difficult child Starting the Substance Abuse Path

Stress Bunny

Active Member
Hello, everyone. I have been posting on the Parent Emeritus board lately, however, my oldest difficult child seems to be heading down the substance abuse path as well. I thought I would post here about that.

JT is 20 years old now. We adopted him out of foster care (neglect case), and he's been with us since age 2. JT's bio mom was somewhat lower functioning and could not seem to keep her act together in terms of living situations and conditions and proper childcare. She would often leave her very young children home alone, and she often left town with the carnival for months at a time. Ultimately, she abandoned her boys after refusing to take the necessary steps to get them back. I know she was a smoker, and she probably had an alcohol problem as well.

JT was a smart, outgoing, funny, and engaging character. But he was also very stubborn and had severe ADHD and oppositional behavior. Our family loved him dearly and treated him great. He has been surrounded by love and attention his entire life since the adoption. We have given him an upper middle class lifestyle, a deep extended family that loved him so much, a Christian community, two parents married for almost 23 years, support, and understanding. We never drank or had alcohol in the house, and we never abused substances. We always raised him to know the dangers of drug abuse. I could never have imagined this is where we would be all these years later.

Since leaving for college two years ago, JT has managed to flunk out of college, lose multiple jobs, get into accidents requiring surgery, draw on worker's comp several times, get charged with underage drinking and distributing alcohol to minors, get kicked out of our home after refusing to follow rules related to inappropriate use of our technology (watching porn), cigarettes, guns, and knives. He's had many short-term relationships with girlfriends that he tries to get serious with very soon. In fact, two weeks ago, he was supposedly the father of a baby to be born to a girlfriend of his, but then learned she wasn't pregnant. Just days later, he asked a different girl to marry him. So now he is "engaged", and we are supposed to be so happy for him, I guess.

Worse than even all of this is his attitude. JT is extremely narcissistic and fails to take any responsibility for his behavior and choices. He is argumentative and rude. He LIES non-stop! JT mocks us and has never respected us. We have learned never to try to help him by talking to him because he is all the more likely to do the exact opposite thing.

After a number of the accidents, JT was prescribed pain medication, and I believe he was abusing it. Whenever I spoke with him, I begged him not to take more than needed to control the pain and not to mix it with alcohol, etc., but that was a mistake on my part. I revealed a worry of mine, and after that, JT loved to call me and tell me how he was taking so many pills.

Two months ago, JT was jailed for distributing alcohol to minors and underage drinking himself. Unfortunately, we bailed him out because we didn't want him to lose his job. He did pay us back immediately. No consequence has succeeded in impacting him to modify his behavior.

I forgot to mention that JT is also sociopathic. He manipulates and uses people all the time and seems to lack a normal conscience. He is a chameleon, playing whatever role suits his self-interest. At times, I even think he enjoys hurting us.

After having a reasonably okay/neutral visit yesterday, which by the way, happened most likely due to the fact that he wants us to support (pay) for his upcoming wedding, he texted me at midnight last night, "I'm drunk". He loves to send me one-line text message zingers, to which I do not respond. We are doing well at disengaging and not enabling.

I am struggling greatly with depression over all of this, as well as extreme grief for the hopes and dreams we had for JT. We have lost him, or as husband says, maybe we never had him in the first place. husband has attended a number of Al-anon meetings, but he is disappointed that there is no advice given at the meetings. Advice is not allowed. We feel isolated, hurt, and hopeless. We watched America's Got Talent last night, and one of the participants was a young man who was so thankful for being adopted out of foster care at 5 years of age. Contrasting that with JT's attitude was very painful. husband is very angry, and I am just distraught.

We are not naive, and we know that JT is well onto the substance abuse path now. Any help or support would be greatly appreciated.


Well-Known Member
You can take very good care of yourself, in spite of his troubles.

You can't change him on wit so angsting over him is a waste of time. It will not help him at all. If he also has antisocial personality disorder, he will use you if he can and it is even more of a reason for you to focus on your own life.

Narc-Anon, in my opinion, is a great support system. If you don't like twelve step, you can also go to a private therapist. You need face time support through this difficult, heartbreaking time and sometimes family and friends who know you well can want to help, but have no understanding of your situation and only make you (and all of us) feel worse.

