Dear Dr. Norquist:
I have a 30 year old son who I believe is an alcoholic. He is an accountant with a good job and has a busy and demanding life. I’ve been worried about his drinking for a while now, but recently several of his friends have also expressed their growing concern. I’ve brought my concern up to him but he ignores me saying he knows it’s a problem but he still wants to drink. I am sometimes stricken with fear about the horrible things that could happen to him. He drinks so much sometimes that he vomits and can hardly walk. What can I do? He won’t listen to me. I woke up this morning full of dread. His father was alcoholic and I can’t bear to go through this with my son as well.
Dr. Norquist responds:
Addiction is a heartache for the loved ones of the addict. They see and live with the consequences, but cannot persuade the addict to refrain from their addiction. Month by month, the compulsive urges and rationalizations for engaging in the addictive behavior eat away at the addict’s life. Slowly and surely, this darkness gains control, and the addict’s loved ones lose the essence of the person they love. Having already gone through this with your son’s father, this must be especially alarming and painful for you.
Your question is “what can I do about it?” As you know, you cannot keep your grown son from drinking. Until he is willing and wanting to take responsibility for his addiction, it will continue to take control over his life.
There are things you can do however to help him and to help yourself. With regard to helping him, you can do your best to bring this problem to his attention in a manner that you feel he would best be able to hear it. As his mother, you know him well and are in a good position to know where the door may be most open for him to hear you. Blame, control and judgment have no place here. Well timed facts, observations, education, and direct evidence will speak more clearly. You will also want to be ready for an intervention when the time and situation are right (Google: intervention for more information). This will be when he is most likely to be able to acknowledge that his drinking is a problem that he is willing to do something about – such as when his health, job, and/or important relationships are at stake. As obvious as this is to the people around him, thinking, feeling, behavioral and even neurological habits make it extremely difficult for the addict to acknowledge the negative consequences of his addiction.
It is also important to refrain from any behaviors on your part that keep your son from experiencing the consequences of his behavior. This includes doing things for him that he should be doing for himself (i.e., co-dependent behavior). Al-Anon meetings can be helpful to you in many ways (see http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/). Through Al-Anon you can learn about co-dependency and receive support in the company of others who know what it’s like to have a loved one who is an addict. They will also support you in taking care of yourself.
Self-care is one thing you do have control over in this situation. This especially includes learning to manage your anxiety regarding your son’s drinking. In any painful or trying situation it is most helpful to ask yourself, “What is the best that I can make of this situation?” In this way you can use all of your life experiences for your own evolution; emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
This situation forces you to let go of what you have no control over. It provides the opportunity for you to learn equanimity, to practice letting go of your fears, and to search for a deeper level of inner peace. Meditation can be very helpful to you in this regard. Another powerful practice you can engage in daily is to send love to your son, and to pray from your heart for protection and healing for your son, yourself, and all who are affected by his addiction.
You can plant the seeds of awareness regarding his addiction, but you do not have control over when these seeds will sprout – when he will wake up and start to take responsibility for his own well-being. This is his life journey; it is his life decisions that will determine what he creates with his life.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2014 Chaitanya Counseling Services