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It’s Either I Help Him or I Help Myself


Pherlihy, mother of 4 sons, is at a crossroad today. After unbelievable episodes with her youngest son, she is coming to the realization that her own mental health must take precedence…But what to do about her son, who will be angry if she asks him to leave?

"My 32 year old son, who lives with me and is the youngest of my 4 sons, has been a heroin/cocaine/fentanyl addict and alcoholic for 17 years…..he had clean time while incarcerated or attending AA meetings and at those times he is a kind, wonderful man. Currently he attends a methadone clinic, taking 70 mg per day and has done well on and off. His older brothers are all on their own now, but because of my youngest sons addiction, currently do not have a relationship with him or me…..that is profoundly sad to me.

This past weekend was the worst……within a 12-hour time span, he was arrested for trespassing and had fallen into a 6 foot drainage hole…..luckily someone called an ambulance and he was transported to the hospital…..he walked out of the ER and called me for a ride home at 4am. He had no idea what happened or where his car was…….he told me that he had taken 12 mg of klonopin the day before. He had multiple scraps and lacerations, including scraping his head so badly, he was missing 4 inches of hair on his scalp. I found his car blocking a driveway with the keys in the ignition and the Windows rolled down.

My son has a great job and his boss told him to take off a few days and recuperate after the accident …….these last few nights, he's been staying out all night or coming home at 12:30am. When I request that he should have an early night and that he needs to sleep in order to heal, he becomes beligerant and starts throwing stuff in the house……and can't get up early for the group session at the methadone clinic……and the cycle starts over again. When he misses his group or methadone dosing session, he looks to me to pay for methadone that he buys from clients with take home doses. I am broke and have had to use my credit card for purchasing basic necessities……I work in the public school system and make a very good salary, but my son has bled me dry, again.

Over the years, I have had to have the police remove him from my home…….which always ends badly for him…..crashing his car, stealing, getting into legal trouble, etc. I'm at my breaking point, again and would like suggestions. I have been a devoted follower for several years on the Allies in Recovery website and have gained so much knowledge and wisdom from reading the modules and the community blogs….but I'm at a crossroad this morning of either helping my son or taking care of myself…..I can no longer do both. I sent him a text early this morning explaining that I felt like he was, once again at the brink of disaster…..but no response.

I greatly appreciate any thoughts or suggestions on how to proceed

Mom of 4 sons"

Dear Pherlihy: Your account is filled with such agony. It’s as though both you and your son are continually battered and bruised, and understandably so: 17 years—half your son’s life—have been spent responding to his addictions. It has caused tension and misunderstanding between you and your other sons.

Let’s start with where you are this morning. You texted your son that he is at the brink of disaster.

My first thought is for you to send your son a second text:

I am at the breaking point; on the brink of giving up. I love you but we have hit a crossroad. Please don’t come home for now. I need my life back. Let’s talk in a couple days.

So, you first. Will he listen to this? Will he stay away? Can you buy a little time to get your own emotions sorted out? Do you have a therapist? A family group you can attend? Also, use our resources in the Sanctuary.

From your comment it appears your son is ruling your home and your relationships with other family members. You have the power to stop this. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. The police may need to come take him away. He may respond by getting loaded.

Ask yourself whether having your son live with you has been protective for him. Are you really able to secure his safety?

Would it be worse if you weren’t there to catch him? What if he didn’t get the money to buy street methadone when he misses the clinic?

(By the way, methadone is a drug used as a medicinal opiate substitute partly because it has such a long half life. This means patients can go 24 hours without needing a second dose, hence the once-a-day dosing at clinics. In my experience, early withdrawal symptoms from methadone can actually take even longer to come on, up to 48 hours. This means your son is not uncomfortable if he misses his dose of methadone for 1-2 days.) Money for street-bought Methadone may be a ploy.    

Now, as for your son: The methadone dose may not be high enough if he continues to crave opiates. The methadone will do nothing to stop the craving for other drugs like a benzodiazepine (Klonopin).

Methadone clinics are very overwhelmed. Caseloads for clinicians can range up to 70 or 80 individuals. The clinic can’t talk to you but can you get a call into them? It won’t be easy. Go to the top. Tell them about the Klonopin and the drainage hole and the street bought methadone. This will unlikely move the needle much but you will have done what you can.

In Massachusetts, programs that take state funding cannot deny services to someone on methadone (or any type of MAT). Your son needs more services. As you have been following this site for a while, you know what to look for: a therapist outside the methadone clinic, a ¾ house where he can live… He did well with AA and occasionally with the methadone. He can do it again. Perhaps he starts with a couple weeks inpatient in a crisis stabilization service. See our Resource Supplement for a description. Use the Massachusetts helpline to learn about bed availability in real time.

