said. “And that’s what CRAFT does – it gives families the skills they need to talk about substance misuse.”

CRAFT is a free resource that supports the family members and friends of people struggling with substance use disorder. Research says that seven out of 10 family members who participate in CRAFT successfully engage and encourage their loved one into entering a treatment program.

“People who go through CRAFT have reported lower levels of anxiety, anger and stress, regardless of whether their loved one went to treatment. So it has a lot of positive outcomes.”

Jessica serves as a program manager for the Behavioral Health Administration and leads a team of CRAFT facilitators across Colorado.

How CRAFT works

Friends and family members come together in-person or on Zoom once a week for 10-12 weeks. CRAFT professionals train them on how to have more positive interactions with the person struggling with substance use disorder.

The CRAFT program has three main goals that participants work on during each session.

The first goal is to help reduce their loved one's harmful substance use.

“We focus on harm reduction, which means focusing on making little, subtle changes.”

The second goal is to help participants get their loved one into treatment. Or, if they are already in treatment, help them to stay engaged.

“By treatment we mean any sort of services that can help them with their substance use disorder,” Jessica said. “And if they are already in treatment, we teach their loved ones positive communication and problem-solving skills so they can support them through the challenges.”

The third goal is to help families and friends practice self-care.

“Our participants learn that at the end of the day, they cannot control what another person does. But they can choose to take care of themselves. CRAFT teaches family members to prioritize their own wellbeing, and then work on helping their loved one.”

Connection is an antidote to addiction

CRAFT helps people strengthen their relationships with their loved ones.

“There’s a lot of loneliness and isolation in addiction,” Jessica said. “The program speaks to the saying, ‘connection is the opposite of addiction.’ When we feel connected and we feel supported, we don’t have to fall back on those older patterns of reaching out to substances in order to feel better. We have someone supporting us.”

The program doesn’t ask family members to take responsibility for their loved one’s use. Family members are encouraged to take a team approach to helping the person feel supported so they can be more successful in recovery.

Jessica has seen firsthand how a family can go from “blame and shame” to becoming a supportive team. Years ago, she worked with a family whose teen was on probation for substance use. The teen and stepmom struggled with communication.

“The first thing we do is learn seven different communication skills. And the stepmom tended to speak with a certain tone that felt passive aggressive. So we kept practicing. She admitted that it was hard for her because she was so frustrated by the teen’s behavior. So we practiced more.”

The next week, Jessica arrived to find the teen asking if he could be part of their session. CRAFT does not ask the person using substances to participate. So Jessica asked the family if they’d be okay with him participating. They agreed.

Jessica still remembers the first thing the teen said.

“He said, ‘I don’t know what you did, but my stepmom is different now.'”

He had noticed that she was changing. At the beginning of the 12 weeks, their communication was broken. By the end, they were having family dinners and having difficult but productive conversations. Eventually, the teen lowered his use and got off probation.

Jessica said that in the beginning, the family was skeptical about the program. But they gained skills and they practiced. They even put the CRAFT worksheet on the refrigerator as a reminder to speak with respect.

“We call it positive communication. It’s not fluffy. It’s about teaching people a respectful, assertive way of having a conversation so the other person feels heard.”

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