It was Bea Duncan who answered the phone at 2 a.m. on a January morning. Her son Jeff had been caught using drugs in a New Hampshire sober home and was being kicked out.
Bea and her husband, Doug, drove north that night nine years ago to pick him up. On the ride back home, to Natick, Mass., the parents delivered an ultimatum: Jeff had to go back to rehab, or leave home.
Jeff chose the latter, Bea said. She remembers a lot of yelling, cursing and tears as they stopped the car, in the dead of night, a few miles from the house.
“It was really, really difficult to actually just drop him off in a parking lot on our way home and say, you made the decision — no rehab — so we made the decision, no home,” Bea said. “It was exquisitely difficult.”
But it was not unexpected. Doug Duncan said many parents had told him to expect this moment. Your son, he remembered them saying, will have to “hit rock bottom; you’re going to have to kick him out of the house.”
Two torturous days later, Jeff Duncan came home. While he returned to rehab, the Duncans decided their approach wasn’t working. They sought help, eventually connecting with a program that stresses empathy: CRAFT or Community Reinforcement and Family Training.
“There was more compassion and ‘Wow, this is really difficult for you,’ more open questions to him instead of dictating what he should and should not behave like,” said Bea.
The Duncans said the training helped them shift from chaos to calm.
“I started to feel an immense sense of relief,” Bea said. “I stopped feeling like I had to be a private investigator and controlling mom. I could kind of walk side to side with him on this journey, instead of feeling like I had to take charge of it.”
For the Duncans, the approach meant they could switch from enforcing family consequences, like kicking Jeff out of the house, to supporting him as he faced others, like losing a job due to drug use. It worked well: Bea and Doug helped Jeff stick to his recovery. He’s 28 now and has been sober for nine years.
[to read the full story from WBUR, NPR and Kaiser Health News, go to https://khn.org/news/as-opioid-crisis-rages-some-trade-tough-love-for-empathy/]