Ask an Expert: Should I Keep Paying for my Relapsing Son?

By Roland Williams 02/19/15
Today's question is on whether to stop paying for addiction treatment for a son who repeatedly relapses.

How many times should I pay for help for my 24 year old son? He keeps relapsing, then keeps asking for help. Even though I have the money, it's me who needs the help at this point. The treatment centers of course want me to stay with it, but this is not working and I am not sure where to turn and would appreciate some perspective here. - Serena.


Roland Williams:  First of all, thanks for the question and let me be honest and up front and say I myself am a big advocate of treatment. So, admittedly I may not be the most objective person to comment here. But let me tell you why I feel this way.I have been working full-time since December 1986 in the field of addiction treatment. I’ve worked as a counselor, a teacher, a program developer, a consultant and as the Director of a few addiction treatment centers, which is what I continue to this day. I know treatment works and I’ve seen so many people get their life back as a direct result of having gone to treatment. 

I also know what a terrible foe addiction is to those who fight it, I’ve seen the devastation and heartbreak as families struggle trying to make sense of the insanity and mayhem that goes with this disease. I have seen way too many people lose the fight against their addiction, good people, people with potential, and people with families and friends that love them. I know personally how hard it is to get clean and then stay clean. But I can tell you it can be done. 

Most people who try to get clean and sober do fail, that is a fact, but millions of addicts and alcoholics world-wide have found a solution to their addiction, and treatment is often but not always part of that process. I know that most people who are successful in their Recovery have been to multiple treatment centers before it all “clicks” in their head and they have that “moment of clarity.” A relapse does not mean a person failed; it means they need more tools, it is very possible that your son may not have found the right treatment program for him yet. I am encouraged that he “keeps asking for help.” I’d be really concerned when he “throws in the towel” and surrenders to his addiction permanently. Each time he goes to treatment, to 12 step meetings, to a therapy session, and even talks with you… seeds of Recovery are planted. It may take a while for those seeds to take root, but we should all continue to plant them. 

My opinion is as long as he keeps asking for help and you can afford it, I would suggest continue to offer him the option of a treatment program. It’s actually pretty remarkable that a 24-year-old, is repeatedly asking for help to get clean and sober. Now, you may need some help in selecting the most appropriate program for your son, and a good, objective addictions counselor should be able to assist you there. If you have trouble finding someone, give me a call. It helps for the counselor to know more about the specific issues your son struggles with, and what are the primary reasons he seems to relapse. Based on those findings it would be easier to select a program that might have the best chances for long term success. And the cost of the program is not necessarily a good indicator of the quality of the treatment so beware. 

As for the help that you need, I would recommend an individual therapist who understands addiction, and also Al-Anon and/or Nar-Anon, both great, (and free) programs for people in relationships with alcoholics/addicts. Most of all, don’t give up. If it happened for so many others, it can happen for him. I’m crossing my fingers that he finds his way and that you get some peace. Thanks.  - Roland



Roland Williams, MA, is an internationally recognized addiction interventionist, author, educator, trainer, counselor and consultant. He heads and has provided treatment and program development consultation to major institutions around the world. A popular keynote speaker, he authoredRelapse Prevention Counseling for African AmericansRelapse Warning Signs for African Americans (with Terence T. Gorski), and the Relapse Prevention Workbook for African Americans.    Full Bio.

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