NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

You and Your Spouse Disagree About Your Adult Child's Substance Abuse Problem - Part 1

One of the most difficult problems that parents can face is having an adult child who has a substance abuse problem.  It's challenging enough trying to figure out what to do, but when each parent has strong opposing feelings about it, this can divide the couple as well as the family. Then, add to this that your adult child doesn't have to abide by either of your wishes because he or she is over 18, and you can have a serious problem on your hands.

Disagreements About Your Adult Child's Substance Misuse

The following vignette, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates this problem:

The Smith Family:
Dan and Marie were shocked to find out that their 22 year old son, Matt, lost his job.  He told them  it was all "office politics" and he felt confident he would find another job.  But, in the meantime, he couldn't afford to keep his apartment, so he needed to move back home.  

Marie told Dan that she thought they should set down some rules with Matt before he moved back in. She wasn't sure why, but she suspected that there was more to the story about Matt getting fired than just "office politics."  But Dan brushed off her suspicions, and told her they should "leave the boy alone," let him move back home, and give him a chance to get back on his feet again.

Marie had serious reservations about this, but she decided to go along with Dan to see how things went after Matt moved back in.  So, when they saw Matt, they told him that they were there to be supportive in any way that he needed.  Matt responded by telling them that, besides "office politics," his boss overacted to Matt taking off a few days from work.

Once again, Marie's antenna went up, but Dan told her to stay calm and give Matt some space so, reluctantly, Marie bided her time.

During the first few days after Matt moved back home, he spent all day and almost all night watching TV in his old room.  He only came out to get food to bring it back to his room or to go to the store.

This didn't sit well with Marie, who was home all day. So, after three days of this, she told Dan that she thought they should talk to Matt.  But, once again, Dan brushed off her concerns and told her that she was worrying needlessly. He was sure that after a week or so, Matt would settle down and start looking for work.

After the third week of Matt keeping odd hours and not making an effort to look for work, Marie was fuming.  She felt that Dan tended to spoil their only child.

She knew that Dan was now giving Matt money, and she felt this added to the problem because there was less of an incentive for Matt to look for work.  When she confronted Dan about it, he told her she was overreacting.  He didn't see anything wrong with giving Matt money.  He was sure that Matt would start looking for work soon.

Marie told Dan that, even though she wasn't sure why she felt this way, she still had a bad feeling about  Matt losing his job.  She felt sure that Matt didn't tell them the whole story.  Dan told Marie that she was worrying needlessly.

Marie's suspicions were confirmed when she took the opportunity to go into Matt's room, when Matt was out, and found a large pile of empty beer bottles hidden in closet.  When Matt got back and he found his mother looking in his closet, he became furious.  He yelled at her for violating his privacy.  Then, he stomped out of the house, slamming the door behind him.

Marie sat down and cried.  She grew up in a household with an alcoholic father, and she remembered how miserable she felt, before her father got sober, when her father came home drunk and her parents argued.

When Dan got home from work, Marie told him what happened and showed him the pile of beer bottles in Matt's closet.  Even though Dan was shocked by the pile of empty beer bottles , he sided with their son and told Marie that she shouldn't have looked in Matt's closet.

Marie was furious and told Dan that she didn't want Matt in the house if he didn't get help for his drinking problem.  She didn't want to live with an active alcoholic again.  Dan responded by telling her that he wouldn't throw his son out of the house no matter what happened.  He felt that Matt would find his way and this was probably a temporary reaction to the job loss.

By the time Matt came home, Marie and Dan were having a loud argument.  He told his parents that he didn't really have a drinking problem.  He said he was just having a few beers to "relax" before he started looking for another job.  But nothing changed, and Matt learned to go to his father whenever he felt his mother was being too hard on him.

This drove a wedge between Marie and Dan, who were barely speaking after the first month of Matt being home.

Getting Help in Therapy
The composite vignette above is a common experience for many families who could benefit from getting help.

In my next blog article, I'll offer some tips on what families in this type of situation can do to get help.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my web site:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.