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My Son’s Going Nowhere

mom not happy with son playing on phone

AiR member mlb2t posted this comment:

"I am at such a loss right now. As much as I don't want my son out of the house and out on the street I feel I have no choice. I have been trying with him for at least 11 years now. I have had him sectioned, in treatment centers and in counseling. I have also been in counseling, gone to group meetings and did the AIR Program a few years ago. I do think AIR did help with my older son but the younger one is so headstrong. I'm constantly told by family members that I have to do something about him but no one ever can give me any suggestions. I've been accused by some family members of never trying to help my son. They haven't got a clue, so I try just to ignore them. I just see this son going nowhere. He won't try to get a job, sits and watches TV all day or goes out to try and sell his suboxone. He is in the suboxone program but does not work it right. I am totally worn out. I just don't feel allowing him to continue this way is helping him. I would appreciate any suggestions anyone might have. Thank you."


My goodness, you poor thing. I worked with a mom years ago who had two sons with drug problems, one of whom also had severe learning problems. She was also married to a man with severe alcoholism.  It’s hard enough to imagine life with one addicted Loved One, let alone two or three.

Your note raises several points.  AiR is an ideal framework. You’re going to need support to get it and maintain it.  Treatment is still our best answer to addiction. Suboxone isn’t the end game for everyone.


1) AiR is an ideal framework

The first step is recognizing the limits of your influence. 

The AiR program sets out a framework for how to act and respond to a Loved One’s substance problems.  We explain THE STANCE a family member can take, based on careful study, strong outcomes, and sound psychological theory.

Our work is to help guide and support you into this posture: how to communicate effectively … how to react when you see use and when you don’t … the importance of taking care of yourself … and how to engage a Loved One into treatment.  We’re here to help you adopt this stance and keep it. It’s crucial that you trust this new stance, and have patience through the inevitable up’s and down’s.

The theory of behaviorism guides the actions you’ll take in response to your Loved One: disable the enabling and reward the moments of non-use.  This theory is applied to small things, like not sitting on the couch watching TV together when she’s high, and to large things, like asking her to live elsewhere while she continues to use.

All you can do is acquire this stance and be consistent with it. It “cleans up” your part and provides the best immediate environment for your Loved One. You’ll be fostering an environment that encourages your Loved One to be and feel responsible for their drug and alcohol use and shepherds them into treatment. 

Your part is your part. We know from the study of CRAFT that this stance makes a huge difference, but your Loved One still needs to do the heavy lifting. Your Loved One still needs to decide he or she wants to try and stop or reduce and therefore take some active step towards recovery. Here’s where patience comes in. You need to trust this approach and hang on.


2) Treatment is the best answer we have

It takes, on average, 7 tries to quit smoking. The majority of people who quit using alcohol and drugs go through multiple treatment episodes, too. Your son has been through several treatment episodes already and is still using. He needs more treatment. Take a deep breath or two. It’s time to set up treatment again (see our post: He Has Relapsed and He’s Sleeping on My Couch).


3) Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): Suboxone

Suboxone was originally designed for people with smaller “habits,” who are motivated towards recovery. This has been lost over time. Individuals are now put on suboxone regardless of their level of addiction or motivation to quit.  It’s as though as a society we have become frozen in place by how deadly opiates are; we think our only solution is MAT. There is very limited effort to expand other, more intensive, treatment options for those struggling with opiates.

For some, suboxone works. It reduces the urge to take opiates and this combines with quality psychological and social support to help them stay free of opiates.   

For others like your son, the reality is that suboxone becomes a way to manage one’s addiction. At best, suboxone is harm reduction. At worst, it is extending addiction by raising the bottom. No more agonizing withdrawals when you run out of the drug – you simply go to the corner and pay $5 for a strip of suboxone to get you through. 

The streets are flooded with prescribed suboxone that has been diverted and is being sold for money to buy illicit drugs. This is especially true for young people. This is my opinion based on our work at AiR, my work evaluating opiate programs across the state, and the opinion of clinicians I speak to. 

So, gather your strength, hold your AiR stance, find additional treatment for your son, and ask him to join with you and get help. If you’re not still in therapy, consider going back and/or finding additional ways of keeping mind and body together. Our thoughts are with you.

→ We’d like to hear from our members who have experience with suboxone or methadone.



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 a question. I would like opinions on how people deal with Birthdays. My son has a birthday coming on 3-14 and I just don’t know if I should acknowledge it or get him a gift. He is in the suboxone program, but continues to use other benzo’s that he does not have prescribed to him. He is prscribed klonopin, but says his dose is never enough. He makes me so sad when I look at him in the condition that he is. He is so brilliant and he has been reduced to this. I feel guilty if I don’t at least acknowledge his birthday, but yet I wouldn’t even know what to get him. Any suggestions? Thank you

    1. Hello mlb2t: I hope others will make suggestions. Here is mine.

      It’s discouraging to be forced to think this way on your son’s birthday.

      The benzodiazepines are worrisome. It’s hard to know how someone in a methadone or suboxone program can continue to use other drugs without receiving stepped up help. Make sure you have narcan close by. The suboxone and benzodiazepines combined increase the chance of overdose.

      Holidays and special occasions are often excuses for getting high. Be prepared for this. Whatever you decide to do for his birthday, make it so you can call it off or not give it to him if you see he is visibly high. A special meal, a cake, a small gift….all of it back in the fridge or the bag if you see he is high.

      The key is to wait for the day and assess then. Rewards OR consequence happen in the day (even birthdays).

