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.

Three Loved Ones in Addiction – A Triple Threat

Three Shadows

Veteran Allies in Recovery member mlb2t is experiencing intense frustration…

"I feel like the most frustrated person in the whole world. I have been dealing with drugs, alcohol and my 2 adult children being in jail on and off. My oldest son, I have to admit, has not used either alcohol or drugs for about 7-8 years. But, he was abusing his prescribed meds, especially the gabapentin, and it was changing his mental health status. It seemed that no one at his mental health clinic wanted to listen to me until I threatened a lawsuit. He was a danger to himself and others by this time. Finally an order for a section 12 was put out to all the surrounding towns as far as Worcester. He was finally picked up there and brought to UMass Medical. Finally someone listened and all his meds were changed and he was taken off the gabapentin, something I had been begging for for almost a year. He finally started thinking clearly and admitted the gabapentin was not good for him. He is now doing much better. My other son on the other hand just got out of jail and of course for probation he is not to use drugs. He got out on a Thursday and by Saturday he was using already. Of course 2 days later he gets called in to be tested and panics. Somehow even with the strict rules he passed.

Also my husband who was abstaining from alcohol now is using on and off. It so depressing and disheartening after all these years. I started the program from the beginning again and have started looking to do things more for myself and let them fend for themselves. I just feel like the only time I will really be at peace is when I am no longer here."

Dear Mlb2t:

When three Loved Ones in your life struggle with mental illness and addiction what do you do? How do you find a safe place and some peace?

With three, I suppose there are still good periods and then there is the increased chance, given there are three, that one will end up in crisis. I know I speak for many of us who have a Loved One struggling with addiction and/or mental illness, when I tell you we get it and we deeply empathize with the added threat of unforeseen crisis that you live under.

It is traumatic to live like this. It affects your physical and mental health.

Over the years, you have fought hard to get your children services. Fighting and living with active addiction has taken a toll. You have struggled with your own wellness and now question your stance going forward. “Let them fend for themselves.”

How would allowing them to fend for themselves look? Your younger son managed to fall under the radar of the drug test at probation and test negative. This might happen once or twice, but the chances are very high that if he keeps using, he will test positive. He will violate the terms of his probation. There is nothing you can do about this. Having criminal justice in your son’s life is beyond your control. It is a boundary imposed from the outside that your son is responsible for managing. It can become a wake-up call for him. It could motivate him to address his drug use. So, yes, he can fend for himself when it comes to the decisions and consequences of his drug use.

We are very glad to hear your older son is doing better. You are his advocate in the mental health system. He can now pick up the pieces of his life. So, yes, he can fend for himself more now.

Finally, your husband has started to drink occasionally. How discouraging. Going back to the beginning of the CRAFT training modules on this site is a really good idea.

Your story reminds us that relapse happens. But, when someone has been abstinent, a lapse in the alcohol or drugs is different. Your husband knows the danger and he knows the tools for returning to sobriety. You will still need to work through the treatment options and provide him with a detailed list, but he is not blind to what the right thing looks like.

The addiction of a Loved One intertwines with our own personality, our upbringing and vulnerabilities—it can be crippling. You have suffered. You have worked hard to find your place in all this. You have stepped back from your family members, improved your stance, and been determined to find a way to live with the addictions of your family.

Families caught up in addiction suffer disproportionately from stress-related medical conditions, sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety.

A 2010 study of Kaiser Permanente patients found a strong link between a Loved One’s addiction and family members' chronic medical and psychiatric ill-health… to the point that more severe addiction correlated with more severe health problems in family members. It’s critical that you pay attention to your own health as well. The study showed that with cessation of the addiction, the mental and physical health of the family improved as well. Assessment at five years showed a family doing well and out of the health “high risk” group.

This makes intuitive sense to most of us but it helps to have it quantified and recognized nevertheless.

The work we guide you to do on this site uses a scientifically validated approach made up of behaviorism—how you communicate with and respond to your Loved One—and the principles that lead to a successful, no-cost treatment intervention. But for all this to work, you need to continue to be strong, calm, and centered. You need to save your energy for what works and have both feet in hope. You need to feel better now, not just once your Loved One gets to recovery. And for this to happen, the secret is in caring first for yourself.

This means considering how the addictions of your family members may have caused you trauma for which you need help. How do you create a physical and emotional safe place… trauma-informed counseling, a support group, singing in a rock chorus, vacationing with your daughter, finding other refuges outside the house.

All this adds up to more work for you at first, but I believe it is the shortest distance to a place of lasting calm and hope.

