Dear Rae: Worth Waiting to Get My Son Help?

Start with active listening and acknowledgement that everyone struggles sometimes.

Dear Rae: Since March, our 21-year old son has been showing signs of alcohol and marijuana addiction. He is always sneaking off in our back yard, and there have been many times when he has been staggeringly drunk or high. I guess we are seeing it now that we are all together at home and he is “going to college” online. But it seems to be worsening, and he’s barely speaking to us. My question is, should we wait till things calm down with COVID-19 to get him help? Nancy B.


Dear Nancy B.:

First, let me say you are not the only one to feel the impact of COVID-19 on the family system. The close quarters shine a light on negative behaviors you might not have seen before. And the boredom, anxiety, and uncertainty of these times are the perfect recipe for self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. It is also not surprising that you are concerned about your son’s safety.


It seems, even though he is completing courses online, your son has time on his hands. One of the things we recommend to our clients at Sanford, especially during a pandemic, is that they establish connection and accountability. It is also important for your son to recognize that 2020 is a challenge for everyone and a schedule of meaningful activities is key to good mental health.


Easier said than done? Especially with a non-compliant, silent young adult? That brings me to your question about waiting to get help. The answer is: do not wait. Talk to your son about your concerns, if you have not already done so. Pick up the phone and talk to a professional. The rise in alcohol sales, and the increase in every marker charting substance misuse and mental illness, tells us that COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on peoples’ well-being.


Options for Safe Treatment

There are a myriad of options available to you and your son. At Sanford, residential treatment is in-person and safe. Some clients say they feel safer in our houses than in the “outside world”. If you would like to explore outpatient options such as Intensive Outpatient Programs, educational classes, or outpatient therapy, telehealth is a good option for your son at this time.


Simply put, telehealth uses “video chat” technology to offer the same evidence-based practices that in-person addiction programs provide, but in the comfort and safety of home. It would give you and your son access to information about substance misuse, provide community, and help to impose a well needed structure to his life. You would have the benefit of virtual attendance with the family telehealth groups


There is no “good time” to confront drug or alcohol misuse. And during COVID-19, it might seem easier to let things slide for a better time, but waiting is not wise. Start with active listening and acknowledgement that everyone struggles sometimes. To keep the conversation productive, do your best to have an open mind and hear your son’s point of view; remain calm and relaxed. Talk to him about why he is drinking and using marijuana and prompt him to think about his future. This may provide insight into what’s underlying his desire to use and help manage his motivations. Finally, discuss and agree on consequences and help him understand legal implications. Talk about the risks associated with Substance Use Disorder just as you would any disease.  Keep your pulse on how he is coping and if the struggles continue, seek professional help. 

Rae Green, JD, LPC, CAADC


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