Family Support Around the Word: The Origins of CRAFT

–  A series of blogs about families and substance use by our Policy and Research Assistant, Rebecca McColl

At Scottish Families, CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) is a key element of what we do. CRAFT was created by Dr Robert J. Meyers at the University of New Mexico, who first developed the program in 1976. Since then, CRAFT became a dominating method of supporting families across North America and has been used to support families all over the world. Today, CRAFT is used by Scottish Families and many other organisations to support families in Scotland. Recently, some of our team members have worked with CRAFT trainer George Charlton to create the CRAFT Community of Practice, to bring together CRAFT practitioners to support one another. So, how did it all begin?

Dr Meyers himself identifies as a family member, who grew up around his father drinking alcohol. In his 2004 book, Meyers wrote,

“although my mother was blessed by the support and comfort she found in Al-Anon meetings, she was never able to achieve her most cherished goals of getting my father into treatment and getting him to stay sober.” [1]

Witnessing the impact alcohol had on his family, and his mother and father’s relationship, inspired Meyers to seek an alternative approach that actively involved family members and gave families support in their own right. Meyers sought to develop a way for families to effectively communicate with their loved one who was using substances in a more engaging, positive way to improve the relationship between them.

In short, Meyer’s personal experience as a family member led him to believe that families could play an integral part in their loved one’s recovery if they had the right tools. This is where CRAFT comes in. CRAFT aims to teach family members how to have positive interactions with their loved ones, set boundaries and take care of themselves. Research shows that around 64% of families that engage with CRAFT are able to help their loved one access treatment (if they weren’t already). However, the main focus of CRAFT is to help family members improve their own lives, regardless of their loved one’s decisions. CRAFT is delivered in around 6 sessions, each of which focuses on a specific topic.

Some examples of what CRAFT covers are:

  • Understanding your loved one
  • Positive communication
  • Setting boundaries
  • Recognising positive behaviour and how to respond
  • Allowing natural consequences of a loved one’s actions to happen
  • Self-care

Sisson and Azrin conducted the first study into CRAFT which was published in 1986. 12 participants took part, with half receiving CRAFT sessions. The study showed CRAFT was achieving its desired results, as did future studies into the 1990s and early 2000s. Furthermore, studies concluded that CRAFT is effective across all types of relationships (parental, friends, significant others etc.) and across diverse ethnic groups. Since then, Meyers has offered training in 31 out of 50 states in America and 15 other countries worldwide, including the UK. His books are available in 7 languages, exemplifying the global reach of CRAFT.

Before CRAFT: The Community Reinforcement Approach (CRA)

CRAFT has been described as a ‘variant’ of The Community Reinforcement Approach, CRA, which is an intervention based on the belief that a person’s environment, future experiences or events can play a critical role in encouraging or discouraging substance use. [2] The CRA model provided Meyers with the foundations to create CRAFT and adapt the thinking behind CRA to work for families. So, what is CRA?

CRA has a program that can be tailored to an individual’s needs. There are some similarities to CRAFT, such as conducting a ‘functional analysis’, which means to find out about an individual’s behaviours, the reasoning behind them and how they make the individual feel. Other components include ‘behavioural skills training’, which includes communication and problem solving, ‘job skills’, and counselling. CRA was designed to be community orientated and focused on not only the individual’s substance use but on embedding them into the community and making sure they had access and the ability to navigate community resources. Studies showed the CRA program to be working reasonably well, proving a good starting place for the development of CRAFT.


CRAFT is now a well-known and trusted program for families across several countries. America, Japan and Sweden, to name a few, all have certified CRAFT practitioners that support family members affected by alcohol and/or drugs. CRAFT has provided family members worldwide with support in their own right and with essential tools to help improve their relationship with their loved one. At Scottish Families, we see first-hand the impact CRAFT can have on family members and the importance of families receiving support.

If you’d like to learn more about CRAFT, you can read our little book of CRAFT, along with other Scottish Families materials, here.


[1] Meyers. J.R., and Wolfe, B.L., (2009), ‘Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening’, Simon and Schuster.

[2] Meyers, J.R., Villanueva, M., and Smith, J., (2005), ‘The Community Reinforcement Approach: History and New Directions’, University of New Mexico.

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