Coming back to live with you can be available to him after the crisis is over, and once he is stable again on the methadone, with the additional services. Your home cannot be fraught with things being thrown and chaos. Read about the bed in the den, aim for that.

Your son has a job, keeps a car on the road, has a cell phone. He is able to do well with AA and methadone for periods of time. I can tell you he is trying. He wants more for himself. He still feels the need to get high despite 70mg of methadone. He is not feeding his head with recovery and relapse prevention. The methadone clinic isn’t doing this for him.


  1. redouble your efforts at taking care of your emotional health;
  2. tell your son he is to stay away for a little while, while you get things sorted out for yourself (change the locks in the house if you need to);
  3. research additional services for your son, include crisis stabilization so that he has a safe place to go for the next while;
  4. explain the bed in the den concept. This is what you are willing to do going forward.

Your son loves you, is respectful and a “kind and wonderful man,” when he is in the groove of recovery. He is 32, an age where active addiction becomes very, very exhausting. The patterns should be getting clear to him. He needs more treatment. You’ll both benefit from having you step away from his torturous active periods of use.



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. Good morning,
    Thank you to all those who responded to my posts over the last few weeks…..I took your suggestions and went away with a friend for 3 days to Maine over Labor Day weekend and had time to reflect and come up with a plan for myself……my son did not text or call begging for money while I was away…..only text to let me know that he was awake and feeding the cat…..that was an improvement.

    Something seemed very different when I returned home on Monday… son appeared to be more like his old self…….finally on Wednesday he told me that he was using drugs last Friday night and the man he was using with overdosed in the family home… son called 911 , called for the mom and got the Narcan from his car trunk and administered it….the Mother was doing chest compressions when the EMS workers arrived…..they told my son that if he had not had the Narcan, the man would have probably died… son has overdosed several times, but apparently this was the first time he ever saw someone overdose and nearly die and it seems that it was an enormous wake up call for him….Amen….

    I don’t know what the future will hold for my son, but I do know that my boundaries are now much tighter…..I am working at being detached…..with love toward my son…..and I’m committed to putting me first…..which is an enormous change…..

    Thank you again for establishing this website….I gain so much wisdom from all who are a part of Allies in Recovery

    Take care,
    Mother of 4 sons

  2. Sincere thanks for all who have shared their wisdom to my problem with my son… has been another extremely difficult week…..he was transported a second time to the hospital emergency department because a police officer noticed him stumbling on the sidewalk in the early morning hours…..and gave my son a choice… or police station… son confessed that he found more klonopin and just took them.

    Last night he finally came home at 130am and when I noticed that he has damage to the front end of his car this morning…… I asked him about it, he started throwing his phone and clock off his nightstand …..I went to my neighbors home because I didn’t want the situation to escalate ……and this was all before 7am…..not the way I like to start my day…..he finally went to his clinic counseling session and then to work…..Amen

    He tells me that he has been clean for 3 days now…..but I’m worried that he will be angry again this afternoon…..I would like to have a peaceful, quiet weekend……but it generally falls apart when he is actively using.

    Unfortunately, my deceased ex-husband and father to my 4 sons became an alcoholic after a wonderful marriage of 25 years….. There is a strong genetic component for alcohol addiction on his Dad’s side of the family…..and I suspect that my youngest son has inherited his Dad’s beautiful green eyes along with this life altering addiction gene…..

    I thank you all in advance for additional wisdom you can share with me at this most difficult time…

    Take care, Mother of 4 sons

    1. Dear Pherlihy: I do worry that your son may be dependent on benzodiazepines in doses large enough to be dangerous when he stops. Withdrawals can cause life threatening seizures. If this is the case, he will need an inpatient detox unit to safely withdraw. Dominique

  3. Hi – the advice from this website is invaluable, great steps that you should try to take, even if they are hard. The one flag that stands out for me is this – do NOT give your son ANY money. That’s a clear indication to me that he is lying to you about what he is doing – and as the advice given notes: he really needs therapy, counseling, a safe place to recover that is not your house. It’s way too destructive for you to keep this up. The “Bed in the den” was a good start if you just cannot force him out of the house or stand to let him go. But just give a bed – if you must have him in the house, then lock up your prescription drugs, if any (all of them in the medicine cabinet) – then take a weekend away somewhere by yourself to get the R&R that you need. You are no help to your son if he sucks you in to the “anger game”…it sounds so hard and painful but you must extract yourself to save him, and hope he can save himself. When he’s not using…or even if he’s moving toward recovery…then he has the right to be in your home. I am sorry it is so difficult, you are doing the right thing by asking for advice. Get a counselor for yourself if you can, it will be the best help you can get (one familiar with these issues) to get you through crisis periods. Good luck, many others have been in your situation as well, you are not alone – it is the drug you are seeing, not your son. His brain has been hijacked.