Am I wrong for not paying for my addicted child’s attorney again?

A MomPower mom writes: We have always tried to help my son get out of jail, get an attorney, etc., and have paid for rehab, but he continues to mess up. This has been going on for about 10 years. I’m physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. He is back in jail for about the 10th time and keeps telling his dad and me that he needs a paid attorney. We have spent many thousands of dollars on attorneys in the past and have told him “no,” this time he will have to use a court-appointed attorney. He was very ugly to me and my ex-husband and made us feel bad when we went to visit. He is great at manipulating me. I finally just left and probably will not go back for a while. It literally kills me. Am I wrong for drawing the line? I just feel so lost, but feel I need to love from afar. Thank you so much for any perspective you may share.

There is a recent, ongoing study out of Texas Tech University showing that, in the same way addiction sufferers crave substances, their family members crave them. Drs. Bradshaw and Shumway have been conducting research that explains the similarities between the cravings for drugs or alcohol experienced by a person with a substance use disorder and the trauma-fueled changes in the brain family members experience that result in a need to help that is much like a drug craving.

I think that not only explains why we continue to do things that don’t necessarily help, but it also gives us insight into how strong a craving must be. Many times during my daughter’s active use, I was overwhelmed with a desire to do things that felt necessary but had never helped before. Understanding that actual physiological and chemical changes in my brain had occurred and that I was not, in many ways, thinking clearly due to stress and trauma helped me find a more logical route to help.

I ask my clients to sit down with a pen and paper and list the things they have done that have actually helped effectuate change with their loved one. Do this at a time of minimal stress rather than at the moment your son is on the phone asking for something. We want to respond rather than react, and if you think about it, most of our loved ones’ requests are all very similar to previous requests. When we have them down on paper, we are less likely to talk ourselves out of the fact that we have done this all before!

For example, when I paid for my daughter’s sober living without a definitive plan as to how she would take over the responsibility of the rent—I was just so happy that she was going—she was never successful. I had to repeat this mistake an extraordinary number of times before I could understand what I was doing was not working and then change my approach.

On your list might be the request for paid legal counsel. Ask yourself if this is something you have done before. Then ask yourself if you believed it helped in the way you wanted it to help. It may have kept your son out of jail, but it seems as though he found his way back there anyhow. Remind yourself that you do not have any control over his choices. You only have control over yours. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is an exercise in futility.

As far as you speaking with him, I would suggest that you send him a letter each week telling him something positive, that he is loved and you believe in him. Possibly, write about a memory of something he did well—a moment when you were proud of him. Remind him of who he is. You can put small sums on his canteen for snacks, if you are able to do that financially, and send him books if that is allowed. You don’t have to read his responses or take calls from him until you are ready, because we know he may still be angry, but you can tell him that he is loved in whatever ways are safe for you to do without jeopardizing your own health. Remember, you have been through a lot, too, so take time to love yourself as well and to hope that he begins to make better choices in the future.

Disclaimer: The above advice is not meant to be construed as medical or legal advice. If you need professional medical, psychological, or legal advice, please contact a doctor, lawyer, or medical center.

Maureen Cavanagh is a peer recovery coach and interventionist who works with families and loved ones supporting a person struggling with a substance use disorder on their own recovery. She is the founder of Magnolia New Beginnings and Magnolia Recovery and Consulting, and the author of If You Love Me: A Mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s Addiction and Recovery, published by Henry Holt/Macmillan. You can learn more about her at

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Questions for Coach Cavanagh

1 Comment

  1. How do you tell your family members. To let you grieve with restrictions.? In other’s word my family seem as though they don’t want me to grieve the lost of my Husband.

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