Become a member of Allies in Recovery and we’ll teach you how to intervene, communicate and guide your loved one toward treatment.Become a member of Allies in Recovery today.

I’m Sober So Why Isn’t My Son?

mother considers making pizza for high son
Illustration © Eleanor Davis

AiR member Leanne63 wrote in with deep concern for her son, wishing that her experience of a long sobriety could help with his situation…

"This website was recommended by a Professional that I sit on a Committee with. I've been in recovery for over 28 yrs. I have the tools at my fingertips to help myself but I seem to be struggling with having patience and not arguing with my son over his alcohol and drug use. I'm trying to use Tough Love and not be co-dependent but I feel so damn guilty because I cannot help my son. If that makes sense. I just don't know where to turn next. I thought since I have a good foundation for my sobriety that it can help but its not helping with my son."

Dear Leanne63:

It’s extremely hard as a parent to watch your child make mistakes, especially dangerous mistakes. You can see it play out, you want to point it out, even scream it out, “watch out, don’t you see what’s going to happen?”

As someone who has managed to stay free from drugs and alcohol you may want to point out the pitfalls and suggest what he should do next. It must be infuriating to watch him take the wrong path, again and again, when you yourself have learned how to overcome a problem with addiction.

It took me years to realize there is more than one way to overcome addiction. Your son can find his way. You can help him to find his way by following the principles we lay out in the learning modules on this site.

The focus is on partnership. It’s a stance. You put some room between you and your son. You let him make his mistakes, unless they are truly dangerous. You don’t advise. He knows you are there. You will be creating a bridge between the two of you. Tough love is one-directional, your stance will be two-directional. You step in when he’s not high or is trying, you back away when he’s getting ready to use or is high. You don’t go far. You stay connected.

This is going to take time

You know this is going to take time. Find the patience to let him falter. This is how we learn that addiction is bigger than we first thought.

Your communication is more empathetic, you show respect. You try to stop the negative talk, add in positive talk, and listen to what your Loved One is saying.

You make requests. You don’t dominate. Trying to push someone to follow your direction has the effect of pinning them to the wall. They will deny, they will defend, and they will get around you.

You take care of yourself, which helps you stay calm and patient. This is the only way you will not react when your son does it again! It is the only way you can step in when you see him not using and reward, and quietly and neutrally step away when you do see him using.

And you understand that getting sober and clean is a process. Following the scientifically-validated program on this site helps to speed up the process, and helps you to understand how critically important it is to focus back on yourself. It is by focusing back on yourself that you will have the patience to respond to your son in a way that is simply more successful.

I’m glad you have joined this site. I hope the modules in the Learning Center help you. They are filled with small, practical steps you can take that are built around 8 principles. It’s an idealized framework, so go at your own pace, and do what you can. This is the skill set for families who love someone struggling with addiction.

I bet you’ve overcome a lot to be sober for 28 years. The skills you count on for your own recovery I’m afraid don’t always easily translate to another. This site gives you another set of skills that will help you with your son.



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"...)