Of course you have us. We are on call, 24/7, 65 days a year.

Do something nice for YOU today. It is up to JT to change his path. From what I've read, and I'm not a doctor either here or on TV!!!, it is unlikely somebody who has Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) will try to change, but never give up hope. Still...it would be great for you if you could go on with your own life and find people in your community who DO understand. You get no judgment about your son/parenting from folks at N/A.

Hugs for your hurting mommy heart today. So many times family and friends DO judge and try to tell us what to do with no knowledge of how it is to have an adult child like a difficult child and we just end up in tears (maybe I'm talking about myself). I find it safer to confide in a therapist who will not talk about this to anyone else and who will help me take care of me and will listen without interrupting me about what I've done wrong. I've learned, I think, that many people love to twist the knife in our hearts so I do not share things about 36 with anyone but my therapist.

Hugs for a nice, serene day for you!!!! You are an awesome parent, who has tried everything, and it's YOUR TURN NOW!

Calamity Jane

Well-Known Member
Hi Stress Bunny,
He's 20 - difficult children are notoriously slow in reaching emotional maturity. He's probably more like 15, even though his chronological age is 20. There's family history there, for sure. Your positive, loving environment probably helped somewhat, but he's going to do what he wants to do.
The sociopathic chameleon you described fit my difficult child to a "t" when he was 17, 18 y/o. My difficult child also relished exploiting my fears about what would befall him, and he would taunt me with his poor choices. I talked about it with my sister-in-law, a nurse, and she said realistically, less than 1% of the population is truly sociopathic and it was probably more emotional and substance abuse related. I don't know in your case, but I would've bet the farm my son was sociopathic, but he's changed and matured quite a bit, and seems to be substance abuse-free.
Please get help for yourself and husband. My husband and I found great solace in private therapy. We strongly encouraged difficult child to get help also, and sometimes he did, sometimes he didn't, but we never let that stop us. It IS very depleting, depressing and exhausting, and I don't think the worry ever really stops. All of us make lots of choices each day, and you and husband would be wise to choose proper health, both mental and physical, for yourselves. If Al-anon isn't working, find somewhere else. Families Anonymous is also very good, I've heard. If you find solace, comfort and support in your faith, keep praying, and don't hesitate to ask others to pray for you and your family, too. It's hard, very hard, but with each other's support, you and husband will come through this.


Well-Known Member
It is true that advice isn't allowed. What could they say to your situation anyway?

But I found that listening to them and how they dealt with their similar situations helped me tremendously. And I formed relationships outside of the meetings.

Have a serene and lovely day :)


one day at a time
Keep going to Al-Anon Stress Bunny. All of us crawl in there wanting someone, anyone to tell us what to do to get them to stop and to make it all stop hurting so much, but there is nobody anywhere who can truly tell you what to do.

You have to learn what to do.

Al-Anon is the place that you will learn so much over time about what to do. But you have to be patient, and you have to keep going back.

You have to be ready to truly change.

The first time I went to Al-Anon, I stayed for about 18 months (this was over my husband, now ex, who is now a recovering alcoholic) but I didn't really hear or take in what Al-Anon had to offer. I wasn't ready.

This last time I went back about 4 years ago and I was so ready. This was over my son, my difficult child. I have stayed this time and I have been ready to take in, soak in, all that Al-Anon has to offer.

Al-Anon has saved my life, and I continue to work the program. I believe I will for the rest of my life.

I also use other tools, like this board, other books that are not Al-Anon books, etc.

You can get a sponsor in Al-Anon and it is recommended. That person will listen to you and will gently guide you, again respecting your choices and your life but will guide you into better decision-making. It feels like advice at times. It is wonderful to have a sponsor.

The groups are full of great, authentic, mature people who have suffered and are coming through it all. They have suffered just like we suffer. Just like you are suffering.

Give it another try, Stress. Go to lots of different meetings until you start to feel better. It is a wonderful free resource. You will get back as much as you put into it. I truly believe that.

Hugs for you this morning. I am so sorry. Please---start thinking about what is best for you now. You are seeing things and moving forward in your acceptance of reality. Of what is.

JT is going to do whatever he is going to do. That is clear.

Now, it's time for you.