I sat last week with a dear friend whose son, after years of recovery, is now deep into opiates. She described it like a defined black mass sitting beside her, separate from her wonderful new life in retirement. Most times she could avoid the mass, and other times she couldn’t and would get swallowed up by the dread-filled mood and darkness. She told me the only thought that helped in those moments was the belief that her son had his own higher power, that there was a plan for him that wasn’t hers to define. The thought soothed her some, as I hope it does 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. Now that I have turned my son, Billy, in and he will be in Ludlow Jail for the holidays I feel so sad that he will not be with us. I know that I did the right thing, but it still hurts. He blames me for him being there and just can’t accept the fact of what he did to himself. He ended up in the hospital for almost a week because of what he did to his foot by using it to shoot up. He has called me a couple of times and when he did he told me that because my other son and I did this to him we should put $60 a week on his commissary. I told him that won’t and can’t happen. With everything that happened to him from overdosing, being on the streets and then infecting his foot so bad, he still can’t accept or admit that he has a problem. He just keeps saying that he has not done anything. What will it take for him to accept that he is responsible for his own actions. How much denial can one be in? I have been trying to write him a letter to just let him know how much we will miss him over the holidays and how much I love him but I can’t seem to find the right words. I feel like anything I say he will just turn around and say something awful back to me. I guess that I should just keep it simple and say what is in my heart. I will continue to let him know that I love him and encourage him to accept treatment. The holidays are hard enough already because my extended family has shunned me because of all the drugs and legal problems. Some don’t even want anyone to know we are related. I have been told to my face that I have never done anything to help my sons. Why do people say things when they have never been supportive enough to even talk with me or ask me how I am or how things are going? They simply chose to ignore me. Out of 5 sisters and one brother only 1 sister talks to me. I am trying to stay strong and make it through the holidays enjoying the family that I do have with me. I just hope I can figure out what to say to Billy. Thank you for all your help, encouragement, suggestions and understanding.

  2. I am so scared. My middle son is in such a bad place. He has been out of jail no more than a month and has already overdosed. He was doing ok until he went to his appointment to get back on klonopin. Once he started taking that he abuses it and that leads to him doing Street drugs. Thursday he was a mess and could hardly talk. I was so afraid for him. For some reason I awoke about 1:30-2 AM went and checked on him and found him not breathing and turning blue. I tried to get him to respond to me but he wouldn’t. I started screaming and my other son came. Luckily we had narcan in the house. It took a while for it to work but he finally responded. We had called 911 so the ambulance took him to the hospital where he proceeded to just walk out. All of this was reported to his probation officer and she put out a warrant for him. The police came, he ran so they got a dog to try and find him and that was unsuccessful. He is now on the run. I called his probation officer and let her know what is going on and she told me that if he will come in she won’t have him go to jail but to a treatment program. He won’t believe me though. I am so afraid that he won’t be alive much longer. I don’t know how to convince him.

    1. MLB2T: Unless you’re a family member of someone addicted to substances, situations like this can seem like fiction. I hope your son turned himself in and that the probation officer keeps her promise and orders him to inpatient treatment.

      Treatment is the answer for your son, not jail. Getting involved with criminal justice is, unfortunately, a common way to get the system to step in and help. Not perfect by any means. We must work towards a public response that leads with treatment and not jail. Jail and the allied systems linked to it are becoming defacto interventionists and sober environments for Loved Ones. We are posting an article in the What’s News blog shortly that argues whether relapse should be punishable by jail, as is the case when a Loved One violates probation.

      Our thoughts are with you ML….. keep us posted.


      1. No my son has not turned himself in. I don’t know what to do at this point. I have begged him to go to his probation officer and he keeps saying he didn’t do anything wrong. He wants my son and I to say that he was out but not because of drugs. Of course I told him we aren’t going to lie. He calls me crying because he has no food or anywhere to go. He keeps trying to blame everyone but himself for his predicament. I feel so worn down. At this point I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere with him. I wish there was a way to convince him to go. I have had too many years of this. I don’t think that we will ever be a normal happy family again. Maybe I should just let him be for now and not respond with anything but that I love him and he needs to help himself. I am so scared. I wonder if there is anyone that has been through anything like this and if so do they have any suggestions on how to handle it. Thank you

      2. My son showed up at my house tonight and I did one of the hardest things I have ever done. I called the police to have him brought in. I know it is the right thing but it hurts so much to have your screaming why did you do this? I hate you, you are a demon. I know that I did the right thing. Somehow he hurt his foot and I believe it is because he was shooting up in his foot. At least now I know he is off the streets and won’t be using drugs. I just hope it holds true that his probation officer will get him into the treatment program. It was a hard thing to do, but at least now I know he is safe and won’t be found dead on some random street

        1. mlb2t: CRAFT teaches the family to create a contrast for the Loved One between rewards for non-use and getting frozen out when there is use. To the degree that you can, this is what you can do. CRAFT is based on behaviorism. Behaviorism says that humans learn socially; we learn from what is rewarding and from what hurts. Your son has been pushing the limits on his use and it has caused a world of hurt: arrest, jail, probation, relapse, violation of probation, running away, and now being re-arrested. I am profoundly saddened by the fact that it is the criminal justice system calling the shots and not another therapeutic social means placed in front of your son. Something however had to be placed in front of your son, beyond what you could create. There were always limits to what you could do. You could not fix your son. You could not protect him from himself. I don’t see another choice than the one you took by calling the police. The criminal justice system said they would mandate him to treatment. This is the best outcome for him. Your son is safer today because you called the police. We will all be waiting to hear whether the authorities make good on their word about treatment.

        2. Dear mlb2t, I just wanted you to know that we are all sending you thoughts of encouragement, for the courageous thing you did (which you know deep in your heart was for your son’s own good) and for respecting your own boundaries and wisdom enough to not let him wiggle back into a gray area. Brava! for your courage, and thank you for keeping us posted. I echo Dominique, here is hoping that the authorities will now do the right thing in turn, and get some real help for your son’s substance use disorder.