Women's Health

Sailing on Vacation When Your Adult Child Has Substance Abuse Issues



Editor’s note: The names of parent and son have been changed at their request to protect their identity and privacy.

Dec. 28, 2022 — Lawrence McCarthy, a Texas-based doctor, is looking forward to seeing his 26-year-old son, Sam, over the holidays. Sam, who lives in another state and hasn’t been home for several months, has an alcohol use disorder and also uses marijuana frequently.

McCarthy, who asked that his real name not be used for this article, says he can’t wait to see his son, but he has a bottom line.

“I would prefer him to work his own recovery program and not use drugs. I haven’t seen him for a long time and I don’t know if he is still determined to recover. But even if he’s using, I’m still ready to see him – as long as he’s not using at my house and he’s sober when he’s here.

McCarthy arrived at this approach after extensive work in a parent recovery group, which not only gave him support but also helped him develop and respect boundaries.

“I don’t know how I would have handled this without the band,” he says.

Unfortunately, many parents navigate this predicament alone. A new online platform Recovery Education and Applied Learning (REAL), was launched to meet the needs of these parents.

“We are a comprehensive, evidence-based online educational platform that includes a course and resources as well as access to a community where other parents of young people with substance abuse issues are asking the same questions,” says REAL Chief Medical Officer Eric Collins, MARYLAND.

New resource

Collins joined REAL because he knew parents needed “access to more information, support and community as they help their teenage and young adult child recover.”

Laurie Dhue, REAL’s brand manager, has been recovering sober from alcohol and drugs for 16 years. Prior to her work in the recovery field, Dhue was an award-winning national news anchor who hosted shows on three major cable news networks.

Dhue was still a national news anchor when it became known that she had a drug addiction problem.

“The world found out I had an alcohol and drug problem and my anonymity was publicly broken,” she reports. “I thought my life was over and at the beginning; I felt stigma and shame. But telling my story publicly is what ultimately led me to leave the news industry and enter the recovery community full-time and led me to join REAL.

Dhue, who is almost 54, says his substance use started in college.

“I drank alcohol and abused cocaine until I was 37,” she says. “My drinking and drug use got worse after I left college and I was drinking all the time, not just on vacation.”

At that time, “there were few resources and no internet. Parents weren’t as aware then as they are now. But even now parents are often in the dark and feel isolated and stigmatized. I’m sure this resource could have been very useful to my parents if such a thing had existed.

You’re not alone

The REAL platform consists of four components:

  • An 18-module course that provides training in aspects of parenting, substance abuse and dealing with issues that arise
  • A library of resources that is continuously updated and used in courses
  • An events calendar – weekly live workshops where parents can talk to experts, who answer their questions
  • Community, which allows participants to connect with others in similar situations.

Dhue entered a 12-step sober community, Alcoholics Anonymous.

“It saved my life. Parents will find comfort on our platform, realizing they are not the only ones going through this, and will find connection and community,” she says.

The approaches presented on their platform are “consistent and appropriate, and anyone in the 12-step world would appreciate and recognize them,” Collins says. But the platform also uses other approaches that appeal to people that don’t necessarily resonate with the 12-step approach, including evidence-based psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

The comprehensive platform also offers medication information to reduce the risk of overdose and reverse overdoses.

Conversations before the holidays

“Holidays are a festive time. For people with substance use disorders, the holidays can be an excuse to drink and use drugs,” says Collins. Children returning from college may continue to use alcohol or drugs heavily, while those returning from rehab centers may encounter old “drinking buddies.”

“Communicate your values ​​and engage in problem-solving before the holidays begin, because an ounce of prevention is better than cure,” he advises parents. Initiating these conversations can be difficult, but “kids want these conversations, even if they act like they don’t want them.”

The REAL Course encourages parents “to rehearse conversations with their partners before planning a conversation with their children. You get better at doing things the more you practice. It’s a “complex process”, he warns, and the children “might get angry”. But practicing conversations also allows you to manage their anger.

Set limits

McCarthy says effective conversations come best from parents with clear boundaries.

“Do I want to see my son? If so, do I have healthy boundaries to protect myself? Am I working on a recovery program to heal my own issues and work through any difficulties that may arise before and during his visit? Do I have a power outside of me to reach out and am I part of a group of other parents in similar situations who are finding mental, emotional, and spiritual healing through a 12-step program like Al-Anon?

If the answer to these questions is “yes”, that doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it is much easier.

“I can tell my son that I would really like him to come but he has to be sober, respectful and honest when he’s here,” McCarthy said.

Increase your child’s chances of sobriety

One question that has arisen among families in McCarthy’s recovery group is whether alcohol should be served during the holidays if the recovering child is visiting, or whether there should even be alcohol. alcohol in the house.

“Every family is different,” he observes. “But the most empowering and encouraging thing I’ve found is not having alcohol in the house when someone with addiction issues comes.”

This can be difficult to accomplish, especially if other guests want to bring alcohol to your meals and also involves setting limits.

“Tell your guests that you have an alcohol-free home and that they should respect that.”

He advises to avoid “triggering topics of conversation at family gatherings, such as politics or religion, or triggering topics specific to your family that might bring up unpleasant memories or old conflicts when the teenager or the recovering young adult is here”.

If family members want to engage in these discussions, McCarthy suggests going to another room or area of ​​the house.

If you are part of a recovery or REAL group, feel free to reach out. This is a time when parents need to be there for each other for emotional support and practical suggestions.

Clear boundaries, open conversations, and a helpful support system can give you the best chance of having a vacation that leads to family bonds and lays the foundation for continued healing in the future.

Resources for Parents


A subscription-based educational platform for parents and families of young adults struggling with substance use disorder starting at $49.95/month.

Al-Anon Family Groups

A free 12-step program offering in-person and online meetings for family members affected by a loved one’s drinking problem.

Anonymous families

A free 12-step program offering in-person and online meetings for family members affected by a loved one’s drinking problem.

Smart Family and Friends Recovery

Offers resources and free online and in-person meetings to help family and friends of people with alcohol and substance use disorders cope with their loved one’s situation.



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