One reader writes in and asks:
I need help for my son. He was an A student in high school. During his first year at college, he turned into someone I don’t know or understand. He dropped out of school his spring sophomore semester and drove out west. In April he rolled his car and almost killed himself. The police officer didn’t give him a DUI, I thought this was a blessing, now I think it was a curse. He is now living at home. He puts on a good front for everyone, but I, his mother, know better. I cannot talk to him. I arranged for a therapist for him. I thought it was helping for a while. He is so talented, bright and could do anything with his life, yet he chooses unhealthy friends and destructive behavior over family and his bright future. What can I do? I am watching him destroy himself. I am sleepless with worry.
This is by far the most common type of question I get on this website. Parents want to know how to help their children who are struggling with addiction or alcoholism. It’s a heartbreaking question because I used to be that kid and I don’t have any magic bullets to hand out, no secret tricks that can be used to “straighten a kid out.”
Addiction is a cycle of self destruction and most any addict or alcoholic realizes that they are slowly self-destructing but they are powerless to stop it. That’s why we say that we feel “trapped in a cycle of addiction.” The addict realizes they are on the wrong path and that their life is unraveling, but they don’t see a way to break out of the cycle. The thought of going without drugs and alcohol is just too unbearable, so the cycle continues.
A parent who tries to intervene or convince their child to get help usually comes across as nagging, because the discussion has played itself out several time over, to no avail. The addict and the person trying to help them are both stuck in their roles, simply playing out a seemingly endless back-and-forth argument.
While there is no easy way to overcome this, there are some things that a parent can do:
1) Review some basic principles of helping addicts and alcoholics. Set boundaries and let them know that you are through enabling them and that you are not going to bail them out of trouble; they are going to suffer their own consequences from now on. Get to an Al-Anon meeting.
2) Be prepared to help when the time is right. This does NOT mean that you should go out of your way or bend over backwards for them. Instead, do some quick looking around and have an idea of who you might call if the addict decides to ask for professional help…is there a treatment center or a therapist nearby that could be of help when the time is right?
In my opinion, it is not worth trying to convince someone to go to treatment. Rather, let them know that the option is available. They will come to you when they are ready to make a real change.
3) Heal yourself – Set healthy boundaries, get to Al-Anon, get a support group, and learn how to stop enabling the addict.