Relationship Connection: My alcoholic son refuses to honor our rules

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Question

My son is 40 years old, an alcoholic and is separated from his wife. He is also having financial issues. He can work from home, so he came home to stay with us so he can regroup. We told him he could stay, but he couldn’t drink in our home. Evidently, that rule was broken the first day he came.

We have helped him with his bills and moving expenses. He is easy to anger when he is drunk and uses offensive language. If we ask him to stop, he gets loud and aggressive. He hasn’t hurt either one of us, but my husband thinks it is possible. We can’t seem to do anything right, and he blames us for being judgmental. He knows the right things to say to hurt us the deepest

He and his wife have three cats, and he told me he was bringing one with him. My husband doesn’t want the animal in our home – we’ve never had animals living in the house. We have a business in our home, and we are concerned that our clients would object to the smell and cat hair. Now my son is saying we lied to him. I told him that he isn’t living up to his bargain also since he has been drinking since day one! He is only supposed to live with us until he can afford his own apartment. 

He’s been to a doctor a couple of times for help with his alcoholism, but he never follows through. He obviously isn’t ready to stop. The stress and contention in our home is unbearable. My husband is retired, and our plan was for me to retire soon also, and we really don’t want those plans derailed. We care about our son, but where do our responsibilities end?

Answer

Although you are both kind and supportive parents to your struggling son, he has taken advantage of your generosity and put you in a difficult and potentially dangerous situation.

You are now living as emotional hostages in your own home while he disregards your rules and sets up new rules that he expects you to follow. Everything about this is bad for you and bad for him. Truly helping your son won’t feel good and can cause you to feel like you’re horrible parents. 

First of all, if your son is becoming loud, aggressive and physically threatening in your home, don’t hesitate to contact the police to protect you from harm. It’s common to believe a loved one wouldn’t hurt you, but recognize that when he’s under the influence of alcohol, you’re not interacting with your son any longer.

Whatever you believe about his love and commitment to you when he’s sober is long gone when he’s intoxicated. If things escalate and you feel unsafe, treat his behavior at face value, get yourselves to safety and use law enforcement if necessary. 

You’ve voiced your displeasure at his actions, but it doesn’t sound you’ve followed through with consequences for his behaviors. It’s likely his behavior will escalate when you begin enforcing the consequences of him breaking your house rules. If he’s already blaming and accusing you for inconveniencing his life, you can expect more countermoves to return things to his liking. It’s painful to see that his loyalty is to his addiction, not to you or your kindness.

I know you’re overwhelmed by his abusive behaviors, but you have the power to end this as soon as you’re ready. You would not tolerate a stranger drinking and acting aggressively in your home, so don’t excuse his behavior just because he’s your son. The consequences of alcohol abuse are the same no matter how much you care about them.

Are any of your rules non-negotiable? If not, then it’s time to stop allowing him to negotiate with your rules. Perhaps you took him in hoping he would show respect, and then you quickly became shocked and overwhelmed at his complete lack of respect and regard for your peace and safety. Now that you see the pattern of behavior, you can decide what you’ll do to enforce these rules.

Your responses to his behavior only enable and allow him to continue down this destructive path. Kindness can take many forms, including therapeutic intervention, eviction and even incarceration. I highly recommend you seek education, support and direction from qualified mental health professionals and family addiction support groups. You need to understand your options and how what you’re doing or not doing contributes to this painful situation.

Until he’s working a personal recovery program by attending support meetings, committing to sobriety, checking with accountability supports, following professional treatment recommendations and honoring your home rules, he won’t be a good house guest. You’ll be living with the chaos of addiction, which will never produce a moment of peace in your home.

You need peace and your son needs peace. Even though he doesn’t know it yet, he’s counting on you to follow through on your boundaries and invite him into a better future. 

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

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