Q&A: My adult son is an addict and no one will help us

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By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Q: Can you offer any advice on how a FIFO mother deals with her adult son who has turned to drugs and has distanced himself from the family? I have tried to seek help from the mental institutions and police, neither help me. I don’t sleep, my relationship is on the rocks, I live daily, hourly, constantly thinking is today the day he takes his life, I often cry in silence as no one can help. I want my son back so badly. I want to feel whole again, I miss him so much. He tells me he sleeps on the streets. Is there any help in this society, where the system doesn’t reply with "we can’t help you unless he wants help". How can a person who has lost their soul to drugs be of sound mind to ask for help? This is a waiting game I live. Please help.

A: Thanks for your email and I’m really sorry to hear how difficult things have been for you and your son. I understand your frustration at not being able to get your son help – it’s very, very hard to secure help for someone who is refusing help or who isn’t in a position to really realise how much they need help. This is one of the most devastating positions for a parent to be in: you know your son needs help and you’ve tried but no one is helping.

There are a couple of reasons why mental health professionals say “we can’t help him unless he wants help”. One is because of people’s right to privacy and to live how they want to live. The other is because it’s extremely difficult (impossible really) to treat people who don’t want to be treated, or who don’t realise they need treatment. This is especially true when drugs or alcohol are involved. Recovering from addictions is a really rough road, so the person travelling it has to really want to be on it. I’m not telling you this because I agree with these reasons necessarily. I’m just letting you know why you keep hearing the line about not being able to help him unless he wants help.

I think that you might be better off going down the track of getting support through drug and alcohol services, rather than the police or mental health services. People who work in addictions counselling services have a good understanding of how mental health issues and drug use go hand in hand. They also tend to have a good understanding, and a lot of empathy, for parents and other loved ones who are standing by feeling helpless. I’m not sure what state you live in, but if you just Google 'drug and alcohol services' in your state you will come up with some websites and numbers.

Also, please have a look at the website of Family Drug Support where you will find a lot of people who are experiencing issues very similar to yours. Another organisation that offers support to family members of those affected by drug addiction is Nar Anon

I also encourage you to get some support for yourself. What you’re going through would have to be up there with the toughest things any parent has to face. It sounds like you could do with a shoulder to cry on, and some practical strategies for how to manage the worries about your son. I’m very concerned about your own wellbeing and I really urge you to get some support from your GP or a psychologist. I know that talking about all this won’t make it all better, but having the space to talk about what you’re facing with someone who doesn’t know you or your son will help you. It really will. You could talk to your GP about a referral to a psychologist, or visit the Find a Psychologist website.

I wish you and your son all the very best.


To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.

To read other columns written by Angie Willcocks during her six years with Mining Family Matters, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career. All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.

Angie Willcocks is a registered psychologist with a private practice in Adelaide – for details about Skype consultations please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. She’s an expert in tackling issues such as depression, anxiety, postnatal depression, child sleep routines and relationship difficulties. She has a Bachelor of Health Sciences in Psychology and a Masters of Counselling Psychology. She is also the co-author of The Sensible Sleep Solution: a guide to sleep in your baby’s first year, which can be ordered from her website www.angiewillcocks.com.