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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My son, "Keith," is 20. He lives at home with his dad, brother and me. Keith dropped out of high school when he was a senior. His driver's license was suspended due to non-payment of tickets.

A couple of years ago, he stole from us and finally admitted he had a drug problem. We sent Keith to a 30-day residential drug treatment facility. When he got out, he stayed in a halfway house for three months, then lived with another recovering addict in an apartment. Keith had a job then, but lost it and moved back home.

He still hangs out with his same old friends. He sleeps all day, gets up late in the afternoon or early in the evening, and goes out again. I know my son drinks, and I realize he's probably using again, too, but I don't know where he gets the money to buy them. He has worked in restaurants off and on over the past two years, but is currently unemployed.

I have tried everything I know to help him. We dragged him to counselors, but Keith wouldn't follow their suggestions. We beg him to get his GED, but he lies to us that he's going to school and working on it. Keith asks me to wake him so I can take him to apply for jobs, but when I do, he refuses to get up.

His dad and I have to hide our wallets because he has stolen our checks and credit cards before. His purchases are usually at gas stations and fast food restaurants. Keith tells us he's not using anymore, but his actions make it hard to believe.

I can't live my life standing idly by, watching my son ruin his life. I love him. If I don't stand by him and try to help him, he has no one. His dad acts like he hates him. He either ignores him or gets on his case whenever he talks to him. Have you any advice for me? -- DEEPLY HURT IN MEMPHIS, TENN.

DEAR DEEPLY HURT: Your son definitely has problems, and you need to find out what exactly they are. If he's using, you can find out by making him take a home drug test. ("Take it, or you're out.")

If he tests negative, then it's possible that your son is suffering from depression or some other mental illness. And if that's the case, you should make his getting psychiatric help a condition of his continuing to live at home.

The only thing you cannot do is let yourself be trapped into becoming your son's enabler. You must set a deadline for him to find a job or move out on his own, and insist that he abide by it.

DEAR ABBY: My wife's niece is being married in May. The wedding is 1,500 miles from here. Our daughter, "Sophie," a college sophomore, will be a bridesmaid in the wedding.

For the last year and a half Sophie has been dating "Trey," whom she met at school, and it appears to be a solid relationship. I like him.

Trey received an invitation to the wedding, too, which was unnecessary in my opinion. Now my wife insists it's our responsibility to buy Trey an airplane ticket so he can attend. He will stay in a hotel room with my sons if he goes.

I don't mind paying for the room and related expenses, but I see no reason why I should fork out hundreds of dollars for an airline ticket. I already have to pay for my family of five for this trip. My wife says I'm stingy. Am I? -- GETTING FLAK IN ATLANTA

DEAR GETTING FLAK: It was nice of your sister-in-law to invite your daughter's boyfriend to the wedding. If you can afford to buy him a ticket, doing so would be a nice gesture. However, you are under no obligation to foot the bill for his transportation.

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