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He’s Not Using, But He Still Depends on Me for Everything.

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decostam’s 32-year-old son lives at home, and has succeeded in abstaining from opioid use for two years. Despite this huge accomplishment, he seems stuck in other aspects of his life. What should decostam ask of him at this stage? And just as importantly, how? Dominique Simon-Levine recommends a realistic, step-by-step approach to helping our Loved Ones move toward independence.

My son has been on methadone now for about two years. He seems to be doing well. He is living with me. My concern is that he doesn’t seem to be moving forward with the rest of his life.

I know it is difficult for him to find a job because he has two felonies. He has recently been approved to be an Instacart deliverer, which he seemed happy about, but he rarely goes out to work. I would like him to begin helping out financially, but I’m not really sure how to approach him. He perceives me as nagging whenever I approach the subject. He really won’t even engage with me. He is almost 32 years old, and he needs to begin taking responsibility for himself. I appreciate any thoughts you might have.

Thank you.

P.S So appreciate all you do! I have learned so much!!

Your 32-year-old son is doing well on methadone, a medication that treats opioid addiction. It’s been two years since he stopped using. This is such an important accomplishment. The poison on the street is unparalleled in addictiveness and availability.

Yet only now is he starting to take any steps towards independence. He has finally started to work a little, but that may have to do more with your urging than his motivation. You ask how you can get your son to kick in his fair share.

He’s not using—but his recovery is still a work in progress

You don’t, however, mention any other help your son may be receiving to prevent relapse: no peer groups, therapist, or recovery coach. The methadone has, thank goodness, taken him from opioid use to abstinence. Being opioid free is a huge step. Let’s not forget that, or the important role medication has played in getting him there.

Life, though, doesn’t resume or begin when you stop ingesting a drug. Opioid addiction is a pretty full-time affair that has likely, over the years, robbed your son of the chance to develop confidence, work and life skills, social comfort, and coping skills other than the drugs themselves. All of this now needs to be learned through experience. If this sounds like your son, we can begin to understand the mountain that is ahead of him.

Clinging to the safe and familiar

From a behavioral standpoint, I can see how your son might only make half-hearted attempts at work and independence, doing little and preferring instead to hunker down when you start to speak of helping out. This behavior is also a form of securing his place in that warm home, where he depends on you, the couch, and the fridge full of food 24/7.

It is tough to step out in early recovery, feeling half-naked and unprepared. I can’t help but see how not making money keeps everything status quo: your son is happ(ier) when homed, fed, and cared for. If he can’t earn, all that seems guaranteed to continue. The only downside is having to listen with increasing regularity as you “go on” about earning and contributing to the household.

In my experience, I’ve seen how exceptionally hard it is for people with mental health and addiction vulnerabilities to show up each day and fulfill their obligations, commitments, and promises—life’s responsibilities, in other words. There is a saying in AA: Meeting Makers Make It. I was fortunate to be someone who usually showed up. There is no doubt that I would not be here today had I not shown up for the help to continue abstinence and to feel safe enough to be in the world.

Let’s look at the whole recovery picture

In the long run, recovery is more than a medication for opioid use disorder. For me, the foundation was mental health medication, the daily practice of going to a mutual aid group, and showing up for therapy and psychiatrist appointments. I found a “women in recovery” group run by a skilled relationship therapist; I hiked with my dog for miles every day. Showing up for the dog alone was exercise that gave me much-needed relief from the anxiety and fear (of people, destitution, aloneness, fill in the blank) in early recovery. That physical exercise was also key.

So, my suggestion for now is to stop asking your son to contribute. I’m sure this isn’t easy, for money is likely tight, and in ideal conditions, of course your son “should” pay his fair share.

Rather, consider looking over Module 8 (How Do I Get My Loved One Into Treatment?), and figure out a little intervention that you can perform that requests your son choose something from a list of options. That list could include local and online mutual aid groups (see our resource supplement for a full list), recovery community organizations in your area (give him a hint about their weekly activities), a recovery coach, a therapist, and perhaps more. Perhaps you add a few volunteer positions like work at a survival center or shelter.

Explain that you are not asking that he contribute with cash. Rather, the message is that for you to be more at peace and comfortable with him in your home, you would like him to consider stepping up and doing something more to help his long-term recovery, growth, and happiness. A paying job may need to be one of the results of these steps, rather than something that precedes them.

I made a few assumptions in answering you, so please feel free to correct me if I’ve got your situation wrong in some respect. And please: don’t forget that self-care remains vital to supporting your Loved One at every stage in the recovery journey. Review the self-care guidance we provide in Module 7, and the many places on the Allies website where self-care is explored.

And please keep in touch. We wish your son continued progress, and salute you both for the hard work you’ve done.



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 so much Dominique
    for your response it was so helpful.
    He is not currently in any therapy except for the minimal counseling they offer at the methadone clinic.
    I think it will be challenging to get him to agree to that because he has done so much in the past (never on his own accord always court ordered). I have told him so often how important it is to be in community to really get well. It is definitely something I will work on.
    Again thanks so much.