William C. Moyers
Beyond Addiction by William C. Moyers
Improving our understanding of alcohol and drug addiction
Contract for Deeds
When conversation between worried parents and their troubled children is not enough -- or maybe too much -- consider a written contract.
A no-nonsense colleague of mine at Hazelden whose 17-year-old daughter has struggled with alcohol and drug-related problems showed me a contract she used to set firm boundaries for when the teenager is living at her home. The mother was at her wits' end about what to do -- especially after the girl disappeared last year, only to show up again in the middle of a bitter Minnesota winter, about a month ago.
"I love her. I want her to get well, and having her at home is a big relief," the mother said. "But I also needed to take care of my own sanity, my own health. I couldn't have her violating my space and compromising my peace of mind."
So she wrote this contract:
LIVING IN OUR HOME
I agree to:
- Abstain from all mood-altering chemicals.
- Not steal or borrow anything without our consent.
- It is OK to use the home computer, however do not download anything without my permission, and ALWAYS turn off the computer when finished.
- Comply with alcohol/drug screens as requested by me. Refusal to submit to an alcohol/drug screen will be interpreted as a positive result, and you could be asked to leave.
- Go to treatment if you cannot abstain from mood-altering chemicals. If you continue to use and refuse treatment, you will need to find another place to live.
- No lying.
- Always let me know where you plan to be when out, and leave me with an appropriate phone number in case of emergency.
- Be home by 10 p.m. unless otherwise communicated to me before 9 p.m.
- No incoming phone calls past 9:30 p.m. If you make calls after that time, go downstairs and talk quietly.
- Turn off televisions (especially the basement one) when done watching.
- Don't leave any food or dishes out; rinse and put in dishwasher.
- Obtain my approval before inviting any guests to the house.
- Participate in a family discussion at least every other week to talk about what's working and what's not.
Mother and daughter sat down to review the terms, and without intransigence the teenager signed and dated it. A copy hangs next to the computer she uses daily.
"I told her the trust isn't there, that it will take time," the mother said. "So far, so good."
Rules are a vital part of every household. But for parents whose home has been compromised by a teen's use of alcohol or other drugs, a simple, clear-cut contract might be the last resort or the first step in helping the teen understand what's at stake for the whole family.
February 20, 2010