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He’s Backsliding and Far Away – Should I Fly Down?

woman looking at river-canyon
© Beata Ratuszniak via unsplash

katie1chad lives far from her son who struggles with alcohol use. A recent breakup is causing him to backslide after some real progress. Mom wonders if she should fly down to help him through this…

"This is my second time writing here. My son is an alcoholic and the past year has been very difficult for him. I live at a distance so I don't often see him, but he calls me nearly every day. He has sounded much better the past few months and said he had stopped drinking. He even got a job, but quit after a few weeks. Today I talked to him and he sounded terrible, hungover and depressed. He can't seem to get over his breakup with a girl after 4 years of living together. It's been about 6 months and he's still very very sad. I encourage him to get help but he doesn't reach out. Should I fly down to him and try to help? I have recently had breast cancer surgery and radiation and I need to take care of myself too. I believe he's worried about me too. Any suggestions would be appreciated."

Your son is struggling with a serious breakup. He sounds depressed and is drinking.

You can help without flying down there and exhausting yourself.  Your health is very important. I suggest a list of treatment options for him. You can help him find the treatment, pay for it, if that’s an option, and figure out transportation. Perhaps you say something along these lines:

“I know you’re having a rough time. You are drinking and are depressed. I am sad for you. I am worried for you. I am also worried for my own health as we go through this together. When you’re ready, let’s go over this list and figure out what is going to work for you. Alcoholism is a serious condition. Let’s work together on this. You don’t have to feel this bad. Let’s get you some help. It’s time we get you feeling better so that you can get on with your life. When you’re ready, I am here. If it’s needed, I will come down there to help get you settled in treatment.”

Ultimately, your son has to make the decision to get help. The only exception to this is a civil commitment, where a judge mandates treatment. Depending on the State he lives in, this is more or less realistic. I suggest you look into it and have it in your pocket should your son’s condition worsen. Breakups are very hard. They are an excellent reason to feel despair and self-pity. They are a perfect excuse to go down a hole and drink.

By detailing out the options for your son in his location, you are providing him the pathway to get help. This is what you can do. By being his partner, doing the legwork, and being patient, you are setting up the best conditions possible for helping him.  You may need to fly out to him, but do so when you sense he is going to accept some treatment, and help him with the many details.

Keep some of the focus on your own wellbeing and healing from the cancer. We wish you and your son all the best.



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"...)

  1. I have written in before. My 30 year old son is an alcoholic. About a month ago he was hospitalized for pneumonia and flu, and they discovered liver damage. The nurse told me he would either need to be on oxygen for life or have a liver transplant. But after being released (with oxygen) he started seeing a doctor and having weekly blood tests for his liver. After about 3 weeks of that he told me his liver was healing much more rapidly than the doctor at the hospital had projected. Yesterday he called me about ordering some food (I am in a different state). Perhaps 45 minutes he called back clearly drunk but denied he’d been drinking. I have been paying for him to stay in a motel during this extremely serious pandemic. It is no time for someone with lung and liver damage to be living on the street. But how do I deal with his relapse? Do I try to discuss it with him or just try to keep him safe from the coronavirus?

    1. Your son is chronically ill. You are paying for him to stay in a hotel during the Covid-19 crisis. He drank recently and denied it when you asked him at the time.

      You got the typical answer when you asked him about his drinking while he was under the influence (there are actual two typical answers: 1) no I have not been using, and/or 2) what business is it of yours. You can almost see your Loved One up against the wall in this conversation, defending their need to use.

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to katie1chad here:

  2. My son has been struggling with alcohol abuse for years. He hasn’t worked since July 2018 when he was fired from his job of 8 years. Recently he became ill and spent 2 weeks in the hospital with flu and pneumonia. He told me there was lung and liver damage and he would have to be on oxygen when he left the hospital. What he didn’t tell me was that his liver wasn’t working well enough for his lungs to put enough oxygen in his blood. The nurse told me he would be on oxygen for the rest of his life or have to have a liver transplant. He is now out of the hospital and in a doctor’s care. He asked about disability and they said it had been too long since he worked. Is there anywhere he can apply for help, he is homeless and jobless and in debt. He’s also very sick. Any suggestions would be appreciated. He is in San Luis Obispo, CA.

    1. We are very sorry to hear your son is ill. We provided you the number of our colleague in California. She is the best one to answer the questions about medicaid and disability in CA. Let us know you have reached her.

  3. My son resumed his drinking and then became sick with the flu. He went to the emergency room with a bad cough, they did blood labs and said he had liver damage. They admitted and detoxed him and treated him for flu, which turned into pneumonia. He has been in the hospital for 2 weeks and they say he has lung and liver damage. He never told me about the detox, I got that info from the hospital. He is set to be released with an oxygen tank today. He is homeless and his only option is to stay in a motel. With the Corona virus scare I am afraid his immune system is compromised. He wouldn’t let me talk to his doctors. He needs a place to rest and recuperate, which I am willing to help with. He is still in CA and I am in WA. I am sure the doctors explained how dangerous it would be for him to resume drinking. What can I do?

    1. Hello Katiechad: You need help from someone who knows the system in CA: homelessness, housing, and substance use treatment. Is there anyone in CA who can be in touch through internal email with Katiechad?