APSGO Parenting Blog

Dear Sue,

It is a rule that there are no drugs or drug paraphernalia in the house (aka marijuana, grinder, and bongs). My son seems to think the rules don’t apply to him, and so I have repeatedly confiscated and destroyed what I find. He is also engaged in risky behaviour like driving after smoking pot. I don’t want to kick him out because I can keep a closer eye on him in my house, but I cannot sit by and watch him destroy his life with drugs, and I can’t tolerate the crap laying around.


Dear Frustrated:

I don’t know how many times you’ve confiscated your son’s drug paraphernalia, but “repeatedly” suggests more than once or twice, so it would seem this strategy isn’t working.

Parents often see acting-out behaviour (including drug use) as the problem. In fact, it’s a symptom. The problem lies elsewhere, and is generally tied to unsatisfying relationships. I highly recommend a 14-minute TED Talk by Johann Hari entitled “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong.”

And if you watch it before reading the rest of this article, all the better!

For the next month, suspend judgment and criticism. Stop commenting on your son’s drug paraphernalia and drug use, and focus on re-establishing a strong and meaningful connection with him. Smile at him when he walks in the room. Make him feel welcome in your presence. Let him know by actions, words, and body language that you value him and love him for who he is, not for what he does or doesn’t do. Language isn’t important. We all know when we’re welcome!

Start noticing and making a list of things you like or admire about him – not his appearance or how smart he is or what he’s accomplished, but things that speak to his character. Is he loyal? Generous? For giving? Fair? Does he have a great sense of humour? (And if he is all those things with his friends but not with you, it still counts.)

“Small minds discuss people. Mediocre minds discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas.” Give him the opportunity to develop a great mind! You can start by asking his opinion about something going on in the world or in your neighbourhood – then just listen. Don’t listen to respond; listen to understand. This isn’t your opportunity to lecture or educate or correct him; this is your opportunity to connect with him. Talk about anything – but don’t talk about him.

If you find a joke that he’d appreciate, share it with him. If you come across an old photo that reminds you of a great time you had together, share that with him, too, and tell him what it means to you.

Invite him to do things with you that you both enjoy and have some fun together, whether that’s playing cards, going fishing, or just going for a hike. And throughout all of this, talk less and listen more.

It took time to get here, and it’ll take time to turn things around. So please get back to me in a month or so and let me know what’s happening.

In the next article, I’ll reply to an email about an entitled, ungrateful teen.

Want to know more about Choice Theory? My PDF booklet Who’s Driving YOUR Car? and handout Six Things: How to create healthy boundaries are now available for download on my website at www.sanerparenting.com/downloads/. And if you want to email me at sue@sanerparenting.com, I always welcome your comments and questions!


3 Responses

  1. I have experienced that connecting with my addicted son is helpful, for sure. It helps us both feel better and generally moves things in a better direction that punishing and focusing on his addictions.
    Except for the times when he is badgering me for money to support his addictions, and gets more and more elevated trying to bully me.
    What do you do then? How can you connect with someone who sees you as their source of the addictive substance, or as the barrier between them and getting high, and will harass you regardless of how connected you were with them before they ran out?
    Surely connecting doesn’t include enabling, or paying for an addicts substance use?

    • Thanks for writing. Glad to hear that connecting with your son is bringing some relief to the two of you.

      And thank you also for your questions.

      I’m not sure how old your son is or what the bullying consists of, so I won’t assume the worst. But the short answer is: Choice Theory is all about healthy boundaries. And boundaries are rules you make for yourself, not for someone else.

      The first thing I learned in the parent support group: The only behaviour I can control is my own. Who knew? Everyone had been telling me to get my kids under control – including my parents and CAS. So it came as a relief to focus on what I could do instead and to come up with plans that didn’t require my kids’ cooperation.

      The second thing I learned (by extrapolation): The only person who can control my behaviour is me. This was life changing. Now when I was bullied or my life was spiraling out of control, I could chose my response instead of reacting or using the same ineffective behaviours I’d used in the past.

      And this is where boundaries come in. When my 16-year-old son wanted something, he would come into my office when I was working and tower over me. Very intimidating. Then one day I realized what was happening. So I stood up, looked him in the eye, and said, “I don’t negotiate with bullies. Get out of my room.”

      Dumbfounded, he left – but returned a few minutes later to try again. So I made myself clear: “If you want this discussion now, you’ll have to calm down. If not, the discussion will wait until tomorrow.” He sat on a chair and did deep breathing until he’d calmed down. Then we talked.

      As Helen Jones said in many of her workshops, remain calm, confident, and cordial. What he may need most is to know that you’re in charge of yourself. And while you can’t control what he does, you can control how you respond.

      And there is nothing unreasonable in saying, “I will no longer contribute to anything that is harmful to you, no matter how badly you want it.”

      Walking away or leaving the house is often the best strategy to deescalate, but I let my kids know that, if there was violence or a threat of violence, I would call the police. Did I follow through? Yes – but I only had to do it twice.

      It may be worthwhile for you to get clear on what you stand for, what you’re prepared to do, and what you won’t do. “Six Things – A Formula for Creating Healthy Boundaries” is available for download at http://www.sanerparenting.com/downloads/.

      Good luck. I’d like to hear how it goes!

  2. My son too is in the same situation. Addicted to marijuana and cocaine. His dad enables him by giving him money, however I consistently say no to his ask for money. I know he escalates if he doesn’t get what he wants but these are my boundaries and I’m not ok giving him money when I know it will be used for drugs. If anything, I’ve ubered him places on my account because I can control what he is doing with my money. Just my thoughts.

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