If I help my 30-year-old son get out of jail to go to rehab, am I enabling?

How can we help? My son has relapsed for the third time. He is in jail begging to go to rehab. He is 30, and for 12 years this has been the cycle. I’m so torn as to what to do. I feel if I do this again, I am enabling.

If anyone had told me that jail would seem safer than my child on the streets, I would have never believed it would seem like the better alternative. So many of us have thought, “I’d finally get a good night’s sleep if my child were in jail.” Of course, we think this because we know that death seems to wait behind every corner when they are using and spending their days finding ways to get enough money to buy drugs. For those of us who have worked in the correctional system or those who have been inside, we know that jail is a very dangerous and depressing place. It is not always the better answer.

Recurrence of symptoms, or relapse, as it’s typically called, is frequently a part of the disease of addiction. While having relapsed three times may seem like more than you can handle, the average number of attempts at sobriety for someone who uses opioids is eight. Four may be the magic number for him (and I hope that it is), but as tired of living like this as you are, I imagine your son is feeling defeated and hopeless right now too.

I assume that he does not have health insurance and he is asking you to pay for treatment or that you are paying for his health insurance. Either way, I would encourage you to think twice before paying out of pocket unless you have the means to do so. Is it possible the jail has programming? Some states have begun to offer innovative drug and alcohol programs in jails. I’m sure your son is desperate to get out of jail and so will say anything, but, in your heart, do you think anything has changed? Are you helping him because you think it is the right thing for him or because it is the less painful thing for you? As heartbreaking as it is to see him suffer, sometimes the consequences of our actions are the only things that make a real change possible. Can you arrange for treatment after he completes his time in jail as a condition of probation? There are many options, but ultimately you will need to live with your solution, so, as hard as it is, you must do some soul-searching and decide what works for you.

Jail is a terribly discouraging and inhuman place, so please let him know on a regular basis that you love him. If he is demanding or rude when he calls, then write to him to tell him you are thinking of him. If you can occasionally put money on his account or send food, please do. He is your son and you still love him, just not his actions. It’s important that he knows that.

Stay strong,
Coach C.

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, and NAADAC-approved FAST: Family-Focused Addiction Support Training. You can learn more about her at www.maureencavanagh.net

Each new edition of MomPower will feature questions from you, our mamas, along with my replies, to help educate and guide you toward the answer that works for your family. If you’d like your concern featured, please send a brief question to Maureen@MagnoliaCS.com with MomPower in the subject line. Reach out. You are not alone.

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Questions for Coach Cavanagh

1 Comment

  1. Hello, My daughter doesn’t know that I know she is on “SOMETHING”” She is 30 yo also. I buy her kids stuff, buy her stuff and I leave myself broke all the time. She has a bf that makes everything easy for her so she keeps running in circles and one of the circles is jail time. I’ve helped her and she ended up back in jail again and again until I didn’t help her anymore. Fortunately, we haven’t dealt with jail time but now its fines. She blames me for her addiction one day and the next day she says I’m the best human in the world. I’m positive she will be battling addiction for the rest of her life and my heart and soul are heavy. We all need to let go a little. Be kind, but let that maternal instinct fall to the wayside. It’s difficult but DO NOT pay for it .


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