How JustAnswer Works:
  • Ask an Expert
    Experts are full of valuable knowledge and are ready to help with any question. Credentials confirmed by a Fortune 500 verification firm.
  • Get a Professional Answer
    Via email, text message, or notification as you wait on our site.
    Ask follow up questions if you need to.
  • 100% Satisfaction Guarantee
    Rate the answer you receive.
Ask Dr. Mark Your Own Question
Dr. Mark
Dr. Mark, Psychotherapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 5334
Experience:  Dr. Mark is a PhD in psychology in private practice
Type Your Mental Health Question Here...
Dr. Mark is online now
A new question is answered every 9 seconds

I have a son in college who I feel drinks too much. He has

Customer Question

I have a son in college who I feel drinks too much. He has received a citation for public drunkeness. Everyone tells me it is a 'college' thing and he'll grow out of it. I am not so sure. I know all of his friends drink like pigs...but I'm only concerned about him. I worry all the time, so does my husband, I'm full of anxiety and get very depressed. Is drinking til you can't remember your name normally a college habit???
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 6 years ago.

Hi! I believe I can be of help with this issue.

First, let me say I can imagine how difficult this situation must be for you. You are clearly caring and loving parents and you find your son and yourself at a difficult crossroad. Your son is now at that age where he will be making life altering decisions on his own but he is not a mature adult.

And this is actually the key to my answer to you that you need to consider and think about. It is true that drinking has become socially accepted on campus. And drinking to excess is tolerated. And some kids outgrow it. Some kids don't and stay alcoholics like they are now. Some kids resume drinking to excess after a 10-15 year hiatus and are adult alcoholics. Some kids die in driving accidents. (That's why insurance is so high for college students.) Some kids die of overdose. Some kids....

But is that really your question? Your friends are avoiding the issue. The issue is one of values. He is living a life where the dominant value is pleasure to excess, to join the crowd, to do what's fun for the moment and not living the value of purpose, working toward a goal with all his effort, etc. This is his choice he has made.

Somehow, this is how we are made as human beings. We have the ability to make decisions that will affect us forever even though we are not so wise yet. So you have to supply that wisdom. There are 3 points you must address with him:

1. What are his life goals?

2. What are his values?

3. How does the moment's desire relate to his goals and values?

Let's start with the last one first. People don't abandon their life goals and values in one swooping decision. They go step by step closer to the edge and then find themselves in a situation where the next SINGLE step is all that is needed to have gone too far and their life goals and values have now been affected in sometimes huge ways. For example, most kids don't just decide to become alcoholics unexpectedly! There are a number of steps.

So you need to have a discussion. And it is one that is not easy for the two of you.

This is not the value system you taught him. What happened?

You write that you "tell" him there are consequences. And this is the hard part of my answer for you. Because you and your husband are sweet and kind people and I'm being very open and honest with you. So you need to print out my answer and the two of you go to Starbucks or another quiet neutral place and discuss this: consequences are not TOLD. Consequences are METED OUT. I have worked with college kids long enough to be able to predict that he doesn't believe you any more than he believes the police about how bad drinking is. The police have pretty much given up so they act like bad parents and just talk until the kid kills someone driving drunk. But if you are paying for his college, why? If you are guaranteeing loans, why?

Is he living the values that you would invest in? Then you need to begin treating him like his age says. He is an adult and if he wants you to invest in him, he needs to be worthy of investment.

So you ARE at a crossroads here. Many parents take the easy way out and hope that he will grow out of it. And I have to tell you that the rise in adult alcoholics is influenced by adults who built up patterns in their youth of escaping life through drink.

He needs to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. And you might profit from going to Al Anon meetings. Al Anon is the part of AA for families. You need the support and skills you can get there in how to not enable his behavior. Not every meeting is the same. So if you two don't like the first one you get to, go back and find a different one to try. Here's the meeting locater:

And that will help you get him to go to AA when he sees how you have realized that your values somehow didn't win out in how he lives his life. Because this has been the real battle: your values lost out to the herd running to the keg. He needs to see that you are reshaping your lives to strengthen your values and repair what went wrong in conveying them to him. If that means more church attendance as well, good. But when he sees you pushing for AA and yourselves going to Al Anon, that will make an impression.

Okay. I know this has been hard. But please know that I am writing this to you because I don't want your son to be the one who killed some pedestrian or himself. And not the 45 year old man in my office who found that his wife is about to leave him because the drinking has crept up to every night...

I wish you the very best!

Please remember to click the green accept button. Feel free to continue the discussion; my goal is to get you the best answers possible. Bonuses are always appreciated! If I can be of further help with any issue, just put "for Dr. Mark" in the front of your new question, and I'll be the one to answer it. All the best, ***** *****

Dr. Mark and other Mental Health Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Sorry it took so long for to reply...had company. My son said he doesn't drink often...and I have checked with many of his friends and their parents. They all told me he doesn't drink during the week...and it is a rarity that he gets drunk like he did last night. They think because it is the last weekend in college, he had more than he normally does. I want to observe him over the summer before I take any drastic action and imply (to him) that he is an alcoholic. What do you think??
Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 6 years ago.
this changes the picture dramatically. I apologize. My impression was that he was part of the heavy drinking crowd. I think your plan sounds prudent. You might want to have a values talk as a way to explore what last night was about. But it is not nearly as vital to do it forcefully and immediately as if he drinks regularly.

In general, the more you can engage your son in talking with you two about meaningful aspects of life and his life, the more you will find that your relationship will become deeper. This requires from you two, though, at least twice as much listening as talking. You have to be genuinely interested in his answers to questions rather than just trying to make your points. The more you can get him to talk, the more you will establish a relationship that will be satisfying lifelong. This is a truth in today's world that needs to be reinforced.

And it will help you in your observing what he's like this summer as well.I wish you the very best!

Please remember to click the green accept button. Feel free to continue the discussion; my goal is to get you the best answers possible. Bonuses are always appreciated! If I can be of further help with any issue, just put "for Dr. Mark" in the front of your new question, and I'll be the one to answer it. All the best, ***** *****

Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Thank you for your reply, Dr. Mark. He is an athlete..on the football team...always a leader, never a follower. I was afraid that he was turning into one...out every night. He has one semester left....I pray he cab keep his record clean and play football and graduate with class. He is LD...I don't expect 'honors', but I expect him to be an honorable person. I just can't stand my obessive worrying....I can't sleep. Thank you...and Good night.
Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 6 years ago.
Well, this is going to sound funny from a psychologist: but if your obsessive worry has gotten him this far with this much success, why mess with a winning formula?! So keep on worrying.

I would recommend, however, you consider praying instead. Giving over the worry to a Higher Power makes more sense. G-d has the tools to make worry useful. We rarely do as people.

All the best, ***** *****