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I’m Trying to Control His Drug Use Through Money

empty glass money cash

Milliemouse has written in to update us after a long break. Anxiety is riding high as her adult son continues to act recklessly and demand she give him money that "rightfully" belongs to him. 

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"Hello everyone. I have been off the AIR site for quite sometime but was lead back here and now reading the comments below from mothers with LO's struggling in recovery I realize that I am definitely not alone in the journey of my son's addiction/recovery.

It's been almost 2 years since he entered rehab for cocaine abuse and the longest period sober was 6 months. Since April 2019 it's been a roller-coaster with brief periods of sobriety. My son moved into his own apartment September last year and started dating an older woman. The relationship was on and off because his erratic behavior when he was drinking or using would lead to them fighting and he always ended it. Then a few weeks later he would ask her to take him back – he told me she was always the one who wanted him to come back but I have since discovered it was the other way around….

My question is – do I meet his request and go back to transferring money weekly or do I completely LET GO and let him have it all and see where that leads. I am an active member of Alanon and my sponsor told me to give it to him all but the fear he will end up in the same position as last time overwhelms me!!!

My anxiety is out of control over these last few months. I have lost 10 lbs and I am on anti anxiety meds. Every time I see a message or call from him on my phone my heart races. I know I am trying to control his drug use by controlling his money but the truth is I know I cant! …." read Milliemouse's full comment here  

You are concerned about your son's financial situation, and money continues to be a very prickly topic between you. His relationships have become a cause for concern. Your health has taken a turn for the worse. Your head spins constantly with what you should  or shouldn't do for him, what he should or shouldn't be doing at this age/stage of life. You feel sorry for him and keep inviting him over or taking him out, so he won't be so isolated. In a way, you might feel you're the one carrying his recovery.

We're so focused on our Loved Ones' well-being that we let our own health deteriorate until we're a terrible mess, too!

What I hear loud and clear in your comment is that your own health is deteriorating and it's feeling more and more worrisome (you've lost weight, you're on medication, you go into panic mode when you get a message from him…). These are all signs that putting the focus back on your Self, your own Needs, your own Peace of mind and your own Health has become urgent — perhaps more urgent than watching over your son.

As you've been off the site for a while, we would strongly encourage you to take an hour or two (over the course of a week or so) to watch all 8 modules once again. Review your answers to the Key Observations. Many of those details may have changed.

Slip back into the bath of CRAFT – studied, designed and proven to improve the family member's wellbeing and of course, that of your struggling Loved One as well. Browse through the blog topics that feel the most pertinent to you (list of blue links on the sidebar to your right) and read what some of the other families are asking/experiencing.

Module 7 on handling difficult emotions is going to be essential for you to regain some stability and peace. Removing the power you've inadvertently given your son  over your own mental state, and little by little putting it back in your own hands … will be KEY. 

But as we've said so many times, the resources on this site can only get you so far. Only you can know if the time has come to seek professional support for yourself, to give you a real jump start in your own recovery.

So, Milliemouse, you've heard us say this before but we are really, really hoping you can feel the urgency of it today: SELF-CARE is your savior. It must happen for the rest of the show to move forward, and to truly heal. This is a huge part of what is within your control and has simply become urgent to do.

"I admit, I'm trying to control his drug use through money"

You're being honest with yourself and we commend you for the reflections you shared with us. So many families find themselves in the same boat as you.

Just as a small child who wants to provoke a reaction from her parents is relegated to the realms of food, potty training and sleep, an adult child will often use the sticky, laden realm of money to play tug-of-war with her parents (not to mention their romantic relationships…)!

Money is a huge sticking point when your Loved One is struggling with addiction. It can bring up so many triggers—

— purchasing drugs or alcohol;
— trust between you and them; 
— the "should's" (he's 32, he shouldn't need me to dole out his money…); along with
— our own wishes for our Loved One: what we wish their current life looked like (independent, happy, healthy, earning money, not squandering it), vs. the present reality.

I'd venture to say that there is no "right" or "wrong" in the dilemma around money that is haunting you. Whether or not you withhold his savings, there is no guarantee of what he will do with that money. What seems certain to me is that fretting over it is not worth the sacrifice of your health.

Everyone here can relate to trying to control our Loved Ones at some point

Trying to control our Loved Ones' actions is something all of us on this site can relate to. It's not because we're bad people, it's because, at times, we let the concern, worry, and feelings of impotency win out over the knowledge that we can not actually make up their minds for them. We can not carry their recovery single-handedly. We can't (ever) get any guarantees as to how they will act, whether they will use, or how long they will stay abstinent. 

It can feel excruciating, I know. We feel we can see the way out and we're just dying to guide them towards it. And yet, in a way, this situation (where we simply can't control our Loved Ones, as hard as we try) is like a microcosm of the rest of existence. There are so many factors in this life that we can not control, but how we surf the waves, the up's and down's, the surprises, the joys and the lowest of lows, is something we can work on, be more conscious of, get more artful at.  And the more centered and whole we become, the more those around us are inspired to do the same. 