      Be well

      1. Thank you for the response. I agree that it is hard to believe that a suboxone program would allow one to continue on benzo’s. The program he was in was suddenly shut down. It was on the news. He is now in a different program and I am confident that this will be addressed here. The doctor that is there is also a doctor at the jail and he has heard it all. Maybe the other program getting shut down and my son having to find a new program is a blessing in disguise. I will wait for the day of his birthday and if things are good he will be rewarded. I will also stay strong. Thank you for all the help and encouragement.

  2. I had to get a restraining order to get my son to leave and stay out. He ended up in a homeless shelter the day before Christmas and he called me to bring him some belongings, which I did. It was heartbreaking to see him there, but that was the moment he finally changed his mind and made the call to arrange for a room at the sober house he now lives in. I told him he did not have to be homeless, that I would pay for that house as I had already met people who had lived there and spoke very highly of the environment and their positive experiences.

    My daughters did the same thing your older sons did: They told me they were so sick and tired of the drama and everything centering around my son that they would rather live with my ex than with me.

    I encourage you to attend a weekly support group as well. I go to one on Sundays in Scituate,and another in Duxbury on Thursdays. Families need more support than the addict I think, since we are the ones who are thinking clearly , and we need to stick together so the addict has no other option but treatment…or death.. I am afraid to say.

    1. Hello Familydux:

      A supportive hand — that is what you can offer.

      Ask them to leave if it is called for but point them in the right direction. Make it a supportive hand-off like this mom did. Offer them specific treatment options with all the admission details figured out. Offer them some help with rent if they accept some treatment.

      Tell them you aren’t far away. Don’t stop talking to them. You are here to help when they are ready to address the drinking or drugging.

      There’s a saying in AA: “You’ll be amazed before you are halfway through.” How wonderful to experience that!

  3. I am so scared right now. My boys are arguing and I am so afraid that one might really harm the other. My stomach is in knots. The oldest one is sober and the yonger has been taking benzos and drinking heavily. When he gets drunk he is so beligerent and mean. They usually end up fighting and I fear that one will hurt the other. I really think that the younger one has to leave my house. I just don’t know how to get him out. He contributes nothing and blames me for him having nothing. He says that I give everything to my other children and nothing to him. The other 2 are working very hard to accomplish something in their lives and he does absolutely nothing. I don’t know how to help him anymore. He won’t look for a job and just sits around either doing drugs or drinking. My oldest son tells me that if I don’t get him out of this house he doesn’t want to talk to me. What can I possibly do to get him out of this house? I have tried so many things already. I’m tired of living in fear, I’m tired of having police involvement, I’m just worn out. I want to enjoy the rest of my life, not dread it

  4. My son is living in a 12 STEP Sober house….they do NOT believe in MAT, they simply WORK THE STEPS and support each other. He has only been there for about two months, but last night he texted me at 1230AM…and I was filled with dread, fearing he had left…but this is what he said:
    “Mom…I know you are sleeping, but I just wanted to say I LOVE YOU….and thank your for supporting me..going to this place I’m so grateful to have you as my mother”.

    Believe me, he did not go there willingly. I had to get a restraining order, he ended up in a homeless shelter with no place to go, and all the while I kept reminding him that through my support groups I had found an excellent place for him to live, and I was willing to pay the monthly rent to live there. He agreed to make the call, he was accepted, and he looks better than he has looked in 7 years!! He is only 21, but has been addicted since he was 15. He has been sectioned multiple times/ back and forth between my house and my ex’s (who did not support my strategy of setting limits) , flunked out of one year of college, and stolen money from all of his younger sisters. Life was horrible for him. Now he is learning to live in community with other sober men who are committed to the 12 Step Process. I am amazed at the progress he is making!! Good luck, find a sober living house and tell him he cannot live with you!! The sober community will help him, we cannot .

  5. Dominique, I believe that I am the person that you worked with years ago. I am happy to say that I have had good results with both my oldest son and my husband. Both finally seeked out help and continue to do well staying away from their addiction and now enjoying life. My oldest son went back to college and works at a part time job related to his major. My husband has retired, but he now does things that he enjoys instead of just sitting around drinking all day. My younger son has a completely different personality than both of them. He hardly talks, keeps everything to himself and has perfected the art of lying. He feels he can do everything himself without much treatment and is always trying to beat the system. He is so frustrating. He is also brilliant. He he had stuck with college he could have probably done whatever he wanted. I have not given up on him, but I have come close to it. He went to his suboxone program last night and came home to say that as of March 15th, I think he said, the program is closing. I wasn’t surprised to hear it, because I was asked at work last week if I had heard that. I offered him suggestions of other programs and he said that he is going to work on getting in another today. All I can do is offer the suggestions, I can’t do the work for him. It has been many frustrating, yet rewarding years of going through these trials and tribulations. But through all the years I have always remembered and used the AIR program.

    1. Hello mlb2t! I have often thought of you over the years. How you had nowhere to turn. How we talked about putting a lock on your bedroom door just to provide you a quiet safe harbor from it all. I am heartened to hear that your older son and husband are doing better. I am glad to hear you are on this site. I hope the videos and the discussion on this blog help you to feel less alone.

      Your husband’s situation makes the point that community matters; that there are rewards out there, even for the most chronic of Loved Ones, that can trump drinking and drugging. Your husband found things he actually enjoys more than drinking….that’s the “Community” in Community Reinforcement and Family Training. It’s pretty unbelievable but true. Rewards make a difference!

      Thanks for writing in.