Stress Bunny

Active Member
MWM - I would benefit a lot from some face-to-face support. I am looking into that. Unfortunately, there are no NA family support groups nearby. Maybe a private therapist would be a good thing.

I have come to the realization that it is very unlikely JT will ever truly change. Maybe it's possible, but I do believe it is unlikely. He has always been this way, from day 1. All of these years of our lives giving and trying SO hard to help him, and this is what he does with the amazing gifts and talents he has and love and support he has received. It's sickening. At least we have recognized it now and can move forward with making healthier choices for ourselves. I am having the most difficulty coping with the following:
  • Hopelessness and related depression and grief.
  • Concerns about how JT may continue to cause himself and us stress and trouble, i.e. showing up on our doorstep or in jail or dead.
  • The effects on Bubby of JT's behaviors.
  • Judgment - Both our own guilt and that placed on us by others, i.e. we were too easy or too hard on JT or whatever; the gloating parents of PCs that get to feel proud and enjoy their wonderful children, while we hurt and they think they are so much better parents than us. I feel so alone and so ashamed of everything happening with JT.

C. Jane - Thank you. I am glad to hear your difficult child seemed to mature and improve. That is hopeful. I agree completely that JT is developmentally a much younger age than his actual age, despite his high intelligence level. But, unfortunately, in his case, these traits have been present his entire life, even as a toddler. It was like having a teenager throughout his whole childhood. He never really outgrew the terrible twos or stubborn threes. About 4% of the population is sociopathic, and the percentage is higher for adoptive children who suffered abuse and neglect, especially. JT has classic symptoms, and at the very least, his conscience is very underdeveloped. This serves him well in using others while leaving those around him devastated. I feel hopeless because there doesn't seem to be an end in sight to this mess.

MWM - You're right about the Al-Anon thing. I don't know what they could say, but we have learned that setting proper boundaries are super important, and finding some practical ways to apply that knowledge would be helpful. I understand why they do not give advice, because advice can translate into judgment so easily, and then, that would undermine the purpose of the support setting in the first place. I think the mentor/sponsor thing would be helpful, and they have offered that.

COM - Thank you! I will go to meetings. I am a communicator, and I desperately need some in-person help. Our family is not knowledgeable about this or really equipped to completely understand the scope of the problem and how affected we are. We don't have many friends as a result of having such an extreme parenting responsibility all these years. This has taken a heavy emotional and physical toll over the years.


Well-Known Member
Staff member
Try another group. I didn't like the Alanon groups that I went to but I did like Families Anonymous. They were a little looser about the cross talk rule and after the meeting officially ended they were very willing to listen and give advice.

I also have found having a private therapist to be a great help. I have seen her for a year now and she has really helped me set boundaries and stick to them.

Welcome to the SA forum. We are currently going through or have been through what you are dealing with and we aren't shy with advice. LOL

Just remember to take what you can use and leave the rest.



Well-Known Member
I would like to humbly address this part of your post.

  • Hopelessness and related depression and grief. Yes, I think we all suffer from grief, which includes hopelessness and depression, like we can not go on. Time is our friend along with the help of people who have walked in our shoes or therapists who have heard about it a million times and know how to aid us in coping and in enriching our own lives.
  • Concerns about how JT may continue to cause himself and us stress and trouble, i.e. showing up on our doorstep or in jail or dead. This you have no control over. This is where Twelve Step helped me the most. I was constantly reminded that I can not change my daughter, when she took drugs, and my son being the way he is and he has some antisocial and other undesirable and self-defeating traits. Only he can decide to change and so far he doesn't think he has a problelm.
  • The effects on Bubby of JT's behaviors. I am not suer who Bubby is so can't comment.
  • Judgment - Both our own guilt and that placed on us by others, i.e. we were too easy or too hard on JT or whatever; the gloating parents of PCs that get to feel proud and enjoy their wonderful children, while we hurt and they think they are so much better parents than us. I feel so alone and so ashamed of everything happening with JT. PePeople focus on themselves. They don't think about us as much as some think they do. I had to learn this gradually. I also toughened up and stopped caring what they thought, especially when my daughter was using drugs. Most people did not know 36 was a problem, but they knew about my daughter and her drug use and seedy friends. This is also when I started hearing stories about "perfect" families that shocked me...they were not so perfect after all. Finally I stopped worrying about the whole world and their impression of me as a parent or anything their petty minds thought of us. It is nobody's business and that includes family. If you have rude, judgmental people in your family who make you feel bad, consider tellinlg them that you have set a boundary...you are no longer discussing JT with them. You aren't sharing and you aren't listening. Period. Family can be the most hurtful of all. Why be a masochist? Ban him as a topic of discussion. If somebody breaks your boundary, walk out of the house, gently hang up the phone after saying, "Oops, I have to go" or, if absolutely intolerable, cut off contact for a bit so you can heal without anything toxic being thrown in your face. You are under no obligation to listen to anyone talk to you about JT: Not your beloved parents who mean well but...., not your sister or brother, not your cousin, not your aunt, not your uncle, not your kissing cousin, not your neighbors, not your church buddies, not ANYONE. It is private and you have the right to quickly cut off anyone who doesn't think it is and persists and to firmly let them know the topic is OFF LIMITS for your sanity's sake. If they don't respect you, then you need to protect yourself.
This is a long learning process. It doesn't happen overnight. I wish you a peaceful, serene night tonight. Maybe it is best not see JT until you are in a better, stronger, happier place. They set up back ten paces if we see them, they act like who they are (wanting something), and then they leave to send us back to where we were before we starting trying to heal.

