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My Son is an Adult, Living on His Own

mom arms crossed not happy

AiR member sugarplum's comment explores the boundaries when your Loved One is grown up and living on their own…

"My son is an adult, 12 years out on his own. The boundaries have to be different from a child or spouse living in my home. Contrary to help4t's situation, it would not be appropriate for me to talk to health care providers or make appointments for him, and certainly not to go with him. Although I have given him contact information for services, he sometimes seems to stall on moving forward, even though he has agreed to therapy. Is anyone else dealing with this?"

Hello Sugar Plum:

In a normal relationship without substance abuse, I would agree with what you suggest. Your son is an adult and should manage his own medical care.

50% of individuals who struggle with alcohol and drugs are resistant to getting help. That stalling you describe with your son is very common when there is substance abuse. With some forms of mental illness there is even a symptom called Anosognosia. Anosognosia is the genuine inability to recognize that the problem exists. 

On this site, we talk a great deal about enabling the treatment. To combat the problem of resistance, you’ll need to do everything possible to get your Loved One in front of a professional who can address the addiction – regardless of your Loved One’s age or station in life.

So, we suggest you support them in every way to get into that treatment/meeting/class:

  • drive them
  • pay for it
  • fight the insurance company
  • watch their children or pets
  • help them hold on to their housing

Boundaries are different when you’re dealing with addiction. If talking to a health care provider lets them know the true extent of your Loved One’s addiction; if finding treatment and making that appointment helps get them to it, then please consider it. 

This is about closing the gap between active use and recovery. Many people with addiction cannot, or will not, research, locate, call, and show up to treatment. Anything you can do to make this connection happen, in our opinion, is fair game.

Enable treatment.

Sugarplum asks to hear from others on this site.  What can you share about navigating boundaries with your Loved One, relating to treatment or information you’ve provided to a treatment provider? We’d like to hear from you.



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. Thank you for the reply! Of course, there’s a lot more to the story. My son lives in a different state and has an elderly dog who needs care. He is deep in credit card debt and has lost job after job over the last several years. Unfortunately, he’s a bartender.

    Last spring he told his girlfriend and my husband that he was going to kill himself – maybe not today, but that it was inevitable. She said he had a plan. The cops and the ER botched the situation badly, and an opportunity was lost to get him immediate help. He stayed with us for the summer, which is when I got a good look at his addiction for the first time. He detoxed himself here quite easily, stayed sober for a few weeks and got a job, stalled on getting into therapy that we offered to pay for until he got health insurance, started drinking again, lost the job and moved to a different state without having followed through on our request.

    He was significantly depressed as a child but never treated, and inherited my family’s strong history of serious mental illness. He knows he probably has a mood disorder that he’s been medicating with alcohol for years. Although he has expressed willingness several times to get therapy for the depression, he strongly resists going into treatment for the addiction. Clearly the drinking has skewed his thinking.

    He’s a really smart guy but had difficulty in school because of the depression, bombed out of college his first semester, tried again three times and has convinced himself that he can’t be a student. So the only skilled experience he has, including several years working in high-end New York restaurants that gave him status and a good resume, feeds both his sense of accomplishment and his alcohol abuse. I think for him the life change required to stop drinking is too overwhelming to think about, and I will need solid answers from the professionals about what community support is readily available on the other side of treatment – housing, vocational counseling, training or education, employment, and of course the mental health issues that have been there long before the addiction.

    My husband and I have been paying his rent since his SOS in February (“I f—-d it all up again, Mom”) after he lost his job, fell behind on the rent, got people mad at him, etc, with the stipulation that he get health insurance and therapy immediately. Navigating the health care system is not easy for him as a newcomer to his area nor for us at a distance. We try to help our three grown children with the important things, but we are not people of means and can’t continue to support him for long. He is welcome in our home if he’s in therapy or IOP treatment but has said living with us would be horrible and he wants to stay where he is.

    So I can’t drive him or walk his dog, and our ability to pay has limits. Right now he is training for a new restaurant server job, has gotten Medicaid and has an appointment with a therapist next week. I would like to insist he go three times a week. I don’t want to see him stop therapy when he’s earning again and doesn’t need our help with rent. And the next time – I have no doubt there will be one – I don’t know what I’ll do!

    My hope is that a good therapist will be able to connect with him, help him stabilize and deal with his day-to-day difficulties, begin to address the mood disorder and win his trust so that eventually he’s able to see that the addiction has to go and that life without it is possible. With the suicidal ideation in the picture, I think a hard-line forced detox-first approach is dangerous and that keeping him engaged is key.

    My first husband was a heroin addict, my daughter is a recovering alcoholic with thirteen years of sobriety, I was in ACoA for several years and all of my big family has experience with mental health treatment. My sister is a dual-diagnosis therapist who has been very helpful. So I do know my way around the territory a little.

    I hope you will accept this longer story because I need advice on walking the fine line between support and enabling, how to leverage his cooperation with our temporary financial help, what to say and not say to him, and how to deal with the fear of letting go of a grown child who has come to the point of wanting to end his life.

    Thank you.

  2. In my experience, as a parent, I feel I need to take action and driving him, paying for it, fighting insurance, pushing anything treatment related even if he goes along just to placate me, helps me stay sane, and I don’t see how it can hurt him.