I Want My Son Back

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 201 · Duration: 00:24:39

I Want My Son Back

What do you do when you realize your gifted, “A” student, college graduate son is addicted to marijuana?Click To Tweet We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast, I Want My Son Back.

Today we’re hearing from Margaret of Providence, Rhode Island and Margaret writes:

Dear Neil,

What can I do to assist my adult college graduate son who is living with me to recognize his excessive use of marijuana has created unreasonable anger over little things, lack of interest or follow through, and inability to take better care of himself? He has a bachelor degree from a great school and is employable in his field, yet he is working in an unskilled job. I think he is addicted to marijuana, and I want my son back! I have recently come to realize my soft, quiet son who has been an A student has actually been smoking marijuana since 10th grade. (His older brother took all of my energy back then, so I feel guilty to some extent because I didn’t notice- he was always so good).

I swear this drug has altered his personality for over 5-6 yrs. I am glad he made it through college, but I am worried he is behind his peers. I am so tired of fighting with him about how marijuana isn’t okay regardless of it being legal. I have seen him physically and mentally altered over the years. For my own health and the health of our family I need to stop worrying about him. 

Please help.

Margaret of Providence, Rhode Island


Now to Margaret’s question:

Margaret, the situation you present is serious for your son and for you, so I’ll need to offer you a pretty good plan.  What you are experiencing are several of the negative consequences of Control Battles.

  1.  They interfere with child, teen and young adult development as it did with your first son and now your second son. They don’t improve the problem that the parent is fighting with their child about, and the child’s resistance to parental efforts to address the problem makes things worse.  
  2. When a parent-teen Control Battles rages in a family, it takes parental resources away from other kids in the family.  Siblings can feel less worthy because they aren’t getting attention. They can see attention as a bad thing and hide their needs and problems as perhaps the son we’re now talking about may have done.  They can try to be extra “good or helpful” in order to keep the peace or keep the family from blowing up.  
  3. Control Battles create Parental Burnout as you are experiencing.  As you mention, for your health and the health of the family, you “have to stop worrying about him.”  In last week’s podcast we talked about the toxic choice between resentment and guilt and of course we don’t want to live with either, but your burnout is evidenced by you having both resentment and guilt.  Resentment that your son’s behavior towards you is disrespectful and hurtful, and that he’s not listening to you. You’re also resentful that you’re having to go through this when you'd like to be enjoying life a bit more and not so focused on a problem with a child.  And you express guilt over not having been aware of his problem and needs earlier and that keeps you stuck with feeling responsible for the problem.  

So Margaret , the Control Battle you had with your older son was destructive and likely affected the situation you have now and the Control Battle you’re in now is destructive and won’t help anyone either.  In fact, we could say that the Control Battle or your efforts to effect change and your son’s efforts to resist your efforts are now one thing, and anything we do within the pattern of the Control Battle will be part of the problem, not a solution.  

Now before we talk about cannabis abuse or addiction, let’s talk about the role of parents with their Young Adult children and the difference between support and enablement, and by enablement, I mean enabling someone to continue a pattern of self-destructive behavior.  

Young adults often need parental support to achieve reasonable goals.  They may live at home while they save money to buy a home, or look for a job, or go to school.  They might live at home to recover from an illness, or in some cases, might live at home with their parents to support their parents, share financial resources and be able to afford life.  Parents can also provide financial support for their young adult children when not living at home when it helps them leverage their potential for sustainable self-sufficiency.  Education, a down payment on a house, that kind of thing.  

But living at home with parents and parents supporting their young adult child living at home, should be helping them towards a goal. Margaret, in your case with your son, it sounds rather static. It doesn’t seem like he’s going anywhere.  He’s got a “go nowhere” job, he’s smoking I’m guessing a ton of weed, he gets angry over little things, he’s not trying to start a professional career; he’s stuck and you’re supporting his being stuck. So that needs to change.

Now let’s talk about Cannabis.  Yes, as you heard on our podcast on May 9th, 2018, an interview with Amy Rose, the cannabis out there is not the weed of yesteryear. The THC levels are extremely high and there are significant problems with it. I’m not going to talk about the evils of marijuana, but a drug is a drug. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe to use and doesn’t mean it’s healthy to use. Alcohol is legal and alcohol abuse and alcoholism is a problem for a lot of people, families and society.  Certainly, marijuana is not healthy for teenagers and your son was using it throughout his high school years. His use and we should call it abuse, is currently undoubtedly interfering with and related to his lack of goals. One of the major impacts of marijuana abuse is a lack of motivation. As drug abuse of all kinds does, it interferes with most executive functions; planning and organization and emotional management skills to name two important ones that are relevant here.  Margaret , you’re concerned that your son is falling behind his peers and by that I’m guessing you mean moving forward in life, having goals and making progress towards goals and acting more maturely in general.  Dealing with problems and feelings in mature ways rather than as you say “getting angry over small things.” Your son might very well be addicted to cannabis so that will obviously need to be addressed.

It seems that this has all developed with your son doing very well academically.  “A’s” in high school and he was admitted to a good school, and did well and graduated.  I’m guessing that he’s quite gifted, extremely bright and that’s a good thing while unfortunately it allowed him to sail under the radar without you noticing. You say you want your son back so I’m guessing that he has plenty of other good qualities, traits, talents that endear him to you. I don’t know what they are but you sure do.  So let’s get started on a solution here.  

Number one here Margaret is you exiting the Control Battle paradigm. 

