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Heading Towards the Cliff

answered 02:54 PM EST, Sun August 30, 2015
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doreen licata doreen licata Barnegat
We are elderly parents of mentally ill alcoholic 30 yr old son. We are the social security disability payee and pay his rent, bills, etc. He has been in many, many treatment programs to no avail. He is constantly picked up by police drunk in street, parking lots, woods, and brought to hospitals. He has now accumulated $5,000 worth of fines, etc. He gets money for drinking by lying to me, needs money for food, etc. If i refuse he begs for money...No friends or relatives will have anything to do with him. We are getting too old to run around to police stations and hospitals, however, being the payee representative, i feel responsible for paying his bills. I realize there is a great need for me to change things around so that he becomes responsible for his choices, not me. After so many years of this i am overwhelmed with payments, bills, court dates, etc. Being on first name basis with crisis staff at local hospital is not fun. How do I become not responsible for him? Its very very hard to love someone like this and not enable him. Just today he called needs cigarettes, In hospital 40 miles from here. I am getting resentful. Do not want to drive there and drop off cigarettes. But i hold the money. I feel myself losing it mentally and physically.

Rob Danzman Says...

Let me start by stating you clearly love your son. You are also in a bad position which is only, in my humble opinion, heading in the very unhealthy direction of financial insolvency, mental and medical break down for you. Psychological stressors are linked to heart disease, stroke and compromised immune function. If you and your spouse do not change your behavior, nothing will change. 

Here are a few assumptions I would be making if acting as your therapeutic advisor:

  1. Your son is ill to an extent that's beyond your ability or means to dramatically change him 
  2. Your son is not interested, committed or able to commit to real, sustained change
  3. You and your spouse will not live forever and should not spend your remaining years acting as caregivers
  4. You and your spouse have limited means and need to develop a plan for the near and long term with the major goal of handing responsibility over to someone else
  5. You love your son and the above observations will be the hardest choices made in your life

There are several clinical, legal and financial professionals that can help carry part of the burden. But all of this is irrelevant if you and your spouse do not set a final, specific set of limits with your son. One strategy might be to remove financial responsibility sooner than later from you to someone else so you absolve yourselves of that stressor. This would make it easier for you to start setting boundaries. If you can't hand that task over to someone else, at least set a limit of no more cash. Not one dime. I don't care if he begs for a stick of gum - no more money. If he's hungry, you take him to the store and buy food or he comes to eat a meal at your house. If he's got a utility bill due, you can pay it directly. Cash is more his addiction than the alcohol. No more. He's developmentally more like a teen and the limits set for him should be consistent and congruent with his developmental age. If he was able to handle money, he would not have been assigned a payee. Why give him any money? Because he (or his addiction??) manipulates you and takes advantage of your compassion as a mother. Stop it today. 

Next, I would find a clinical case manager or therapist that can support you from a mental health and advocacy perspective. You need to talk with someone. You need someone to coach you through and act as your cheerleader. It's time to share the burden with someone else. It's not uncommon for our agency to work with parents and act solely as their counselor to help them develop coping mechanisms to get them through tough times. It's important to develop a team-approach and outsource the responsibility of facilitating treatment between different providers or professionals. This role is not something appropriate for a parent to do. A good clinical case manager will also be able to help you find resources for your son that have longer lasting impact. 

Finally, it's time to start refocusing on your lives. You will not live forever so it's time to get busy living. You may feel like you are abandoning your son or ignoring his pain but I assure you, his issues are not fixed by your suffering. Definitely plan time to see him and help him, but make sure he is only a portion of your life rather than the majority of your day. 

I sincerely hope this helps point you in a healthy direction for you and your family. Caring parents like you two should not have to suffer and endure this on your own. 

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Page last updated Aug 30, 2015

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