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Tragedy Struck His Recovery House, And He Wants Out. What’s My Response?

Photo credit: Tiana

It’s an all-too-familiar refrain: our Loved One doesn’t like the treatment program and wants out. Sometimes the reasons may seem valid, perhaps even overwhelming. In the recovery house where Cowgirl’s son is living, the house manager recently overdosed and died. The situation is utterly heartbreaking, but does it mean that Cowgirl’s son should leave? Allies Director Dominique Simon-Levine cautions that no choice about changing treatment is free of risk.

My son’s house manager at the sober house he is currently at just overdosed. He was his roommate. He’s very upset and wants out of there. I’m not sure how to navigate this.

Your son’s roommate and house manager at the recovery home just overdosed and died. I’m so sorry. What a terrible shock this must be for him and the whole house. I can understand your son’s wish to leave.

Laurie, Kayla, and I just published a podcast on this topic: what to think or do when our Loved One wants to leave treatment? We didn’t cover this sad reason for wanting to leave, but I encourage you to approach this reason like any other a Loved One might have, and to apply the same general strategy we expand upon in the podcast.

Your influence matters here

Where do you put your support? What message do you want to send? Often enough, a Loved One already wants to leave treatment and is reacting to events or circumstances around the treatment to justify leaving (the food, the mattresses on the floor, no one here is my age). As best you can tell, the treatment provider is generally sound—but it’s not the Ritz, true enough. Your Loved One just wants out.

If this sounds like your case, perhaps you let your son and the house deal with the loss of their friend. This is a tragedy but also an opportunity, a reality check. How are the house, the other residents, and the administration handling it? Given the circumstances around the death of the house manager, do they suspect that drugs are present in the house? If not, can you be neutral, non-committal, about him leaving? For today, the important message to your son and yourself is that you know he can cope with this tragedy.

What if the sober house truly isn’t meeting his needs?

If you determine that the house is indeed too risky, then you’ll want to help your son leave. I would stress the difference here between a resident (even the house manager) overdosing and the serious problem of more general drug access and use in the house. I hope you can get more clarity on this before you take actions to help him leave. Leaving treatment against advice can really destabilize a nascent recovery process.

To help him leave, you’ll need to do a quick but methodical search for houses comparable to where your son is now. That search may not be easy: it’s winter, and the lack of safe, affordable housing is at a record-breaking high around the country. You might want to start by checking out Allies’ guide to seeking treatment and a blog post I wrote earlier this year on the challenge.

If he does change houses, the idea is to make a lateral move with no pitstops in between. No coming home to wait for a bed to open in a new house. This may well be upsetting to him—and you have to be able to handle it emotionally as well. Can you do this?

The choices are complex, but your signals can be clear

Of course, the alternatives aren’t that simple either. I’m sure you know already that if he comes home, you and your family are facing a new chapter and new challenges.

Whatever the plan, it’s vital that you show him the confidence you feel about his fundamental strength. You know he can handle this. You believe in him, and will go on believing in him even if he stumbles, even if you disagree with some of his choices, even if you have to set boundaries he doesn’t love. It may sound trite, but that will matter to him on his journey to recovery.

I hope this helps you prepare for the tough questions and decisions you’re facing. Please keep us in the loop. Wishing all the best for you and your son.

Dominique Simon-Levine

Director, Allies in Recover


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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"...)