We have an adult son that lives quite a distance away from us. He is currently on probation for his second DUI and we just found out he is drinking a lot, which breaks our heart. We feel we need to address this with him, but would rather do it face to face when we can go visit him. He does not seem to have much support where he lives and does not want to move. He seems to like the loner lifestyle. Do you have any suggestions on how to talk about the situation knowing we will have to turn around and leave almost right after? It is our worry he is setting himself up for more legal issues. We do have our name on his bank account (just one of us) from when he moved after college, will we be in legal jeopardy if he gets into more legal trouble, is it better to remove our name from his account?
Thank you for your help. We are just so at a loss and it hurts so much.
I am sorry to hear about your son’s drinking, his issues with the courts and his driving intoxicated. You must be so worried. But you are reaching out for guidance and have landed on this site with us. Welcome.
Managing a Loved One with a drinking problem is not easy, as you already know. It doesn’t go away overnight. Your son is dealing with serious ramifications of drinking, and yet he continues to drink. What can you do?
The Learning Modules lay out a whole stance a family can take in response to a Loved One’s Substance Use Disorder. It’s about learning to facilitate communication so your son will tell you what is going on with him, when it hurts, and when he may want help for the drinking. When family members are desperately reaching for ways to help, exhausted and fearful about their Loved One’s cycles of use, they can sound like a broken record and end up causing their Loved One to retreat further. With the CRAFT method, we are subtly but consistently encouraging the Loved Ones to do the opposite – to open up. We do this by being mindful of and cleaning up our side of the encounters. When you make the shifts laid out in the Learning Modules, there is space for a new dynamic between you and your Loved One. You accept and hold up your end in the the dance with their addiction, and then there is the push for treatment, when you hear Change Talk (Learning Module 8).
Your stance is open. You are willing to partner with your son to help get treatment. It’s a stance of open-ended questions and pushing back onto your son the responsibility for his life. This starts in small ways to begin with, observing and tracking the clues (Learning Module 3). You no longer protect or police. You listen, wait for signs, and pounce (with great compassion!) when there is a thaw and a slight degree more willingness and openness for treatment (Learning Module 8).
This is certainly more challenging when there is a geographical distance between you, but it is not impossible. There are families on this site that have asked similar questions. See Loved One far away in the topics tab to the right. It may be helpful to read our responses.
You feel that you need to go see your son to address some of your concerns and you want to know how to approach this short visit so that it goes as smoothly as possible.
Before going, see if you can identify and write down at least a couple of ideas for treatment in his community. Look for a therapist, some self-help meetings – call them, and ask about beginner meetings or big happy meetings where your son may engage at his own pace (see our Resource Finding Methodology in the Resource Supplement) – the more information you can have at hand, the better. Also look for a detoxification unit (it can be dangerous to withdraw physically from alcohol – your son may need to be medically supervised), and anything else that you can find to improve his odds of connecting with meaningful support. This is the leg-work that a family member can do behind the scenes, and before a planned visit and conversation, you’ll want to cover your bases.
Your son isolates with his drinking. This is not unusual. In my experience, people who drink alone are socially isolated people, who have trouble in public, and who may be medicating a depression or some anxiety.
If this is the case with your son, perhaps you focus on his mood state to begin with in your presentation of the list of treatments.
We would normally have you work on shifting and softening communication in general (see Learning Module 4), for 4 to 6 weeks before trying to intervene with a planned talk (see Learning Module 8). But you are going to visit him and you do want to talk about his drinking. We have written about the planned conversation in other posts. I'd suggest reading through some of these as well.
So perhaps it goes something like this…..
It’s good to be with you. I have been having some hard emotions thinking about the problems alcohol is causing in your life. Your dad (or mom) and I want to help, but we’ve learned that addiction is something you have to resolve. We can’t do it for you. This is a struggle but we are working on accepting it. We are also affected and have been seeking out our own support.
What we have done is to identify help for depression (alcohol) close to you. Here is a list, with the details about the program and how to get admitted. I want you to have this. And I want you to know that your dad (or mom) and I will do all we can to help you get into one of these programs when you are ready. (Examples: care for your dog, pay for treatment, deal with insurance, transportation to and from, etc.).
Keep in mind that it's entirely possible he may be dissmissive or communicate in one way or another that he is not interested in any way. Here's where you try your hardest to bring out your best CRAFT skills, stay calm and open and just back out of the talk. "Sure, we’ll talk again. I’m going to leave this list here for you. Thanks for listening to me/us."
This isn’t your schedule, it is your son’s. This is hard for family members to grapple with. As you work through CRAFT, you will see ever more clearly this line between you and your son. It will become more and more clear, as you practice with this method, what actions you can take, when you need to pull back some and let him feel a bad consequence, or when you should step in with a reward if you see him trying to address the drinking.
Getting sober can happen overnight. Your son can wake up and say “That’s it: where’s that list?” And he may never drink again. The more likely scenario, especially with younger people, would be his needing to push on every boundary around his drinking. This is that whole middle stage of substance use we talk about in Learning Module 1. It is about trying everything, often the smallest things first, to maintain the feeling of control over the alcohol.
You are fortunate that he is on probation and hopefully has lost his license for now. These are natural consequences that can be eventful. They signal to your son that the drinking is serious and that he is in danger as are others who might encounter him on the road. So let’s hope he is close to done with this middle stage, and that he is learning naturally that the feedback from drinking (like criminal justice involvement), is just too serious. We want him to get the message: “I am in trouble.”
Don’t tell him it will be all right. Don’t talk about the drinking or its consequences outside the planned little talk sketched out above. Have your visit be neutral. The tone will understandably be a little quiet, but try and stay off the hard topics except for the planned talk as suggested above. You’ll find this hard to do, so it may not always succeed.
Remember, this is also about you living day-to-day with the reality of his alcoholism; it’s not just your son. It is rarely a sprint, but I can assure you we have answers and by staying with this site and its teachings, you can unblock the situation, understand your role, and help your son to learn to recover.
Thank you for writing in for help working out this planned visit. Let us know how this sounds, and how it goes. Hold on to yourself and know you are supported here. Spend some time on our Sanctuary, observing your own thoughts and feelings and writing in your journal, and reading posts that inspire you. Find a way to gain the perspective you need so that you can stay open and neutral and make the most of the short visit you have planned. Know that you will do your best and then know that you will keep setting up for the next opportunity to practice CRAFT. We are sending you heartfelt wishes for a smooth talk. Your son is lucky to have your care and support. Let us know how it goes.