Q: Our son is 17 years old and he has a drinking problem; at this point I'd call him a full-blown alcoholic. This situation is tearing our household apart. Help!
Jim: I'm very sorry to hear this. Unfortunately, even in loving families that hold strong values there are no guarantees that alcoholism or some other type of substance abuse won't affect one or more of the children. Our professional staff counselors have several recommendations for cases like this.
First, you've made a good start by asking for help. Ignoring or denying the problem will likely just make things worse.
Second, don't allow yourselves to become burdened by false guilt. Most parents assume extensive self-blame when an addiction surfaces in their home.
Third, don't look for (or expect) quick-fix solutions. True healing can't begin until your son comes to understand the roots of his addiction and his responsibility to change. This is often a long process requiring a great deal of patience and perseverance on your part.
The good news is that you don't have to face this alone -- effective help is available. I strongly recommend that you seek professional counseling as a family. The most successful treatment programs involve a thorough evaluation with therapy in an environment of community and accountability. Our counseling team can provide referrals to helpful programs and qualified therapists in your area; call 855-771-HELP (4357).
If the situation continues to escalate, an extensive intervention may be the most constructive and loving thing you can do. Options might include an inpatient detox treatment center, a youth residential program or other structured therapeutic plan where he has a change of living environment in order to gain new skills and social support. Applying boundaries and "tough love" could be necessary -- including the possibility of turning your teen over to the police if criminal activity is involved. He may have to face the consequences of his behavior before he will be motivated to change.
Q: My boyfriend and I want to get married -- eventually. Friends and co-workers have told us that living together for a few years will help us prepare before making things "official." What's your take on this idea?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: The short version is: bad idea. It seems like many people consider living together to be the new form of engagement. But research conclusively shows that the divorce rates for those who live together before marriage are significantly higher than for those who don't.
The reason cohabitation is a risky venture is because there's no commitment holding the relationship together. Basically, two people are saying to one another, "I'll hang out with you as long as you make me happy." That's obviously a tenuous foundation to build a life on. It puts doubt and mistrust into the very DNA of your relationship from square one. In other words, you're actually sabotaging your marriage before you even walk down the aisle.
I think that fear of commitment is actually why many young adults are choosing to "just live together." Maybe their parents divorced, or they've been swayed by negative messages about marriage in the culture. Whatever the reason, I believe these couples truly want to get married and stay married. But they don't realize that with a little help they can learn how to build a successful relationship.
Consider this: 80% of couples who get quality premarital training stay married. That high percentage of success shows that there is a way for couples to make a lasting commitment to one another. We have tons of resources to help; I'd strongly encourage you to begin the journey by going to FocusOnTheFamily.com/Marriage/Ready-to-Wed.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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