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My 18-Year-Old Son Has A Drinking Problem – What Should I Do?

My 18-year-old Son Has A Drinking Problem – What Should I Do?

The problem…

“Since he lost his job at the start of the pandemic crisis, my 18-year-old son moved back home with me. He left school at 16 and has only had one job since, and that only lasted a few months. The reason for this is his drink problem. He drinks every day, and when he has the money he gets very drunk indeed – and then becomes aggressive and abusive and I find it very hard to cope with him.

“I have tried to get him to talk to someone but the only person he listens to is his father, from whom I am divorced. Our divorce, five years ago, was very difficult, and whilst we can be polite to one another when we have to, we are certainly not the best of friends!

“I don’t know how he’d feel if I contacted him and asked for help because he thinks I’m weak for allowing our son to come home in the first place. I don’t know what else I was supposed to do though – our son would have ended up on the streets if I hadn’t. I have got to find a way of dealing with this somehow, because my son’s behaviour is getting out of hand and yesterday, he drank the better part of a bottle of vodka. I don’t know how much longer I can cope with this.”

Fiona says…

“If your son continues to drink like this, he risks developing all kinds of serious illness and injury and missing out on a happy, fulfilled life – so he needs help, and quickly. Like any parent, your instinct to help your child would inevitably mean you would offer him somewhere to live, rather than see him homeless. There is a fine balance though between being empathetic and caring, and actually enabling his behaviour to continue.

“If you saw your son in need, homeless, or even (potentially) going to jail because of his drinking, of course you would want to reach out to help. Often though, this doesn’t allow someone who has a drinking problem to realise the consequences of their actions.

Your son could also be suffering with depression…

“Whilst it’s not an excuse for his aggressive behaviour while drunk, your son could also be suffering with depression, or struggling with his mental health generally. It’s very common for young men in particular to mask problems like this with behaviours like alcohol abuse. Do you have good communication when he is not drinking? It may be a good idea, at a calm moment when he is sober, to have a chat and suggest he speaks with his GP about this.

“I also cannot help but wonder where he is getting the money from to pay for his drinking habit. If you or your ex-husband are giving him money, then that should stop. You say that you don’t know how your husband would feel if you contacted him, but your son’s life is at stake here. I am not exaggerating when I say this as the risks to his health are very real indeed.

“Ultimately though, your son needs to be on board with the idea of addressing this, and he has no incentive to change his behaviour if he has nothing to lose. Whilst it’s a natural parental instinct to protect your son, if you don’t let him see he needs help, he may fail to recognise he has a problem. If you and his father take a stand together, he may be more inclined to listen.

“Obviously, you don’t want your son to starve, but you could buy him food or essential things, rather than give him money to pay for his needs. Make sure your husband understands this too – and make sure the ‘things’ are necessities, not things he can resell to get cash. There is nothing wrong with second-hand clothes and shoes, for example!

“You need to prioritise your own needs too and to get help with that, I’d encourage you to contact Al-Anon (al-anon.org), a support organisation for people who, like you, are worried about someone with a drinking problem. It may not be easy to get your son to accept that he has a problem, and that’s where this organisation could also help you.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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