You don’t need to argue with him about the reasonableness or unreasonableness of marijuana use, his use is abuse and he’s in denial so arguing won’t change that.Click To Tweet Guilt won’t help so let go of that. Your son had and has a mom who loves the hell out of him, and like all parents, is imperfect and did the best she could. Yes, it’s no fun that you have to deal with this now, yet if you stop arguing and fighting, it will be a lot less exhausting.  And if you can see his disrespectful, unproductive and emotionally immature behaviors as issues that are related to his substance abuse and not take them personally, that will help as well.  

Now, we want to go from enabling to supporting.  How are we going to do that?

Let’s start with a healthy vision of your son:  He’s gifted academically, he has achieved a lot academically, I’m not sure how you would describe his other strengths, but we could guess that when things are going well that he’s a caring person, perhaps musically or athletically inclined, that he’s a good friend, etc.  Let’s assume that if he weren’t abusing cannabis, that he’d be doing much better, and we believe that he will deal with his substance abuse issues and do quite well.  We can also guess that he’d like to be doing better; that he isn’t happy, not moving forward, not having a romantic partner, not doing as well as his friends.  

Now what are the ways that you support him now?  Commonly it would include paying his cell phone service, providing internet, maybe use of a car or paying his auto insurance.  He has his own income from his job, but that won’t go far if he has to start paying for all these things. I’m also guessing that you aren’t charging rent or board. These are all reasonable things to provide support with if he was moving towards a goal, moving towards growing his career, but under the circumstances, this support is enabling and can be withdrawn.

The next step is to locate a good substance abuse treatment program or a therapist experienced working with young adults, substance abuse and families.  

Now with all that in mind, here is the message you want to give him, and I’ll call your son Matt.  

You can give this message verbally, written or both and this message to Matt has as much to do with you and your attitude, your vision and your conviction, your leadership. In other words, you need to be extremely positive and unequivocal in your messaging.  

Here goes:


  • I owe you an apology.  I’ve been fighting and arguing with you and that’s the last thing I want to do.  As you know, I’m very concerned about your marijuana use, but fighting and arguing is no way to communicate my concern. 
  • You are an amazing young man and I appreciate and respect who you are.  You are gifted smart, a kind person, a talented musician, athlete, 
  • The fighting we are doing undermines how I really think about you and want to appreciate you.
  • Yet, I do have my very real concerns for you and for my support of you.  I of course want to support you. I want to support your entry and growth into adulthood. Right now I don’t know what your goals are, and I don’t see you flourishing.  I see you as stuck and I see my support as helping you stay stuck and I’m not okay with that.  That’s not what you need and it’s not healthy. 
  • It’s clear to me that your long-term use and abuse of marijuana is a significant part of this. I know that marijuana undermines motivation and even though it is legal, the way one uses it will determine whether it is harmful or not and right now, all the evidence is that it’s harmful to you. I know you disagree.  That might be because you’re addicted and in denial. It might be that we’ve been fighting about it so long that you simply defend your position every time I bring up mine. It could be that I’m wrong and that there are other factors keeping you from moving forward. I don’t know.  
  • Here is what I expect. For me to continue supporting you, I need several things.  
    • That you have clear appropriate goals related to growing and building a career.
    • That you work on your mood management and communicate with me in a kinder and more respectful, young adult manner.  Whatever you feel or whatever I’m doing that you have feelings about, that’s fine, I’ll listen to you and respect your feelings.  But I need you to communicate in a healthier way.
    • You and I will meet with a counselor to talk about our communication and how to improve it as well as my concerns about you not moving forward and your marijuana use.  
  • Right now I’m giving you free room and board, your phone plan, internet, car use, and these things are ways I support you. I need to know that my support is healthy support and not enabling substance abuse or addiction, or otherwise keeping you from taking responsible actions towards your future.
  • You are a terrific talented young man. I love you, I have faith in you and I need to know that my support is healthy and respectful of your potential. 

Once you’ve delivered this message Margaret, regardless of his response, stay positive, assume he will go to a scheduled counseling meeting. Do not get sucked into a fight, don’t argue. You’ve laid out your expectations so give it some space to sink in. Make sure he knows about the appointment, made of course at a time he isn’t working, remind him and when it’s time to go, prompt him that it’s time, and then “let’s go”.  If he absolutely refuses, don’t fight, you go on your own and talk things over with the counselor.  My advice is that if he is being obstinate, after giving him some space, not immediately, turn off the internet and cancel his cell phone plan. Don’t threaten or even talk about it, just do it.  He’ll get upset and you’ll simply say, I want to support you, but as I’ve been clear, support must be a positive experience for you and me, not a destructive one. If we have some understanding about what I’ve laid out, and you are up for moving forward, I’m happy for you to have these things.   

Does this make sense Margaret? 

When the tone is positive, and the expectations are clear, and the support elements are tied to healthy behavior, you are no longer in a Control Battle.Click To Tweet Instead, you are providing the structure and leadership that he desperately needs.  

So parents, therapists and family helpers of all kinds. Margaret has shined a light on critical issues for us all to learn from: the serious collateral damage that Control Battles create, the difference between support and enablement, and how to move from enablement to support and we thank her for that.

Thanks for tuning in listeners and special thanks to Margaret for sharing her difficult situation with us.  Before we close, let’s do this together, take a slow deep breath, hold and then exhale very slowly, ready?  Inhale through your nose, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, good, now hold, 1,2,3,4,5 and exhale very slowly 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10.  Are you remembering to slow down and breathe and do other easy positive things for yourself.  They’re important because as I’ve said many times and I’ll say it again, this parenting business ain’t easy so self-care is essential; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.  Bye for now.

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