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How To Help Our College Age Son With Depression And Addiction


Our son came home from college over this past summer and, under our scrutiny, ‘fessed up to having dropped out of all of his classes the 2nd half of his freshman year and summer classes. This was shocking to us and enormously disappointing since that meant that he had lied to us for almost a year. We understand now that it was from shame. He had been a top student, athlete and most likely to succeed. He told us that he had been suffering from severe depression as diagnosed by a local Psychiatrist and was seeing a psycotherapist weekly. We told him that that was great and that we’d see if he could maintain his standing at school for the fall quarter. He managed to get pretty good grades and is now home for winter break.

He expressed to us, while still at school, that one of the hardest things for him was to not drink or party with his friends. He lives in a fraternity house which seems to be a never ending party. Now, he comes home and we find that he is indeed drinking. Then, I found drugs in his bag (mushrooms).

Where do we go from here? Do we send him back to school? Help!

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You and your husband are facing a very difficult situation with your son. Many first year college students experience great difficulty adjust to school during their fresman year. This happens regardless of how smart and high achieving they were in High School. What is an added complication for your family is that you son is not only abusing alcohol but drugs as well.

Joining a fraternity often makes drinking attractive for these young people. There is a lot of pressure to conform from within the fraternity. While the colleges and universities have established rules and regulations with regard to how fraternities and sorority behave, there remains lots of improper behavior, especially in this area of drugs.

I believe you have every right to question whether or not your son should return to school. His behavior at the College indicates that he is having multiple problems coping be away from home, dealing with socialization at school and making certain that he gets to classes on time. College tuition is very expensive and it is a huge waste of your money and any scholarship monies he may have won, for it all to be frittered away by his missing classes.

It is entirely possible that he is just not ready to attend college away from home. Therefore, it would make sense for him to start a new school, live at home and commute to classes.

There are advantages to this type of plan: He could see a psychiatrist and psychotherapist near home and continue to get psychological help for his problems. In addition, he could and should attend Alcoholics Anonymous to help him stay away from drugs. Finally, when he demostrates that he is capable of handling school and his life, without getting “high,” he could then return to the same or another college away from home.

It goes without saying that you and your husband need to sit down with your son and discuss this. If he objects to this plan, you can remind him that he has lost an entire year of school and all of that hard earned money is “down the drain.” If need be, but, only IF, you can get tough with him and let him know in no uncertain terms that you will not pay for his return to school until such time as he shows that he is truly ready: Psychiatry, Psychotherapist, Drug and Alcohol counseling.

I do not want to end on a negative note. In my opinion, your son has shown some good judgement through all of this. As examples, he did go and get himself help and does seem to be aware that he has problems. When you talk to him it may even come as a relief that you are giving him an alternative to going back to the same school.

Of course, all of this is in my opinion. All of you might ask for a consultation with a licensed clinical psychologist in your area and that could help with the best possible options.

Best of Luck

More "Ask Dr. Schwartz" View Columnists

  • Mona Lisa

    Recommending alcoholics anonymous without even a mention of the problems within the group or any alternatives. Dr. Schwartz, please, stop pretending that you aren't an advocate for AA. You obviously are, and it's just a shame.

    Dr. Dombeck's Note: ML has written in a second time (12/28/2009)to insist upon her point but we have suppressed the post, on the grounds that it is repetitious. There are other places on this site where endless debate over the merits of AA is appropriate. This is not one of those places.

  • David O.

    I think Dr. Schwartz has provided you with some sound advice however, I want to be brief here by only addressing the recommendation of AA as the recommended choice of interventions for alcohol abuse/dependence. While AA has the longest history of social support groups (AA is not a treatment), it also has an extremely checkered and highly problematic track record. Before your son joins AA, I very strongly encourage you to research all treatments available and make an informed decision:

    In our practice, and in my >30 years of clinical experience, no one recommends AA--- we, in fact strongly discourage people from attending AA given the large body of research which indicates that it's among the least effective "treatments" avalailable. For a good read on what others say, go to:

    or: (go to the comment section beneath the brief article to get a stronger sense of both sides of the aisle)

    But, my best advice is to study each one carefully before having him join-- an informed decision may save you years and years of headache and heartache.

    The best of luck to you,

    David O.

  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

    Dear Mona Lisa,

    Fogging up deeply personal and troubling issues that people are writing in about. This is not a debate over AA but a plea from a terrified family about their son. They are seeking help and advice and discussions of AA with its pluses and minuses are not the point here.

    Having said that, I want to point out the gaping hole in your logic. Its a syllogism that goes something like this:

    "People who support AA suggest AA,

    Dr. Schwartz suggested AA,

    Dr. Schwartz is a supporter of AA.

    I am neither a supporter of nor a detractor from AA. It has helped many people whether you agree or not and is not open to the condemnation that you insist on.

    Finally, take your arguements elsewhere, in other forumns either on this site or other sites, but, not here, where people are desperate for help and guidance without this endless and meaningless debate!!!


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