A recovery payment card: something concrete you can do in the money realm

Have you ever heard of bank/debit cards that support people in recovery? They can not be used to take out cash, nor to purchase alcohol.

Here's how one site summarizes the idea: 

The primary account holder of the Next Step card is the parent or caregiver. The person in recovery receives a companion card, which can be used to make purchases. The card cannot be used at an ATM machine, or to get cash back at a store. It is not accepted at bars, casinos or liquor stores. “The truth is, if someone wants to buy drugs they will find a way,” Dresdale told the newspaper. “But we act as a hurdle from achieving that goal.”

Though the MasterCard version of this card no longer seems to be available, you can look into the Visa equivalent, called TrueLink.


Consider putting down your arms for a moment — it doesn't mean addiction will win!

We are rooting for you, Milliemouse. We hope that you will consider taking a real break from the fretting that isn't actually helping you or him. In our battles, we sometimes convince ourselves that we can not afford to put down our burden, or our weapons, not even for a moment, for fear the dark forces will win out. This is mistaken thinking, and will only produce exhaustion and hopelessness. Consider putting it all down for a spell. Trusting that you can afford to take time for yourself, to direct kindness, compassion and gratitude towards your own self, before you go into the next battle.



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. Hello Dominique and Laurie. I haven’t been on AIR for awhile but have somehow managed to survive the continual relapse of my 32 year old sons cocaine and alcohol addiction with the help of Alanon and a lot of praying and faith!! Today I felt the need to log back in as my son and his partner who is 10 years older than him finally decided back in mid December to move in together. They have been seeing each other for 18 months and in that time have had 8 break ups due to terrible arguments which then led to relapse. His gf has been the one who has always asked him to come back – she says he is the love of her life. So finally he gave up his apartment last week and the final move was completed. However every time they have a spat – if he’s irritable or stressed either because of work or dealing with cravings – she messages me and tells me everything that’s going on.

    This is very upsetting because I immediately start to panic that the fight is going to lead him to using and that she’s going to kick him out and he has nowhere to go. This morning another situation arose as they were planning to go to a beach house for her birthday this weekend and they got in a fight and he went off without her. She’s messaging me to tell me he did it on purpose to spoil her birthday and now she doesn’t want to go anymore! I feel she is overreacting and being childish. I honestly don’t think he’s done anything on purpose it was just everyone under stress with the packing up and organizing.

    I have had to turn my phone off so I don’t see her messages anymore but I am sitting here with my stomach in a knot, I am actually feeling sick at the thought that this will really escalate into a massive situation. I don’t feel I should get involved. 12 step work teaches me that I have to accept the things I cannot change and that I cannot control or cure. I’m not even sure this is an appropriate question for this forum but I want help with setting boundaries when it comes to this relationship and my involvement. I cannot go on this way! Can you impart any words of wisdom?

    1. Oh, how much more complicated recovery can be while mixing in a love relationship! The added complications and chaos can also really pile onto our (family members’ and friends’) stress, anxiety and worry, especially when we become entangled in that relationship. Your son and long-term girlfriend have decided to see if they can figure it all out together regardless of signs they may not be fully prepared to do so. In an attempt at support, your son’s girlfriend is also pulling you into the middle of their tornado.

      I hear the warning bells going off in your head that this situation is something you do not want to be involved in. There are multiple reasons why, for all three of you, this is probably best. . . .

      Read Laurie MacDougall’s full response to Milliemouse here:

  2. My dear MillieMouse: I just want to add that getting to almost 6 months of abstinence is very very hard. Your son keeps trying. You see the nascent motivation in that.

    One day soon your son is going to wake up and decide to make it a drug-free day. It won’t be too hard because he will have tried it over and over again, and has had a number of drug free days, putting together limited amounts of time each time he tried.

    But this time, one day will be followed by a second, and by a third. With the help of others, he will feel supported enough by life (and strong enough to surpass the obstacles), you, others in recovery, and others that love him, and he will see 6 months fly by. He is so close. Tell him that I said so.

    My best to your family

    1. Thank you for this Dominique. I keep telling myself that all the time – one day!! He has a very close friend who just made 7 months and then slipped and another one a year and still doing ok. So I know recovery is possible – I just wish I could spare him the agony of broken relationships and the guilt and shame of when he does use. But through Alanon and all the great info on this site I know that I can’t spare him anything- I can’t save him, just keep on encouraging him and loving him. I must focus on ME! And not let this dreadful disease rob me of peace and happiness. And one other thing I am learning is who I can share this journey with for many of my very good friends are unable to understand what we live every day and why we do things the way we do. So it is very important that I keep my sharing to the Alanon meetings and here at Allies in Recovery.

      1. You bring up a great point, Milliemouse. So many us on this site can relate to the fact that not every friend or family member (even the ones we feel close to) makes a good person to talk to about addiction in the family.

        People are still quite challenged by stale but prevalent cultural beliefs (including the negative thinking brought on by stigmatizing language), their own denial, their own fears, etc, etc.

        We published a piece on unsolicited advice a while back, here it is if you haven’t read it: