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Mother must seek help to deal with son’s problems

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“Lori’s” son is 31 years old. He is back living with “Lori” and her husband after being in his own apartment for about nine months.

He’s back this time, against her better judgment, after losing another job. Her son, her middle child, has almost always had difficulties, from learning problems in school starting in middle school to personality and behavior issues in his later teens. He started drinking heavily in high school, got into drugs, including heroin, and has a lengthy track record with the legal system.

Lori and her husband have struggled with him, with his siblings and, lately, with each other. They have spent thousands of dollars on treatment centers and therapy and will tell you they would spend their last dime if they thought it would help. They have read books, called experts, called the cops, practiced tough love (sometimes), let him back in, kicked him out, forgiven him, yelled at him. They’re exhausted.

“Lori” has felt very alone. She hasn’t been able to talk much to her family because they don’t understand her back-and-forth attitude toward him. She’s been angry and kicked him out then let him back in so many times that nobody wants to hear it anymore. Her husband only seems to get mad about their son. He rants and raves and then lets him off the hook or refuses to talk to him, basically solving nothing. The truth is, he misses his boy and what he could have been. The sadness is overwhelming for him.

“Lori” and her husband are far from alone. Their son has a mental illness for which he is supposed to take medication but only occasionally does, and an addiction to opiates and other drugs that steers him to criminal behavior. He isn’t a violent guy and never intends to hurt anyone, but he is handicapped in a way that is hard to see and harder to understand and treat. To treat him, his parents have to have treatment, too.

“Lori” finally stumbled across a group of parents with similar issues; adult kids with mental health or substance abuse problems still living in and out of their parents’ houses, draining their resources and making a mockery of what “Lori” and her husband thought would be a normal family life.

To “Lori’s” surprise, some of these parents seemed to have found some answers, and she also found a place where she could say all the things that she couldn’t say elsewhere. In addition, some parents were in recovery from their own addiction problems, attending Al Anon and doing other things to help themselves.

These parents all deeply loved their kids but allowed themselves to feel all the other painful things that go with mental health and addictive disease.

“Lori” began to learn how to stay out of the drama, respond rather than react, lovingly allow life to run its course for her son, and slowly come to accept his illness and her disappointment and sadness.

For information about resources for parents, contact me through our website at

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.

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