Read more: http://www.conductdisorders.com/com...the-substance-abuse-path.58026/#ixzz33XXo9ZY9


Roll With It
One thing I have learned about AlAnon is that every single group is different. when I was first married, I had just really become aware of the fact that i am the grandchild of 2 alcoholics. One died before I was born and the other when I was a young teen. I learned how alcohol shaped a LOT of my family dynamics with-o ever being a part of my daily life with 2 parents who are not alcoholics or addicts. That group was SOOO different than the group I went to a few years later after my brother's alcoholism had become an issue in our family. I was the only one to recognize that his drinking had been a problem since his teens and not just a problem that started in his late 20s to early 30s.

During that time I followed the advice and went to a different meeting every day for a month. I didn't just go to the Tues meeting at 7 at Church A or the Wed lunch meeting at Church B. I went to as many different meetings in as many different places as I could. I was ASTOUNDED at how different they were from each other. The entire dynamic was dramatically different between meetings even when some of the same people were at more than one meeting.

Do NOT assume all meetings have the same things to offer. Sure, the steps are the same, but how the meetings are run and the people in the meetings create very different experiences. So take a look at all of the meetings in your area and give each of them a try. Some you will be drawn to and some will be off-putting. Go to the ones that you feel will be helpful once you have gotten to know the dynamic. You may be amazed at how helpful they can be while never once telling you how to 'fix' things in your life and iwth your son.

Also see a therapist. That offers something very different and also very valuable.

I am sorry that your son is having these problems. It is sad to know you cannot fix him and make it all better. I would say that maybe bailing him out isn't the best solution, and if it happens again you may or may not want to post his bail again. That is up to you and what you think is best. I totally understand how you feel about talking to him. I have a gfgbro who will do the exact opposite of ANYTHING I say just to prove me wrong. The fact that to date he has not found ONE thing that he proved me wrong about is sad to me, esp as if I would agree to speak to him, he would still continue to try to prove me wrong no matter how seriously anyone else got hurt. It is but one reason he is not in my life. I just cannot handle the drama and the anger when he fails (his anger directed at me for being correct when I say things like "It is a bad idea to try to read a book as you are driving" - and yes, he actually had not one but THREE accidents trying to read a book and drive at the same time!, and was furious each time, blaming ME for the accidents!)

I do think that he may act like a sociopath but not be one simply due to his age. The brain of a teenager or person in their early 20s is just not done cooking yet and can make very bad choices that seem to be sociopathic. MANY people outgrow this in their mid 20s to early 30s. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) makes it take even into the mid 30s for some people. in my opinion the more angry the person is as a rule, the more into the 30s it can take. That does NOT mean anyone should cater to the person, or give them more tolerance for bad behavior, but it does mean you shouldn't give up hope.

There is a book called Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend that you may find incredibly helpful. it has a workbook that goes with it that is well worth the cost and the time to work through also. Many of us have found it incredibly helpful.