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A Visit After Troubling Silence

two hands reaching out

In recent months, Me4clean has been hearing a lot less from their son, who lives far away and struggles with alcohol use. Now at last they’ve arranged to visit. Do they confront him about his silence? Allies CEO Dominique Simon-Levine suggests that there are better options.

two hands reaching out
©Muhammad Rayhan Haripriatna/

My son lives a long distance away from us. We used to talk on the phone and text a lot. In the last six months or so the communication has dropped off significantly. He is still drinking. Do we try to ask him why his contact with us has dropped off so much, or wait? We are supposed to see him next weekend and would like to ask why his communication with us is so limited (it really hurts). How should we pose this situation with him?

The next bend on a long, winding road

You are planning to see your adult son after a long period of physical separation, and you want to ask him why he hasn’t been keeping up with you. Your son is in trouble with alcohol. It continues. In your past comments on this site, you’ve told us about your son’s DUI charges. Your earlier visits were fraught with these discoveries.

Now, he has stopped reaching out to you by phone. This abrupt change hurts you and has to add a lot of worry. Whether your Loved One is at home or at a distance, your choices and your feelings about his behavior are replete with hard questions, and naturally with some fear.

The pandemic has layered new challenges over us that make maintaining connection with our Loved Ones even harder. Many of us are isolated, living alone, cut off from local activities we used to take for granted. We’re not able to see one another’s faces when we go out, and are now dependent, literally, on eye contact for a passing connection. Connection is vital for recovery, and yet it’s become even harder to make.

He cares about you. That may make it harder for him to connect.

Moreover, reaching out isn’t easy at the best of times for people with addiction. You want to feel okay when you chat with a family member on the phone. When you feel closed down or unwell, that phone call can be intimidating. It can be a letdown, and deeply hurtful, for those on the other end. You may be living through just this kind of scenario with your son. I am sorry.

Your son may also be in a worse place than how you recall. I wonder if you can hold off, though, with that conversation about him being in touch. It’s something that hurts you, and may be hard to express with calmness. If it does come out, keep it small, and let him know that the silence hurts and scares you (an “I” statement): “The drop in phone calls has felt hurtful and scary to me.”

Setting constructive goals can make all the difference

In our podcast Coming Up for Air, Laurie McDougall reminds us to think through some short-term goals for a trip beforehand. Having a goal you and your partner can agree on can help steer you and the visit in a more “satisfying” direction.

There are many possible goals in your instance. Here are three to consider, along with a little instruction.

• Perhaps, just for this trip, it’s only about reconnecting with your son. Use the communication skills from Module 4. Avoid, as best you can, saying anything about the alcohol, his situation, his future, how he looks, or what he should be doing. I know that won’t be easy. If he raises any of these topics, you sidestep giving your opinion (also not easy) and try instead to listen reflectively (downright tough).


• Make it a fact-finding visit. Through observation and informed guesses, try to amass information as to your son’s ongoing patterns with alcohol (and other drugs?). Fill in the exercises provided in Module 3, with current information as best you can. These will help train your eye for what to look for, and bring your son’s patterns of use and non-use into sharper relief. It’s okay if you can’t answer a question or two. Just asking them helps build your awareness. Knowing what you’re looking for makes it easier to spot.

The point here it to collect information about current use and non-use. In what ways have things changed for your son? He will almost certainly alter his daily pattern for your visit, but with a trained eye you can detect some things, and make informed guesses at others. Module 3’s exercises are designed to help you build that practiced eye.


• Perhaps you want to have, at the ready, the makings of a “little formal talk” around the kitchen table (Module 8) that engages your son into sampling a form of treatment. For instance, perhaps you have found a doctor who has openings and is trained in using medications for alcoholism. All the better if that practice takes your son’s insurance (see our treatment resource blog for approved medications for alcoholism).

Here are a few examples: Sinclair Method, Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) and Vivitrol.

I know how disconcerting it is when someone you love drops out of sight. Luckily you already know something fundamental: that your son has problems with alcohol. Having one, or several, constructive, short-term goals planned for this visit should help you find your legs more quickly, and have a warmer, more connective time with him.

Whatever the next step brings, we’re with you. I wish you and your son the very best.


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In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)