Tell Me About It

Our son stole from us to fund his cocaine habit

Tell me about it: We cleared his debt and he promised to stop taking drugs but now he is partying again

PROBLEM: We were always very proud of our son. He is 24 years of age and still lives at home. He is our only child and up until recently treated us with great respect. We always knew he was fairly bright, but he struggled academically and, unlike his cousins and peers, did not go to college directly. We were never really concerned as he has a gregarious personality and we were confident he would make his own way in life.

After school, he managed to talk his way into a sales job and undertook a few short courses. Two years ago, he secured employment in a large, fast-paced firm where everything is focused on deadlines and commission. Initially, he seemed very happy and delighted to be working as part of a team and has had amazing travel opportunities. About six months ago, my wife noticed he was partying more than normal and often with different people. She also thought he was not as happy as usual and starting to be dismissive of both of us.

Since he became an adult, we had never minded him bringing girls home, but recently there have been a number of strangers at our breakfast table, which can be uncomfortable. About a month ago, things came to a head when he took my credit card and withdrew a large sum of money. He has used my card in the past but never without permission. It was the first time I had ever been really angry with him.

He broke down crying, saying he had started using a bit of cocaine to help him keep up with his workload, but that he was now in debt. We gave him €600 to clear his debt with the understanding that he would stop using drugs. He agreed. However, the partying restarted very soon after he got the money. My wife is anxious we don’t confront him as she is fearful we will lose him as she thinks we are more likely to keep a handle on things if we keep him close. I am not sure that this will work.

ADVICE: I wonder if your son were misbehaving and he was 12, would you be quite so hands-off? It is very clear to parents that they need to put corrections in place for younger children as they know it will serve their child well as they grow up. We want our children to learn about consequences, about self-discipline and making amends with others so they can go on to live happy and successful lives. The difference is that your son is now 24 and an adult but he is behaving like a child, with his parents fixing his problems and not dealing with any consequences.

Your son needs help and a crisis is often the best opportunity for someone to change their pattern and face up to what is happening. It is fairly clear that another crisis is imminent as nothing has changed, so you and your wife should be ready to deal with it differently. Your son is clearly loved and cosseted, but his behaviour is not acceptable, and he is treating you both with disrespect. As adult children live for longer times at home with parents, leeway must be given them in terms of bringing partners home, but this comes with dual responsibility – he must also behave as an adult if he wishes to be treated as one and this entails taking on his share of the household load. Contributing financially and physically to the household chores is part of sharing as a grown-up and you will be doing him no favours by not insisting on this. His future family will need him to manage himself, his spending and his duty to others if he is to be happy in his life and relationships.

However, it seems your son may have issues of insecurity that need addressing: he did not go to college and may be feeling inadequate in the team he is in. Cocaine is a drug that masks insecurity as it allows the taker to feel omnipotent for short periods of time so perhaps the drug taking is a way of coping with the demands of his life that he feels unequal to.

Loving your son now requires that you challenge him and indeed this may come as a relief to him as he continues to struggle. He needs professional help, as giving up cocaine is not a simple or easy task. If he is going to continue living at home, you will all need help and support to change the patterns that are currently allowing his behaviour to flourish. Your local Citizen’s Advice centre will have information on HSE drug assessment and treatment and this will include skills development in the areas of confidence-building and self-awareness. Your son is still very young and has an opportunity to look at his life and make changes that will stand to him for decades to come.

At 24, he is eligible to apply to colleges as a mature student and this has different entry requirements, so he may be open to seeing this as an option for the future. However, the big issue is that as parents, you must be firm and clear that he addresses his problems now. As this is a very difficult stance for you to take, it may be worth while consulting with a family therapist for a couple of sessions to help you develop your strategy.