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How To Help My Son


My son is 20 years old and lives at home. He and his girlfriend are having a child in September. As a child he was diagnosed with ADHD/ODD. As an adult I’m concerned he may be Bipolar. He is prone to violent outbursts. When this happens he destroys things. He has destroyed furniture, walls doors… Lately it has become an every day thing. Some small little thing triggers him every morning and he starts smashing things and threatening to kill himself. When the anger has subsided an hour later he is fine. I know he needs therapy and medication but doesn’t have any insurance. I make too much money to get assistance but not enough to be able to afford putting him on mine. How can I get him help. I feel like I’m falling apart. It is killing me to see him this way, to say nothing about him destroying half of my house.

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I am always impressed and dismayed by the amount of punishment parents of adult children are willing to tolerate. Your son is a twenty year old man who is behaving in ways that are outrageous, abusive and dangerous, while in your house. In my opinion, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder or any other diagnosis, are no excuse for his outbursts.

Again and in my opinion, you would best serve your interests and his by calling 911 when he loses control of himself. In calling 911 I recommend that you let them know that he is threatening suicide and is out of control. They will send the police and an ambulance. When they come, show them the damage that he has done and insist that they hospitalize him. In the hospital emergency room, he will be evaluated and treated. Either he will be put on medication or will be sent to an in patient psychiatric ward. The hospital can also apply for emergency Medicaid for him.

The problem that most parents face in this type of situation is that they feel terribly guilty about taking strong action with an adult child. However, it is only strong action that will result in his getting help.

In addition to this, it must be made clear by you that he will not be allowed to live in your house if these behaviors continue. He must learn to control himself or move out. He can get a job, no matter how low paying. Besides, he is going to be a father and must take responsibility for that. Living at your house is not taking responsibility.

Mom, people with ADHD and/or Bipolar Disorder, go to work and take responsibility. Even if he has no insurance, he can apply for Medicaid or find a job.

It’s up to you to lay down the law and insist that he stop trashing your house. Let him know that you will call the police if he does it again. If he refuses to believe you and he does it again, call 911 immediately, for your safety and well being and for his.

Best of Luck

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  • Gina Pera

    Hi folks,

    This is surely a sad case, and I wish it was the first time I've heard of such a situation.

    Dr. Schwartz's advice to call the police the next time your son gets violent seems well-advised. Even if he is your son and has a mental illness, he cannot be allowed to destroy your home and he must learn consequences.

    Still, I suspect there is more to this story than meets the eye.

    For example, why have you allowed the situation to get this far? He doesn't work and he has a live-in pregnant girlfriend in your house? Did you think this would somehow have a happy ending?

    I don't say this to blame you or point the finger. But it could be that you are suffering from depression or anxiety -- or perhaps you share the genetic link with ADHD -- and that is somehow keeping you from taking steps that need to be taken to preserve your sanity, your finances, and your home. And perhaps this is a lifelong pattern.

    Many parents of children with ADHD have ADHD themselves, and sometimes they suffer the same inability as their children to see tomorrow's consequences of today's actions. They don't see the gravity of their children's behavior from a younger age and as the child gets older, especially into young adulthood, they often seem to just grow more helpless in the face of it.

    In these cases, it definitely behooves the parents to get their own ADHD symptoms addressed--the mental health equivalent of "putting on your own oxygen mask first." Then they can better help themselves and, if possible, their child.

    As for your son, it's possible that he is "self-medicating" with substances legal or illegal. That could be exacerbating the mood dysregulation that is common, though in different ways, to ADHD and bi-polar disorder. But there is also a co-existing condition to ADHD called Intermittent Explosive Disorder.

    I encourage you to take care of yourself and then, if possible, get professional mental health treatment for your son.

    As much as it is easy to say, "Let him go to jail and learn his lesson," the fact is that our jails are full of people with neurocognitive disorders that make it difficult for them to learn their lessons -- and stop the impulsive and reckless behaviors that are part of their neuro-biology. Plus, it's the rare parent who manages to not get sucked into the jail/probation cycle, which can prove costly and energy-consuming. After that, it is even tougher to find a job, of course.

    We all know that untreated ADHD is associated with much higher rates of job loss, too. Even people who want jobs can't always find or keep them. That has never been more true than in this economy.

    I hope you can both find the help you need.

    Gina Pera, author

    Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

    Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone You Love Has Attention Deficit Disorder

  • Barb

    Thank you for your advice. I know that is what I need to do. It is just very hard. I have a lot of excuses for the way he behaves, but I know that does not give him the right to torment the people who love him. You are right about the depression and anxiety. I do have a problem with both and looking back I do believe I had and still have ADD. I am on medication for the depression and anxiety but as far as the ADD my doctor just tells me I have to deal with it and learn coping skills. Which I have. I have a college degree. I have a job which I love, actually I now work 2 jobs and enjoy both of them. I raised 2 successful daughters, which never game me any problems. My son was rejected and abused by his father when he was very young. I divorced him when my son was 4. I just don't want him to think I am rejecting him too.

  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

    Hi Barb,

    I hope you read my response. It is very hard for a parent to be tough with an adult child who is in pain. However, I want to point out that setting limits on his behavior is NOT rejecting him. Setting limits is a way of demonstrating love and care. Limit setting with your son will let him know that you love him too much to allow him to get away with trashing your house and your life. He may not like it at first but that will change and so will he.

    Dr. Schwartz


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