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Failure To Launch: Helping Your Addicted Son

Failure to Launch Syndrome

You naturally feel responsible for your child—even after the “child” is past the age when you can say, “Because you’re a dependent minor in this household, that’s why.” But what if your child is no longer a minor, but still dependent: living under your roof while you pay his bills and clean up his messes?

“Failure to launch” was a social concern long before COVID-19 upset old norms of employment and relocation. Young adults with untreated mental and/or substance use disorders are particularly vulnerable to failure to launch—especially if they start using drugs in their teens, when the brain is still developing and toxic substances can easily stunt its growth. A typical 20-year-old detox patient has less emotional maturity than a mentally healthy 16-year-old.

If you have a son stalled on the launch pad and addicted to drugs, your first impulse may be to deny there’s a problem, or to panic. But there are more effective ways to help.

First Step: Seek Professional Help

A case of failure to launch syndrome that involves addiction (indeed, any case of addiction under any circumstances) can’t be remedied just by putting your foot down: it calls for professional counseling and medical treatment. Whether or not your son immediately agrees to get help, find counseling for yourself and the rest of the family. Addiction affects not only the person directly involved but everyone close to him, and recovery is most effective when everyone heals together.

Establish Consequences for Irresponsible Behavior

Confronting someone about his addiction is never easy, and typically meets with initial resistance and denial. Especially when failure to launch is involved. You can’t tell a legal adult, even your own child, that he’s going into detox and that’s that; but you can make it harder for him to stay comfortable in the drug-use lifestyle.

The concept of “stop enabling him” may conjure up images of throwing your addicted son onto the street, like a rocket sent into the unknown without aiming or programming. However, there are less extreme options:

  • Cut off his allowances for unnecessary luxuries
  • Let him make his own meals or do without
  • Put his furniture in storage until he has a new residence to move it to

Do warn him in advance. Consequences delivered as bolts from the blue will only complicate the inevitable tension.  

Help Him Make Specific Plans

Even once your son is willing to change, overcoming failure to launch syndrome requires more clearly defined instructions than “Get a job”—especially for someone with no experience using personal initiative. A good detox program will include counseling on long-term goals and planning. You can help by encouraging your son to develop his natural gifts and pursue neglected dreams. (Dig into your own memories of his favorite childhood pastimes and what he wanted to be when he grew up.)

Be Prepared for the Long Haul

Recovery from addiction is never a simple matter of “finish the program and that’s that”: relapse temptations will haunt the patient and his family for a long time. This needn’t be grounds for discouragement, but it does emphasize the need to stay vigilant and in touch with support networks—even after your son has sufficiently recovered to launch into the larger world.

You, as well as he, are at risk for relapsing into toxic habits. Have specific plans for dealing with any issues that encouraged him to delay launch. Above all, don’t start pestering him about how you miss him. The ideal launch for young adults isn’t the kind that completes its mission and returns to the starting point. It’s the kind that stays in touch with home base while continuing to explore ever-expanding horizons.

Overcome Failure to Launch with Life Skills Training

Many young men with co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders have never mastered the basics of house-cleaning, cooking and financial management. In addition to helping our clients detox from drugs and gain personal control, Spearhead Lodge prioritizes teaching the skills needed for independent living. Contact us today to learn more.