How to back up what you said to an Alcoholic

by Ann
(Toledo, Ohio)

Our son is an alcoholic. He is 31. He has been doing drugs and alcohol for at least 14 years now. He has almost always lived elsewhere since he has been 18. He finally ran out of women who would put up with him and is now living at home.

We told him he cannot come home drunk, but the problem is that when he does drink he is so drunk there is no way we can tell him to leave other than calling the police to come get him – as long as he goes in his room and doesn’t cause any problems, we let him stay.

How do we reinforce what we said? He hasn’t had a car in over 7 years, does not have a driver’s license, and has no money. He’ll do an odd job, get money, and spend it the same day.

If he didn’t live here he would be homeless. Do we tell him this is it, next time you come home drunk we’ll call the police? He gets aggressive when he’s drunk. Calling the police could easily wind up with him getting shot or a police officer hurt. He doesn’t care if he lives. He has overdosed twice in the past year. There is no place to ‘take’ him when he is drunk unless he has overdosed, and then we take him to the hospital.

He used to be able to go for maybe four days without drinking (that’s because he doesn’t have any money), but if he has money, he is drunk. He says he has to drink, or he shakes, has nightmares and bleeds when he goes to the bathroom.

The shelters will not take someone drunk, and Rescue Crisis will not take him drunk. The only place that will take him is the police, or if he has harmed himself, the hospital.

We feel stuck. We do not have the money for help for us or him. He has been to rehab twice, has four DUI’s, and has been to jail.

We really need a realistic answer. If we call the police, they keep him overnight or for a few weeks. Then when he is released we are in the same situation.

Thanks for your help.


It sounds so painful to be trapped, watching your son slowly lose himself to alcohol. Thank you for bringing this up. Being helpless is a very scary thing, but you are doing the right thing, continuing to reach out to others for help with this.

Let’s talk about some things honestly up front. It’s clear you would do everything in your power to help your son, but he is actively working against that. He seems to be set on a path of self-destruction. It’s not clear why, but from what you are describing, unless he changes his ways, that is likely where he is ending up.

You are right; you have no way to force him to change or to get help. While laws will vary from state to state and country to country, there are few options for a parent to force an adult child into rehab. That does not mean you are completely helpless, however. You have rights and the ability to follow up with the limits you set, and it seems you already understand some of that.

The situation as you described it is that he is living rent-free in your home. You have tried to set limits, but fear the alternatives if you kick him out. It’s understandable why, but here’s what is also going on. He is comfortable right now, safe and has no motivation to change. Providing him that room keeps him safe, but it also removes that desire to improve or get better, when he has no reason to.

There is a phrase in treatment called, “raising the bottom.” You probably have heard about a person hitting rock bottom and getting help then. If you raise the bottom, that means you are getting them to that point where they have nothing left and need to change. You are basically forcing the choice to seek shelter and rehab. Let me be clear that no one likes this option. However, it may be a short amount of pain that will help your son see that he is sick and needs help.

Setting these boundaries is important and sticking by them is even more so. Saying he has to be sober if he is living with you, or even better, if he is to continue living with you he must go to treatment, is a start. This may not go well, but that is to be expected. He will make things difficult, drink more, yell, threaten, but you must stick to your boundaries.

Calling the police to help remove him from your home, or if things get heated, is not as bad of an option as it sounds. The reason this is not a bad option is that it gets him involved in the courts, which is one of the main ways to force someone to get treatment. The justice system often prefers getting people with addictions treatment rather than punishment, and typically will fund their rehab if it is court ordered. It’s understandable that you would be afraid and would not want to call the police on your son, but right now, the situation is already bleak, and the police and courts might actually make a difference.

The main thing, however, I want to encourage, I urge in fact, is that you seek help and support for yourself. You have tough decisions to make, and boundaries that are difficult to manage ahead. Getting counseling or attending a recovery support group like Alanon, will be important in your recovery as well. Alanon is a support group for the families of people with an alcohol addiction. You can hear from people that have been through the same things you have, and hear their stories and what they learned. Most importantly, you can have a safe space to talk about what it’s like for you. Your son’s addiction has taken its toll on you as well, and you need support now more than ever.

While these may not be the answers you were hoping for, I suspect they are the answers you know you need to follow. Your son needs your help now more than ever, and it may mean seeing him in pain, but it also means that in the long run, he has the chance of being a healthy and happy man again. Please reach out for yourselves as well, with a counselor that understands addicted families, or a support group where you can hear from others who understand what you are going through. If you have further questions, please feel free to reach out here as well.

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