NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

You and Your Spouse Disagree About Your Adult Child's Substance Abuse Problem - Part 2

In my prior blog article, You and Your Spouse Disagree About Your Child's Substance Abuse Problem - Part 1, I gave a composite vignette of a family struggling with an adult child who moved back home and who has a substance abuse problem.

As often happens, the parents in this family disagree about how to handle their son's problem.  The mother wants their son to get help, but the father thinks the son is just going through a phase.  The problem drives a wedge between them. And their son, who moved back home, uses their conflict to his advantage by going to his father whenever he feels the mother is being too hard on him.

This vignette is a common problem in families and can create increasing conflict and havoc in the household.

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

Of course, every situation is different, so one blog article can't address every issue.

Above all, if your family is having a similar problem and you and your spouse just can't come to an agreement about how to handle it, you should seek out a licensed mental health professional who has expertise in dealing with substance abuse problems.

Here's what I would recommend to Dan and Marie Smith (from the vignette in the prior blog post):

You Can't Ignore Your Child's Problem Drinking Anymore:
The best strategy would have been to discuss what to do before Matt moved back home.  It would have given both of you a chance to get your feelings out in the open with each other and, hopefully, come to a compromise, if possible.  Then, you both could have presented your conditions for allowing Matt to move back home together with one voice.

But since Matt was allowed to move back home without any conditions or guidelines, at this point, now that it has become obvious that he has a drinking problem, you can't ignore it anymore or pretend that it's just a phase.

Based on the fact that 1) Matt lost his job (at least in part due to his excessive absenteeism, which could be telltale sign of excessive drinking) and that 2) you found lots of empty beer bottles hidden in his closet, you can't ignore the problem anymore.

As His Parents, You Need to Provide a United Front to Matt When You Talk to Him About His Drinking
Until now, Matt has been allowed to manipulate the situation at home because the two of you can't agree on what to do and you're arguing about it.

Naturally, Matt has been turning to his father, Dan, who is siding with him.  To this, I would say, "Dan, you're in denial about your son's problems and, even though I know you love Matt and want the best for him, what you're actually doing is enabling him to drink by minimizing the problem and giving him money which he's using to buy alcohol."

To Marie, I would say, "You picked up pretty quickly that there was something else going on that Matt wasn't telling you.  It's understandable, given your childhood history with a father who was an active alcoholic at the time, that you would be upset to discover that Matt is drinking excessively.  But it's important to remember, in order to preserve your well-being, that although it feels similar to what you experienced as a child, you're an adult now and you have a greater capacity to cope and a lot more options than when you were a child.  At some point, after this crisis, it would be helpful for you to work through that earlier trauma in therapy because might be getting triggered in this situation."

But, for now, it's important that you listen to each other and come up with a compromise that you can both live with and then present it to Matt as a united front.

It's important not to be judgmental or harsh when you talk to Matt.  He has a problem and he needs help.  Be empathetic but also clear and firm about your expectations.

It's also important for you to be supportive of one another throughout this process.

Setting Boundaries and Rules For Your Household
Your son is an adult who is living in your household and you have the right to set rules if he wants to continue to live there.  He doesn't have to like your rules, but he needs to follow them.  Decide beforehand what the consequences will be if he doesn't follow your rules.

Doing an Intervention and Alcoholics Anonymous
If talking to Matt isn't enough, the family could benefit from doing an intervention.  In this particular case, there are a couple of routes you could go.

One possibility is that you could hire a professional to do an intervention with the family, although this tends to be costly and, in most cases, your insurance won't pay for it.

Another possibility, in this particular case, involves Marie's father, who is in recovery and has been sober for many years.  He could talk to Matt about his experience of being a person who actively abused alcohol in the past, how he got sober, and what he's doing to maintain his sobriety.

Marie's Father, Who is in Recovery and Sober For Many Years, Could Speak With Matt

He could also take Matt to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (click on link for a list of meetings in your area).

Going to Al-Anon
Alcoholism is a family disease because it affects the whole family--not just the person who is drinking.  Al-Anon is a wonderful resource for families (click on link for meeting list).  These 12 Step meetings are free and, although no one will give you advice on what you can do for your particular problem, you'll hear many people, who were once in your shoes, speak about what has worked for them. Al-Anon will help you take care of yourself.

Going to Couples Counseling With a Licensed Mental Health Professional Who Has Expertise Helping Families With Substance Abuse Problems
If you're stuck because either you can't come up with a compromise that you can each live with or you come up against another obstacle along the way that you're unable to surmount as a couple, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who has expertise helping families with substance abuse problems.

When you're dealing with a child who has substance abuse problems, especially if s/he is living at home, you can feel like your whole world has been turned upside down.

Sometimes, the most challenging and painful outcome is that your adult child refuses to get help.  Since your child is an adult, you can can't force him to do what you want, and nagging or pleading will often make matters worse.

See my article:  When Someone You Love Rejects Your Help.

If the problem persists, it can jeopardize your relationship.  Before that happens, do what many families before you have done--get help from a licensed therapist to work through this problem.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.  I am also a certified Substance Abuse Professional.

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.