05/10/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Should You Reward The Alcoholic/Addict For Clean And Sober Behavior?

Many clients come to me bubbling with excitement that their loved one is practicing a clean and sober lifestyle. They can't believe the change in attitude and disposition from what was once an angry, belligerent person to a caring, attentive and responsible family member. Ahh..."my loved one is back and I want to show them how proud I am of their efforts and commitment. I'm going to buy them this or give them that".

Not wanting to throw too much cold water on their enthusiasm, I gently walk them through the pros and cons of their intentions and how they can express their pleasure in a myriad of ways other than buying cars, supporting apartments or plopping down large sums of money in a checking account.

Rewards seem to be more common to children than they are to adults. Parents often feel that they need to or want to reward their children for good behavior. They are relieved and grateful that their son or daughter has gone through such a difficult period in their life and has come out the other side with flying colors. After all, children were frequently rewarded for good grades in school; why not reward them for getting clean and sober?

The challenging determination here is what should that reward be and when do you ignite it? Professionally, I would like to think that the real reward is in and of itself the practice of a clean and sober lifestyle and all the riches that come from that. However, try and separate your emotions from reality and use what I have put together as the "C.A.R.D" acronym for your guide.

This acronym stands for: C - credibility, A - accountability, R - responsibility,
D - dependability. In a successful recovery these are character traits that the alcoholic/addict will be exhibiting on a daily basis as standard operating procedure, with not a lot of fan fare associated with it.

If your loved one is displaying this disposition, you're halfway there. The next question is for how long? Please remember that the alcoholic/addict has been in their addiction most likely for years and in their recovery program for a fraction of that time. It is the width of an eyelash between the two. So, with that said it is important that they have clocked in a substantial amount of time with a solid, grounded recovery. I believe at least a year or 18 months of holding down a job or attending classes reaffirms the character traits as well as the time element. Whatever it may be that can represent the credible, accountable, responsible and dependable behavior that comes with a clean and sober lifestyle.

If you wish to reward your loved one, find something that is enjoyable and fun, but not too over the top. Here are a couple of options that might prove fulfilling for both of you, and not just the carrot at the end of the stick for being a good boy or girl and doing the right thing.

One idea might be to plan a family vacation. Maybe somewhere the recovering alcoholic/addict has never been and has always had a desire to visit. Depending on your finances and interest, anything from a camping trip to a Mediterranean cruise might fill the bill. While planning it together as a family, there is nothing wrong with discussing some fair boundaries and expectations that you all agree upon. It may have nothing to do with staying clean and sober, but more about the normal, everyday suppositions of a family.

Another option might be for the family and the one in recovery to start a project together. Re-building a vintage car, erecting a green house, fishing or sailing; something that takes time, commitment and a "suiting up and showing up" mental and physical state.

If this doesn't give you enough satisfaction and you feel you have to do something more dramatic consider the following. If you are hell bent on purchasing a car for your child or funding a number of months in an apartment to show your vote of confidence in their budding sobriety, please think it through carefully.

I'm leery about huge investments unless there is some fiscal responsibility held by the recovering alcoholic/addict. For example ... a car. Discuss with them how they see their participation in the purchase. This could represent a promising goal for them to work toward, yet at the same time may take a year or two. Or if the car is already purchased, the recovering alcoholic/addict pays for insurance, gas, upkeep, etc...

This is so important, as they MUST be accountable not only to you, but to themselves as well -- a continued step in reaffirming the C.A.R.D. acronym.

If they don't have the money for gas or insurance, don't pay it for them in the hopes that they will pay you back. Parents have a way of forgetting or letting things slide to be "good guys" so their children will like them more. Don't forget to incorporate whatever ramifications both of you come up with if a car payment is not remitted on time, a full or part-time job is not a daily occurrence, grades are not kept up, etc.

Remember that the recovering alcoholic/addict functions best when he or she knows very clearly what the rules of the game are and what is expected of them. Having them vested in his or her own life continues to give them a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

It can be a wonderful experience for everyone as they share in the pride of ownership for participating in the growth and development of their beloved recovering alcoholic/addict.

Please do leave a comment below or drop me an email with your thoughts, suggestions or requests for future areas of focus.
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